Some thoughts on road walking, collected during a 140 km (87 mi) hike. The walk took me from urban to rural with sections of backcountry throughout. Overall, about 70 km (44 mi) was spent road walking. Navigating traffic on foot is probably more dangerous than any exposed ridgeline. Heightened situational awareness is the key to survival. Here are some tips for next time you’re between trailheads.
Watch your footing. Roads are riddled with hazards such as potholes, kerbs, gutters, drains and roadkill.
Don’t become the roadkill you step around. Don’t look at your phone – not even for a second. Little did that possum realise, it was posting a status update for the last time.
Explore textures. Asphalt is monotonous, keep your feet on their toes by mixing up the surface underfoot. With a bit of imagination, road walking can be like skating across the top of neopolitan icecream; vanilla asphalt to the left, a chocolate verge down the middle and a grassy strawberry bank to the right. Choose your adventure.
Hydrate or die. The dark and highly specular surface of asphalt means it holds a lot of heat. That heat will radiate upwards and cook you until crispy.
Cover up. Roads typically lack tree cover or shelter so you will be exposed to the elements. Roll down your sleeves, don a hat and sunglasses. Sunglasses will serve double-duty and protect your eyes from dust and debris kicked up by vehicles.
Use the pole tips for your trekking pole(s), if that’s your thing. With rubber covers, the carbide tips underneath will be protected from the abrasive asphalt. Best keep them sharp for fending off wild animals in the jungle. I personally don’t use trekking poles on roads as I don’t need the added stability or shock absorption.
Do the opposite of what the road rules state. Walk against traffic, with exceptions. If you’re in a country that drives on left side of the road, you walk on the right (and vice versa). Facing the oncoming traffic will give you more time to get out of the way if necessary. Always have an escape route and be prepared to execute a rapid duck and dive.
Don’t wear headphones. Headphones reduce your situational awareness and your ability to hear vehicles approaching from behind.
Wave to every damn car. The ones approaching from behind too – even the school bus driver who has seen you several times already today. Waving, as a form of non-violent communication, can be disarming. I’ve had a driver approach giving the middle finger, then immediately become friendly upon seeing me wave.
Finally, if you’re in a rural area; take the opportunity to practice your farm animals calls. Because with no music, podcasts or Netflix, what are else are you going to do?