Health in Action: Laura Foster, Portland Urban Walks Enthusiast

Northwest Community Friday, November 21, 2014 Written by

Our Health in Action series profiles people in the community who are living Actively Northwest. Follow along each week as we profile new people who are committed to living active, healthy lives through fitness and food.

Sometimes, the most direct route is the most boring. At least that’s what Laura Foster, Portland-based walking coach and author of five Portland urban walking books, would say. Read on to discover how to get the most out of your Portland urban walks, and her tips for turning a Sunday stroll into a day of exploration.

ANW: Tell us about what it’s like to be a “walking coach.”

Portland urban walksLaura: As a walking coach, I don’t fitness-walk or power-walk. For me, walking is about restoration of the spirit and making connections with new people and places. This is a wonderful and necessary way to stay healthy and happy — as vital to well-being as the squats, lunges, laps and planks we do to get our heart rates up. When I lead others on walks, the connections we make with people we pass bring us a lot of laughter and small, ordinary joys. We leave our stress on the sidewalks behind us.

My job is leading urban explorations in Portland and nearby towns, talking a bit about local geology, history or architecture along the way. We usually walk from 8:30 a.m. to noon, covering 5 to 7 miles, with stops for stories or to investigate something we see.

ANW: What inspired you to write about walks in the Portland area?

Laura: I’ve always loved wandering alone in cities. When I moved to Portland in 1989, I began exploring on foot, aiming to never take the same route twice. I fell in love with the city’s buttes, close-packed neighborhoods and old streetcar commercial districts humming with shops and cafés.

When I met my husband in Portland, he’d take me on walks through hidden paths and stairs in the West Hills. A geologist, he showed me where homes had slid away in landslides and places where the earth was still moving. I wanted to explore more of these “secret” paths, so I eventually created 20 meandering routes and wrote “Portland Hill Walks.”

From there, I began writing about regional trails and other places to explore on foot. I believe every good walk includes healthy food, a refreshing drink or a bit of local shopping. Portland is all about good food and creative people selling their creations. I may not carry the 10 hiking essentials when I walk in town, but I always carry some money.

ANW: What advice do you have for people looking to get the most out of a weekend walk?

Laura: If you’re with a friend, don’t just focus on each other, heads down, power-walking and talking through your week’s tensions and problems. You could do that on two treadmills in a gym! Slow down; follow your instincts and be open to wherever your feet take you. Leave the ear buds at home. Talk to the people you pass.

Portland urban walks
And don’t wait for a perfect day — every day is a good day to walk. Let it rain; you’ll be home soon!

A few bonus walking ideas:

  • Don’t pass up a dead end. It’ll often have a path or stairway at the end.
  • Walk along a single street through many different neighborhoods, observing as it changes character along the way. Take a bus back to the start.
  • Pick three or four city parks and map out a loop that will take you to each one.
  • Avoid streets you’d drive on. Walk one or two streets over from where the cars drive.
  • Turn at every corner, zig-zagging through the first half of a route, slow and observant, then power-walk back, using fewer turns.

ANW: What’s your favorite walk for this time of year?

Laura: Fall is good for exploring neighborhoods that are less exposed to the stormy south wind. Irvington, Eastmoreland, Portland Heights, Nob Hill and Kenton are some of my favorite wind-sheltered areas around Portland, both for their colorful landscapes and intriguing homes.

Fall and spring are my favorite seasons for urban walks. Warm coffee is never far away, and against a grey fall day, the plant colors glow especially bright: pink and red sasanqua camellias, purple beauty berry, orange persimmons, and the turning leaves of street trees.

Just talking about this makes me want to head out. See you out there!

All photos courtesy of Linda Starr and Laura Foster.