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Episode 03

Diana Nyad is the author of four books including a memoir published by Knopf, sports correspondent and celebrated motivational speaker. Most of all, Diana is admired throughout the world for her legendary accomplishments as a long-distance swimmer including a 28-mile swim around the island of Manhattan carried out in 1975 at the age of 26; and, after four aborted tries, her 111 mile, 53 hour swim from Cuba to Florida completed on September 2, 2013 at the age of 64. Most recently, together with her partner Bonnie, Diana co-founded the Everwalk movement. On this episode of the PFF Podcast, she discusses the value of walking on this earth and igniting a "walking revolution" in the United States in the name of health, a renewed sense of community, and self-empowerment.

Transcript

Welcome to the Piaggio Fast Forward podcast. Join the conversation by subscribing to the PFF podcast at https://www.piaggiofastforward.com/podcast.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Welcome to Mobility plus, the PFF podcast. I'm your host Jeffrey Schnapp, Chief Visionary Officer at Piaggio Fast Forward. It's an honor for me to present to you today's special guest, Diana Nyad. Diana is the author of four books, including a memoir published by Knopf. She has served as a senior correspondent for Fox Sports News, hosted her own show on CNBC and announced numerous major sporting events for ABC sports. In addition to contributing a weekly column for National Public Radio.

Jeffrey Schnapp

She's also a celebrated motivational speaker. Most of all, Diana is admired throughout the world for some legendary accomplishments as a long distance swimmer. These include a 28 mile swim around the Island of Manhattan carried out in 1975 at the age of 26. And after four aborted tries her 111 mile 53 hours swim from Cuba to Florida completed on September 2nd, 2013, at the age of 64. Together with her partner Bonnie Stoll, herself a former number three in the world on the pro racquetball tour, Diana founded The EverWalk Movement in 2015.

Jeffrey Schnapp

EverWalk is dedicated to igniting a walking revolution in the United States in the name of health, a renewed sense of community and self-empowerment. Diana, in the course of your extraordinary life, you've accomplished some truly memorable things, but I wanted to start from the immediate present. We're living in a nation that is going through an incredibly traumatic and difficult period. Our cities are burning literally as we speak. We have endured several months of quarantine, and the future is ill defined right now, as we begin to emerge from that quarantine. I want to just start out with just talking a little bit about how you've been experiencing this period and particularly in the last couple of days as the situation in American cities has become so extraordinarily volatile due to systemic racism, a history of police brutality and social injustice.

Diana Nyad

Yeah. Jeffrey, I think a word that so many millions of us have sort of gravitated toward during the whole three months so far of the pandemic, and now, as you mentioned, the last few days of the rioting and the anger over the egregious state of racial injustice in our country, and that word is values. I know what happened to me and I didn't sort of sit down and have a talk with myself, and I'm usually, need I say, pretty self-motivated and disciplined throughout my days. And I don't know why, but I got the idea very young, like at age eight or nine, that this whole thing was going to go by very quickly and I better grasp onto it and do everything I can to make each day worthwhile.

Diana Nyad

So I've already got that sort of fabric of a life philosophy going, but this is not over. You look at the state of California, all of a sudden went into the red zone, our cases are going up again. So I'm still extremely vigilant and still in the pandemic, not over the pandemic. And so the word values has come up, without ... I usually make my living on an airplane, I go off to do public appearances and whatnot, and that has gone down to zero. Making a living for me has gone down to zero for this year for 2020. I'm lucky I've worked hard, I've saved some, I'm not living paycheck to paycheck, like a lot of people.

Diana Nyad

And sort of, I'm looking at my home quite a bit. This is my home. This is my dog, who's very old. And toward the end of his life and my value of where I live or why did I choose this. When I first moved here from New York, I’m in Los Angeles, I just spent two or three years complaining. This is no New York, is it? Where's New York city? Where's the vibrance? And now I have much more the past three months because I can't go out to all of Los Angeles the way I usually like to explore and whatnot.

Diana Nyad

I am taking down values. I used to be a voracious reader. I don't need to talk to you, you come from the entire world of creating books and reading. But the last three months, I've taken an hour every day to sit in this beautiful leather club chair with no iPhone, no computer, and just sit and read whether it's non-fiction about the demise of planet earth or whether it's fiction. I've just been reading The Lost Girls of Paris, a great story about young women who became spies who spoke French well during world war II, English girls. And so all of a sudden, my dog, my home, eating well, exercise has already been there.

Diana Nyad

But I just been in a manic, get up at dawn and crank it through the day and then Bonnie and I, my partner, get together, we make a healthy dinner. And at the end of the day I think, why was I rushing around to go to restaurants? Not that that isn't a beautiful, fun thing to do, it's not my value. I'd rather make a beautiful meal at home. I'd rather be at home with my dog than out doing something silly. So all of that is coming to play and I've kind of been grateful for this contemplative time.

