The Long Walk

A personal journey across the Bay area

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click to enlarge The Long Walk - Sean Deren
Sean Deren
The Long Walk

Manhattan and so many other great walking cities have a tradition of the foot tour. When you're walking, the large, impersonal aspect of the city changes to more personal encounters — with strangers, loose dogs and lost lottery tickets. A walk from city to city requires an appreciation for urban living and wild flowers in the rough of failing neighborhoods. In Tampa Bay, even going to the corner convenience store requires sending the remains of a dinosaur off into the ozone.

I miss walking in Manhattan. The Bay Area has many undiscovered urban hikes and opportunities for finding new roads to discovery without the dizzying annoyance of real and potentially dangerous nature. Or so I thought before I went on my own urban hike.

EXERCISE IN HUMILITYThe distance between my Davis Islands home and the St. Petersburg Pier is roughly 20 miles.

Purists would tell you my training routine of walking a quarter mile to Tate Brother's Pizza on Davis Island Boulevard once a week for a pitcher of beer and molten lava hot wings was woefully inadequate to prepare me to walk that distance in two days.

It wasn't.

My companion for the walk was a new love, who had pronounced me lazy a week before our hike began. By the end of this little urban hike, he would join my legion of ex-boyfriends who have deeply underestimated me and overestimated their own charms. His two-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week gym regimen had broadened his shoulders while delicately maintaining the heft of his beer belly. He believed that this activity rendered him a superior physical specimen.

If true love is blind, then self-love can be dyslexic.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF BLISTERSThe bridge from Davis Islands to Bayshore Boulevard is the most perilous part of the trip to the St. Petersburg Pier.

The 35 m.p.h. on-ramp portion that feeds onto the Island's main drag is usually stampeded by sport utility vehicles speeding by at 50 m.p.h. and bearing locals talking on cell phones while checking their faces in the rearview mirror and changing radio stations. Once this body-crushing death trap is crossed, there is the necro-zone where fishermen throw unwanted catfish and stingrays. The resultant decomposing sludge makes for a slippery walk.

While the urban hike differs from its tree-hugging bathroom-sparse cousin, it still has dangers — though clear benefits abound. First, it isn't necessary to carry a backpack that could double as a body bag. Any school backpack will do. I favor the Scooby Doo backpack. It isn't necessary to pack food or water, emergency flares or camping gear. It is nice to take things with multiple uses like duct tape (belt, shoe repair, sex aid) and MD 20/20 fortified wine product (yuppy repellant, wound cleaner, liquid motivation).

It's also good to follow some basic rules. Read the current medical literature on the care and feeding of blisters, take in the widely varying views on "popping vs. not popping," pick one and pack the necessary implements. If hiking socks are out of your league, buy the lowest percentage cotton available in a sport sock three-pack. Change them every three hours. As the miles mount, cotton's friendly soft absorbency becomes an acid footbath.

MILLIONAIRE MILESBy the time we made it to Bayshore Boulevard, approximately 1/16th of a mile, my hiking buddy was working on his second cigarette and an increasingly bad mood.

We had to get to food fast.

A properly planned urban hike has all the offerings of a fair midway. With a plethora of convenience stores and shops, the backpack can be kept to essentials. Like socks, underwear and call-brand liquor in plastic containers.

The walk down Bayshore is best if the infamous bayside sidewalk is avoided. The crush of jogging bras, roller blades, pampered pets and speeding baby buggies is terrifically overrated. Walking across the street by the huge, stately, eye-bleed-causing conspicuous multistory homes facing the bay is a genteel if humbling experience.

Occasionally you can spot an incredibly thin denizen of one of these mansions, her facial expression tightened with a surgical precision we mock primarily because we can't afford it. Much like the simplest chandelier on the porch, the table settings visible through large bay windows or the landscaping — a square foot of which would equal one low down payment with Bond's Auto Sales buy-here-pay-here plan.

In addition to being hungry and foul-tempered, the love of my life version 5.0 hates his shirt. Conveniently, our turn onto Bay-to-Bay Boulevard puts us within a block of the Salvation Army on MacDill Avenue.

Hyper salesmen leap about the store, hustling the half-off sale. It's Let's Make a Deal with used lingerie. For $3 we walk out with hiking boots, a man's tank top and a woman's handbag.

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