062619 Walk to connect

A dozen people gathered to walk around the Santa Ynez Valley in the recent Walk2Connect event.

On Monday, I took a walk around Los Olivos with my husband and a dozen strangers. By the end of the walk, we were no longer strangers. And that is the point of the Denver-founded organization Walk2Connect.

In 2010, Jonathan Stalls took a 242-day walk across the United States. In the 8½ months of his over 3,000-mile stroll, some profound things happened for him: He made amazing connections with people across the country, learned countless stories, shared meals and relied on the kindness of strangers.

When he came back home to Denver, he formed the organization with a goal to re-create the human connection he experienced through the simple act of walking together.

This past weekend, Saint Mark’s in the Valley Church, in partnership with the Buellton Recreation Center and the city of Buellton, invited Walk2Connect to lead a series of walks around our beautiful valley.

Each, including a leadership training session, was held in a different location and themed to help participants focus their walks in a specific way. There was no cost to walkers and all the walks were nonsectarian and nonreligious.

A jaunt near the river in Solvang directed walkers to immerse themselves in nature. A sunset walk led participants to look at the budding art scene in Lompoc. There was also a glow-in-the-dark walk in Buellton. And on Monday, 12 of us took a stroll through Los Olivos with the theme of walking as a sacred practice.

On a portion of the last walk, the leader read poetry about our natural world, then we walked in silence through a lush wooded path just feet from the traffic on Highway 154. We concluded with meditations: first wishing a loved one be safe, healthy and joyful; then more of a challenge, we wished the same for someone we have conflict with; and, finally, repeating these words to ourselves: Safety. Health. Joy. All this while breathing in a beautiful Monday morning in the Santa Ynez Valley among like-minded people.

When we wound up, about an hour later, on the patio of St. Mark’s Church, we were no longer strangers. We stood in a circle and wished each other goodwill, not knowing each other’s politics, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference — but having strolled and shared a beautiful connection.

The rest of my day went very well.

I learned a few things from the two Walk2Connect trainers, Rosa Galter and Dustin Ratcliff. Besides the obvious value of walking: with movement and exercise, so much more is available.

One program led by Walk2Connect is a walk for low-income folks to go to a farmers market, then get a cooking class and recipes for making the seasonal products they’ve just purchased.

But farmers markets can be intimidating for people. It may be easier to get a quick and cheap meal at McDonald’s. What are you supposed to fix with all those vegetables?

I could use such instruction. Sometimes I look admiringly at vegetables sold in our Solvang Wednesday farmers market but don’t buy them because I don’t know how they should be prepared. Kale? Kohlrabi?

Further, did you know that a national policy exists so that food stamps are worth two for one in a certified farmers market? That means for a $100 worth of food stamps, people can receive $200 of fresh produce at a farmers market. Double what they get in a supermarket.

Yet, the greatest benefit, I think, of Walk2Connect is neither nutritional nor physical fitness — although those are good things — but connection. We are invited to get out of our solitary cars and as a group, admire the world that surrounds us. We walk with no other intention other than to be exactly where we are at that time and place.

At 3 mph, walking together is such a simple thing, but such a human way to connect — even my little dachshund Ramona, trotting along on her 3-inch legs, agrees.

Walk2Connect will be sponsoring further walking activities in our area. I highly recommend them.

 Elayne Klasson, PhD in psychology, is a writer and recent transplant to the Valley. She was formerly on the faculty at San Jose State University. Her new novel, Love is a Rebellious Bird, will be published this November.


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