As I started to pursue the subject more deeply I realized that walking was this wonderful meandering path through everything I was already interested in – gender politics, public space and urban life, demonstrations and parades and marches. The relationship between walking and thinking and between the mind and the body.
When I was in the Korean Army we’d have to go on marches a few times a year. They were anywhere from 20 to 60 kilometers in length with full gear. It really wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. Having on a pack that weighs roughly fifty pounds, a rifle, web gear, etc. and having to walk for hours on end is not how I think most people would like to spend a day. It was interesting though seeing the different mental states that I went through as the march progressed.
You started off simply griping. Just having to pack up all of your gear and getting ready was a pain in the ass. Our platoon would be in our barracks trying to figure out the best way to make everything fit as well as trying to jam in snacks and drinks into every nook and cranny we could find. Once it was time to go we’d help each other get our packs on and stand up. Lining up we would look at the poor bastards who had to lug around a machine gun instead of a rifle and at least feel a bit of relief. Jokes would be cracked and soon we’d hit the road.
When you first start it’s not so bad. Just start walking and keep at it, waiting for the first break a few hours down the line. People would be chatting and the pace would be decent. After a few kilometers you’d be in an area that was completely new and just keep on walking. Spirits are still fairly high and even though the pack is heavy, nothing quite hurts yet.
The first break gives us a time to sit down for a bit. Have a smoke and break out some snacks and drinks. Everyone is thinking, “This isn’t so bad.” Sure you’re starting to get sweaty and a bit tired, but roughly ten kilometers are behind you and you know that it can’t be that much worse.
Roughly around twenty kilometers in you’re starting to feel pain. The straps of your pack are digging into your shoulders like rusty blades and the feet are aching. Your socks are pretty much swimming in sweat and you can start to feel blisters on your feet. You’ve had another break along the way and are regretting that cigarette you had as breathing has become harder and harder. There is very little chatter as everyone is starting to feel it at this point, but step by step we go on.
At around 30 kilometers you forget just how far you’ve come. Every step is painful now as blisters aren’t forming on your feet anymore, they are growing. When you move your uniform is starting to chaff your skin and your legs feel like molten lead. You’ve gone through the snacks you brought and most of the drinks. Sitting down during the breaks in the march have become optional as getting back up is starting to be more and more difficult. You see some of your mates cramp up when they sit and don’t want to risk it, but you need to sit to change your socks and get a good look at the blisters on your feet that you know will need to be popped once you get back to base. Overall, at this point everyone is miserable.
I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor food; I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart, and not merely with his lips, follow me.
When you start marching again at this point your mind tends to be a completely different zone and place. This is what enlightenment must have felt like as the mysteries of your life and the universe seem to open up before you. Your body doesn’t want to think anymore about what it’s suffering through. It’s given you all the warning signs that it wasn’t made for this type of abuse so your brain simply checks out of reality and starts coasting along a different path. Your legs and feet are moving on their own, purely automatic step after step.
As these new mental and spiritual revelations are blossoming in your mind you want to verbalize it, talk to someone, but everyone is in their own world and nobody has the breath or energy to talk. So you keep on stepping one foot after another inching closer and closer to the finish, each step in rhythm, each step heading nowhere.
Originally posted 2017-02-22 17:19:20.