Until a few years ago, I used to go for very long walks along the bike path over on the west side of town. Just getting to the bike path is a long walk, as the part of it nearest my house is more than a mile and a half away. The paved part of the path was then about two miles long, but another two miles that were unpaved were accessible. Since then, I think more of it has been paved, but I haven't been there.
It runs along the right-of-way of the old logging railroad. In a couple of places, it has a frontage road, but most of the length runs between back yards, and it intersects streets about once every half mile, so it tends to be fairly quiet. It curves a great deal, in order to maintain a steady grade of about 2%, and in places the old roadbed is raised several feet above a gully, or runs in a deep cut through a hill. The paved portion of the right-of-way is only a few feet wide, and the broad verge, rising and falling with the natural landscape, is studded with trees that provide some shade, and with brush, much of which is cleaned out every couple of years to reduce the fire hazard. Along one stretch, blackberries grow -- the only blackberries I know of in the entire town.
But for several years, I used to take evening walks along that path. This was only in the part of the year when the evenings are long, since Paradise is no place to walk after dark (few sidewalks and even fewer streetlights) and I never had enough time during the short autumn and winter days to get over there. During this time, I calculated that I was walking an average of seven miles each evening. I would get very trim in the spring and summer, and each fall and winter I would have to loosen my belt more and more as the seasons passed. Though I never particularly enjoyed the walks too and from the path, the walks along the path itself were pleasant enough. It was originally paved for the benefit of bicyclists, but there were always more pedestrians than cyclists using it. Some evenings, along the two miles of the trail that I frequented, I would pass several dozen other walkers, most of them regulars who I came to recognize. Other evenings, I would walk along the entire length of the trail and not see another person, other than drivers on the cross streets, unless I caught a glimpse of someone in one of the adjacent back yards. Now and then, there would be a kid on a skateboard, or a rollerblader (including one guy who always skated using a pair of what looked like ski poles.) A couple of times I saw motorcycles, which were not allowed on the path, and on a couple of other occasions I saw a police car slowly rolling along on the precariously narrow pavement.
Most of the time, though, it was a very peaceful place for a walk. Deer would sometimes cross the path, and cats could sometimes be seen, sitting on back fences, watching the passing scene. Sprinklers would arc across shaded lawns in deserted back yards, birds would sing from the trees, and the sound of passing traffic on the main road a bit farther west was muffled by the intervening woods. At the place where the path runs along a wooded gully behind the campus of the high school, I would sometimes see evening football or baseball practice going on, but the shouts and whistles, like the sound of the traffic, were muffled by the trees and brush, so that they seemed to be coming from a great distance, or from a time far in the past. The path did, in fact, seem detached from ordinary time, and it was easy for me to imagine that I heard the faint echo of the steam engines which once pulled the rattling trains up and the mountain, and held back the log-laden cars on the way down (not always successfully -- on a few occasions, speeding runaway trains careened into Chico, or left the tracks before reaching it, when they lost their brakes.)
A few years ago, I quit going to the path, and confined myself to walking through the nearby streets. It isn't that I lost interest in the path, but only that, as the area has grown, and the population grown younger, the traffic along the street which I must use to reach the path has reached a level which I find unnerving. Walking in a narrow ribbon of dirt between a deep ditch and what amounts to a two-lane highway is not pleasant, even when the highway is infrequently used. Once the highway gets so busy that it is never free of speeding cars (and fat SUV's,) I want nothing to do with it. I no longer need to progressively loosen my belt through the fall and winter, as I never get enough exercise to need to tighten it in the spring and summer. Now, I need to loosen it all year 'round. Ah, well. If there were a less-traveled route to the bike path, I'd probably still be walking there. Given the way this town is laid out, such a route is unlikely to ever be opened. So, instead of going for long walks, I spend the long summer evenings writing about long walks, and contemplating buying slightly larger pants.