Since urban hiking Los Angeles last year was, I hadn’t ever really gotten around to urban hiking back at home in Denver. Sure, I did a lot of in town walking, but I ambled for transportation and not as part of a hiking group. This weekend, that viewpoint changed when I met with Jonathan Stalls from Denver’s Walk2Connect, an organization geared towards changing how people think about pedestrianism. In 2010, Jonathan walked for 8.5 months from Delaware to San Francisco with his dog as part of KivaWalk. He took the lessons he learned from that journey to create Walk2Connect, a Denver-based group that leads urban walking adventures. Despite extreme weather over this “long distance” urban walk, I learned a bit about how walking in the city can be used to connect people to self, place, and others.
Although originally 17 people signed up for the excursion, temperatures in the 20s kept all but the bravest warm at home. Our trip started at a Denver-landmark, the independent bookstore Tattered Cover. After meandering through downtown and crossing the pedestrian bridge over the South Platte River, we caught a few more hikers who met us at the bikeshare station in front of Denver’s enormous flagship REI. From here, we headed on a 13 mile Platte River trail to the historic town of Littleton.
When construction closes down roads, planners always designate well-signed reroutes for cars to get back on track. When bike paths or sidewalks get closed down, though, these closures can be especially inconvenient. A break in the route around 6th avenue led us into residential and industrial parts of the city. We wandered for more than a mile to get back on route. At one time, we realized the path continued on the other side of the river with no pedestrian-accessible bridge in sight.
This detour may have been a bummer if we were in a car, but at 3 miles per hour, we had time to appreciate how the city transitioned away from the commercial and residential parts of downtown. We could afford to notice the colorful murals vivifying industrial buildings. We were treated to the aromas of large scale bakeries.
Back on the path, we spotted riparian wildlife of the South Platte unfazed by the weather. Using birding guides, we identified great blue herons, buffleheads, and the ever present Canada goose. Soon, snow started coming down hard on us, but we were warm from the walking. It was invigorating to explore the city in such weather and to have the path to ourselves.
The best part of the Walk2Connect experience was getting to meet new people and talk in a relaxed, low pressure atmosphere while enjoying the beauty of the city. As we finished our walk at the famous Littleton breakfast café, Toast, I felt a bit like we were all on a team that went on a long, snow-filled adventure. Our waitress had noticed us walking earlier that day and it was neat to share our adventure with her.
Before this hike, somehow, the distance between Denver and Littleton had seemed vastly larger in my mind because I had only ever taken that trip by car. Indeed, I would have guessed the distance between the start and end point as 25 miles. Walk2Connect allowed me to realize with others how small and linked the city actually is. I look forward to exploring new places in Denver with them soon.