You don’t see many walkers out on country roads these days.
As a culture, we’ve slowly moved to the commonly-held belief that the only people who have to walk on roads are hitchhikers, down-and-outs, and those whose car has failed them.
Instead, we most often save our walking efforts for safely designated paths and tracks.
So much so that I wondered: is walking on the side of the road legal? A quick check confirmed that in NSW, our roadways are shared, with the exception of signposted freeways. It’s legal to walk on the side of the road as long as there are no footpaths.
I love a good wander down a country road, especially one I’ve never been down, turning a corner to come face to face with the warm brown eyes of a cow, hearing nothing but the crunch of gravel underneath my feet and the far-off throb of a four-wheeler engine, breathing in the scents of roadside honeysuckle and flowering wattle.
While I’m checking out your house from the road and keeping alert for the dogs who patrol backroads [thank you to all of you who keep your dogs fenced in!] I’m also noticing the dried out baby snake squashed under someone’s tyre and the way the air feels different in the dip of a gully than high on a hill.
But some country roads are decidedly dicey to walk along and there have been times I’ve had to dive into the ditch to get out of the way of oncoming traffic.
While I try not to walk on roads with a 100 km/hr speed limit, sometimes I do to get to a smaller road and I begin to understand what cyclists have been saying for years. If you’ve never spent time on roads out of a car you can’t imagine how vulnerable it is to be alone on a narrow shoulder while cars fly past at 120 km/hr.
I do my best when out walking to make sure drivers can see me and to get out of their way – in a way, walkers and cyclists have the advantage in this situation because we can hear a car coming and be prepared.
There’s been some scrutiny of shared roadways recently, with several cyclist deaths and comment from cyclists about the risks of being on the road.
No mention of walkers and I can see why. Why would we need to walk anywhere anymore?
In times past, people walked more.
Five kilometres to school, two to church, one to the neighbour’s farm to borrow a tool. I imagine that people stopped to chat when they saw each other and asked after each other’s families, tomato crops or stock.
When I’m out walking, no car has ever stopped. In fact, for some reason, the drivers of the cars who pass me are often staring with fixed eyes into their own laps at their phone and not looking at the road at all.
I don’t mind that you don’t stop – I’m enjoying my own thoughts, the sweet breeze and the swing of my arms – so you don’t need to enquire after my tomatoes or ask how many cows I have.
But I’d love it if more of the drivers who pass me at high speed in a cloud of dust made some sign that they noticed I was on the roadside.
No need to touch the brakes, especially when you are taking a sharp corner on a dirt road at 80 km/hr. Just decelerate. Take that hot little foot from the accelerator and flick a finger from the steering wheel in acknowledgement.
When you’re driving, please drive as though around that next corner there could be something or someone on the road that you need to adjust your driving for.
And as you decelerate to pass me, maybe roll your window down to catch the breeze – heavy with dust and the sweet scent of honeysuckle, calling you to slow down and take a little walk.