X marks the spot (at 4am)

At around 4am on Saturday morning, a very dark, overcast, and rather drizzly night, I was approximately here (link to Bing Maps); somewhere near the "X" formed where the zig-zaggy footpaths cross that descend the steep valley side. I was somewhat wobbly from several bottles of my favourite ales. I don't always walk home this way from my regular Friday night trip to hang out with my little crew of friends at one of their houses, but the time, location, and inebriation are pretty representative of what I would consider a perfectly normal 3-4 mile walk home. The other walking options are similarly cross-country, or involve long stretches of road with no pedestrian footpath. Very heavy rain or snow might make me think twice, but don't normally put me off. On particularly beautiful nights, I have even had an unplanned snooze after sitting down to admire the stars or the dawn-chorus.

My usual trip to the supermarket is somewhat shorter, but similar; there are stretches of road with no pedestrian pavement, and they involve crossing countryside on muddy, unpaved public footpaths, carrying as many supplied as I can on my back.

The commute to my last place of work took in a two and half mile walk along an old railway line (you can see this on the linked map if you switch to Ordinance Survey view), and a 400ft climb to the top of a very exposed hill (over 1000 ft at the summit). That was just to get the bus to Halifax, after which I walked another mile or so to the office. I did this in both directions every work day, in the dark in winter, and in all weathers. I even astonished the boss when I turned up having battled through waist deep snowdrifts; of course, most of my colleagues who lived in Halifax itself had phoned in to say they couldn't make it!

So what's my point? That I'm super-fit and smug that I'm so much hardier than everyone else? Hmm, I'm certainly not all that fit, just very stubborn. There is a certain pride I take in it, but I recognise it as being a rather perverse and masochistic kind of pride. So here are my main reasons why I do this (some might say post-hoc rationalisations, and I would not disagree.)

  • I find public transport extremely overwhelming due to the noise, movement, and close proximity to other people. Being alone in a taxi with a complete stranger is also very uncomfortable, and I find being in any kind of road vehicle very disorientating. When attempting to learn to drive, I quickly realised that my autistic traits make it, at the very least, very risky for me and other road users, so I decided it was prudent never to do it (likewise cycling on the roads.)
  • Local bus routes don't really go where I want to go without having to change buses in the busy city centre (another completely overwhelming environment), and the last buses of the day are so early that there'd be little point going out at all if I were to rely on them to get home (the work commute would also have taken longer without the walking.)
  • I'm very house-bound a lot of the time due to social phobia and sensory sensitivities. These walks are the best exercise I get, and I find walking extremely therapeutic for my mind too. Even battling through the elements has it's own, slightly masochistic, feeling of achievement (I used to be a caver/pot-holer), and it's nice to see the wildlife and the stars, and to be out when there are no other people around and the roads are extremely quiet.
  • I have a very deep aversion to involving anyone else in these things, even indirectly. I hate that a journey, or having shopping delivered, might be subject to other people's timetables and mistakes. I hate to ask for help, full stop, and do things under my own steam even when others might consider it ridiculous to do so.
  • 4am doesn't seem late to me due to my lifetime of late-onset insomnia. It is totally normal to me to have gone to school or work after only a couple of hours sleep. I know no different, so I just grit my teeth and battle through the sleep-deprivation every day.
  • For decades now, this has been how I live; primarily within the radius that I can walk, and always walking when it is remotely possible. It feels utterly natural.

Reactions to this "lifestyle choice" from friends are very varied. The friends that I visit at our Friday night gatherings don't bat an eyelid, and some of them have quite similar habits (at least a couple of them are almost certainly also autistic; the others don't lead particularly "conventional" lifestyles, either). Other friends react with complete horror, and implore me not to take the risks which they perceive I'm taking. I have only realised very recently that my reaction to their concerns probably seems flippant and ungrateful; but I know what the risks are (years of hiking, caving, etc.), and I accept them as a reasonable compromise so that I can work, shop, and socialise. In the decades that I've lived this way, I have never come to serious physical harm, have never been in trouble with law enforcement (I stick to footpaths and never trespass), and the only time I've been mugged or attacked was in broad daylight in a city-centre park. The fact that I will almost certainly not be able to continue like this as I get older frightens the hell out of me, quite frankly.

So I thought I would throw this open to comments from people here. There are no right answers, and I'm not looking for pity. I've just realised how little I question it and how much I've underestimated how bizarre it can seem to other people. What does anyone think? Am I completely crazy to do this? Are my justifications just perverse rationalisations? Do you do these things too?

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