Urban Hiking: A Great Day in 56,973 Steps

Back when I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, I would travel to a new city almost every weekend I didn’t have a basketball game. During one 27-week span in 2010, I visited 22 different places.

The travel M.O. I developed was this:

  • Check into my hostel, grab a map (I didn’t have Google Maps in my pocket back then), and ask the staff for their favorite parts of town.
  • Hit the main tourist information office for more suggestions.
  • Take the first possible walking tour to get background on the city, learn the lay of the land, and milk the tour guide for more tips.
  • Clip the pedometer my sister gave me for Christmas to my waistband.
  • Walk, walk, walk.

I would try to take the most interesting, not shortest, route between the spots marked on my map. Then I’d ask people at those spots for their recommendations. And if something else caught my eye along the way, I’d veer off course to check it out.

Typically, I’d end up walking between 25,000 and 40,000 steps a day.

My fuel? Local beers (I collected labels at the time), street food specialties, and ice cream. Also: a desire to get a true “feel” for the city, which I did thanks to all the ground I covered.

I loved “urban hiking” that way.

Whenever possible, I still do it. Marrakech and Taipei are more recent highlights. But I’ve gone urban hiking significantly less than I used to for various reasons and excuses.

A few Saturdays ago, though, I was at it again. This time was a bit different, though. Instead of exploring a new city, I hiked in my hometown, Vancouver, Canada. And I took even more steps than usual: 56,973. As far as I know, it’s the most steps I’ve taken in a day in my life.

It was a challenge. But it was also such a great experience that I look forward to making it a regular activity again.

Here’s the story.

The “Four Corners” Challenge

The walk wasn’t my idea.

It was my friend Dave’s.

One day last summer, he went for a walk around the block while on the phone with his girlfriend, then, à la Forest Gump, he just kept walking.

Dave wandered to and fro all day, all over the city. And he loved it.

This summer, he was keen for a sequel. But rather than randomly crisscross Vancouver, he had an idea: to circle the city. “The Four Corners,” he called it, because the goal was to touch each corner of the city.

I jumped on his invite. And my dad signed up to join us for the first half.

Our urban hike objectives:

  • Rack up major steps.
  • Chat.
  • Get a fresh feel for the city.
Rough measurement of how long the urban hike would take.
Getting a rough estimate of how far our urban hike would be.

Long, But Leisurely and Loose

Google Maps very roughly estimated the walk would be 40km (29 mi). We tacked on at least another 10km for not being able to, nor wanting to, walk as the crow flies. That would take about 9 hours, plus breaks, walking at a leisurely pace. Since we planned to start at 7 am and budgeted as many as 12 hours, we weren’t in a race against time.

We also didn’t plan a route. We simply met up by Science World in the center of town and decided to go clockwise, heading toward the northeast corner first. As much as possible, we walked down interesting streets and paths and avoided noisy thoroughfares.

A dead-end forced us to off-road a bit, adding to the adventure.

Old Stomping Grounds, Fresh Tracks

Even though we’d all lived in Vancouver for decades, our urban hike was a true travel experience:

  • We experienced the full spectrum of the city, from tiptoeing around strung-out addicts sprawled on the downtown Eastside’s streets to gawking at mansions in Vancouver’s Southlands that location scouts for Succession would drool over.
  • We walked down streets, alleys, and paths—and trespassed along a golf course—that none of us had set foot on before.
  • We discovered parts of town that we didn’t know existed, like Deering Island, whose mansions with luxury speedboats docked in their back yards reminded me of a Pacific Northwest version of the swanky Miami islands from the movie Bad Boys.

Even the food we ate was novel.

Just after 1 pm, we stopped into Bing & Noodle World because it was en route and the photo of the Chinese pancake on the window looked appetizing.

How could we resist?

We each had a pancake and drank a lot of the complimentary tea. Feeling adventurous, I ordered fried pork kidney soup because I didn’t know if I’d eaten pork kidney before, and Dave had hutu noodles because the server warned us about their weird texture.

The flavors (and textures) weren’t as delicious or exotic as we’d hoped. Dave and I agreed we wouldn’t hurry to return to or recommend Bing & Noodle, but we’ll remember our meal better than most hipper, hipster-er, higher-rated restaurants.1

And it was the fuel we needed for our next four-and-a-half hours of urban hiking.

Our route.

Walking, Talking, and Gawking

I ended my urban hike at 5:30 pm when we hit Kits Beach, five blocks from my apartment.

In the ten-and-a-half hours since we started at 7 am, we took one 30-minute coffee break and a 45-minute lunch, so Dave and I walked together for 9h15min, covering just under 50km in 56,973 steps.

A friend I bumped into at the beach afterward and Kim both asked me the same thing: “What did you talk about all that time?”

A lot!

I would have guessed we would spend a good chunk of it in silence, as is the case when I go hiking with friends. But no. Our conversation wandered as steadily and easily as we did. I think it’s because the nature of urban hiking is conducive to conversation. You’re walking side-by-side most of the time, which has been found to get your brains in sync; it boosts your creativity; it’s never strenuous; and you’re not preoccupied with watching your step.

It didn’t hurt that Dave likes to talk, is easy to talk to, and is interested in everything. But here’s the thing: If we had been driving in a car together for 10 hours straight, we certainly would have run out of things to say and resorted to podcasts, an audiobook, or music.

That’s the beauty of walking, even compared to jogging or cycling. The effortless metronomic motion engages your brain somehow but doesn’t overwhelm it. And the flat paths of the city gave us the freedom to look around physically and wander mentally.

It never got boring.

Maybe we were lucky to be able to urban hike around beautiful Vancouver, with all its parks, greenways, non-cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and sidewalks. In my other “hometown,” Cape Town, the limited safe-to-wander neighborhoods would make a similarly long urban hike too risky.

In Cape Town’s defense, it would be entirely possible—and even more scenic—to walk out my front door there and do a huge nature hike around Table Mountain National Park. My friends did so last November in their 100km+, 36-hour 13 Peaks Challenge. But that’s a different type of adventure.

Celebrating hitting the fourth corner.

Take a (Urban) Hike!

I’m super glad Dave invited me to do the Four Corners.

  • I rekindled my urban wanderlust.
  • I set a personal record for steps.
  • I expanded and deepened my knowledge of my hometown.
  • I earned a shiny new anti-regret.

That Saturday will certainly be one of my top 15 most memorable days of 2023 and earn an Unrutty Award nomination or two. And it certainly won’t be my last time urban hiking.

Consider trying it, too.

Keep doing exciting things,


PS: After I left Dave, he kept going… and going and going. He ended his urban hike at his apartment after having taken 102,007 steps over 85km (53mi). Over two marathons!

Dave’s big day.

Quick Urban Hiking Tips

  • Packing. All I needed was:
    • A light jacket because it was drizzly.
    • A phone to pay for food—and book an Uber home from corner #2, in my dad’s case.
    • A cup, which I could fill at the water fountains at the parks we walked by.
    • Socks
  • Change your socks regularly. The soles of my feet were white and tenderized by the end of my hike. Some blisters were popping up. A steady supply of dry socks would help.
  • Treat your urban hike like a vacation, even if you’re doing it at home. Spend more liberally on getting the most out of your experience. Buy food when you’re hungry. Take a taxi if you get too tired. Make it an enjoyable day where you happen to walk a lot—maybe more than you’ve ever done before.
  • Check out 12hourwalk.com, for related tips, inspiration, an app, and even a book.

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