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Walk To New York: A Journey Out of the Wilds of Canada

by Charles Wilkins

“Because I felt like it” – that’s the reason journalist Charles Wilkins most often gave for deciding to walk from Thunder Bay in northern Ontario to New York City. But since the walk was preceded by the breakdown of his 17-year marriage, readers are given the impression, at least at the outset, that this memoir of Wilkins’ 10-week pedestrian journey is also a middle-aged man’s concentrated effort to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. Call it walk therapy.

Unfortunately, unless you call the gathering and healing of blisters a dramatic arc, there is little in the opening chapters to hook readers. We never learn why Wilkins “walks out” on his family, how he feels about it, or even what sort of people they are. It’s an omission that, though understandable, unfortunately deprives the book of any sense of conflict. There’s plenty of chafing, barfing, and mucus, but conflict of the foot vs. shoe variety isn’t much to go on when the reader already knows where the narrator is going and how he’s getting there.

Further dampening the drama is the fact that while Wilkins heroically hoofs it to the big city, his buddy George patiently drives a van ahead of him, sets up camp, cooks dinner, cleans up, takes down the camp, and drives again. For the reader, knowing that Wilkins could get in the van at any time and pass the night, or get groceries or drive home, makes the whole journey somewhat banal or even – especially when Wilkins compares himself to Terry Fox or Jack Kerouac – a bit pretentious. On the upside, the presence of the van demands the presence of the driver, George. As it turns out, the fights that break out between the two longtime friends provide some of the most amusing and dramatic moments in the book.

Wilkins is the author of 11 other books, and his writing is sharp and rarely resorts to sentimentality. He is in his element when the journey provides him with the chance to expound on history or politics. The social commentary also heats up as soon as Wilkins sets foot in America. Here, turning his attention away from his aching feet, Wilkins finds his pace both on the road and on the page.