Diana Nyad

And walking, walking was already part of my life. I run a big walking initiative, but during this time it's like the only thing that we've been allowed to do safely – apart, with masks. And I can't tell you the people in my neighborhood I've never seen in my life. They're all out walking all day and all night. And it's been a fantastic sort of, grab onto that value of stroll the earth, look at your neighborhood, look at the blue sky, look at the trees and take in planet earth, take in your city, take in your neighbors across the street, give them way. So walking has really been elevated in my consciousness over this time too.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yeah, that's a great point of departure, because I think what you're suggesting is that one of the things that these exceptional conditions, one of their effects is to reconnect us to who we are in the most core and fundamental sense and connecting to place, to the places that are essential to our existences like our home and the key people in our lives. And to that kind of neighborhood scale, the walking scale of the world, they're all in a sense of a piece. And of course, Los Angeles is a city we think of as a city that was completely sacrificed on the altar of automobility, not a walking city.

Jeffrey Schnapp

And yet the Los Angeles you're describing that's emerging, that hopefully could become the Los Angeles of the future would be a different city where automobiles are present, but they aren't the protagonists of city life, where these kinds of human connections and our connection to the places we live and would be reanimated by this fundamental expression of human independence that is walking. So you've already touched upon this theme, but I'd love to hear you expand upon it. How did walking become for you not just a kind of extension of your own activity, even hyperactivity, engagement in the physical world, but also a value that is central to the venture that you started up with Bonnie called EverWalk?

Diana Nyad

If you would talk to me just as little as six years ago, we started EverWalk five years ago. And you would say, "Hey Diana, do you do much walking?" I would say, "Walking? I'm a bad ass athlete. If I'm going to go anywhere, I'm going to run there." I really thought of walking for much, much older people, by the way, I'm 70 now. So I guess I got to get real on that score. But I also thought it was for people who were just nowhere near in the kind of shape that I'm in, that Bonnie's in. She was a professional racquetball player, we're just bad-ass.

Diana Nyad

And I completely changed my thinking in that. I mean, if we looked at whether it's Henry David Thoreau or Mark Twain or Virginia Woolf. I mean, some of, Steve Jobs, some of the great thinkers and writers throughout history have used walking as their muse time. Virginia Woolf used to walk eight hours sometimes through the streets of London, go up to Hampstead Heath and have a tea with her sister. They walked four hours, they walked another four hours home. And all that time she's in a stream of consciousness, take in London, hear Big Ben. She says when Big Ben rings, that ring is irrevocable. We've tried for so long to describe time. We can't stop the hands of time.

Diana Nyad

Charlie Chaplin is hanging on to the clock. But Virginia Woolf and walking, she came upon it that day, boom, Big Ben sounded one o'clock. And when she heard it she thought, it's irrevocable, we can never get that one o'clock moment back again. So that's what's been happening to me personally as a new kind of walker, is that I used to swim. Yes, we're all multilayered. And part of it was an achievement, a big epic achievement to do something nobody had ever done. And the Cuba swim, Cuba-Florida, was deep in my own imagination because I grew up down there in Little Havana and I saw that forbidden Island right across the horizon, why can't we go there, mom? And my mom said, "Well," She was French, "You cannot legally go there, but you, you little swimmer, you, you are only nine years old. You could probably swim there."

Diana Nyad

So already that was brewing in my imagination. And it turned out it's the toughest swim on the planet, and the earth is, what is it? Four fifths water, three quarters water. So there are a lot of places to swim and that swim is the toughest swim on the planet. So it was rich and it was epic. So walking doesn't feel that way. It doesn't take for me that kind of training. I've walked from Boston up to Cape Elizabeth, Maine with our group EverWalk. Did we have to get ready for it? Yeah. Feet on the pavement all day long, but nothing like the pain and the deep expedition factor of swimming from Cuba to Florida.

Diana Nyad

But there are a lot of similarities. And now Bonnie and I, far from it, we don't poo poo walking. We say, "You get out and you look up at the glorious blue sky, the way we used to look at the ocean. This is a blue jewel of a planet, and what's happening to the planet. Let's get more aware. How far has our air and ocean collusion gone? Can we save it?" And I don't know about you Jeffrey, but one of the moments that I came to tears during the pandemic was that once we human beings mostly got out of our cars, we weren't flying on airplanes. Weren't working in factories. Weren't doing much construction, the whole planet cleansed herself in three lousy months.

Diana Nyad

Those people who live 100 miles from Mount Everest, that's their majestic mountain. They could see the peak of Mount Everest for the first time in 40 years. So there was this inadvertent positive thing that came out of the pandemic. We can restore the oceans to their blue jewel sort of luster. So along with EverWalk which is our, Bonnie and my, kind of vision of all of America walking, not doing such epic walks as Boston and Maine, but get out every day, we're launching something right now called The EverWalk Mile. What if you walked a mile every day of your life? It's just like brushing your teeth. You wouldn't think of not going out and just walking a mile somewhere every single day. So that's sort of the idea, is to turn LA from a car culture, into a walking culture, why not? We have the weather every day. We've got sidewalks almost everywhere, so it's possible. The parks are lit at night. So it's barely safe in most neighborhoods. And why not the whole country?

Diana Nyad

If you go to Europe for a vacation, I don't care if it's Germany or Italy, you wind up at the end of the day looking at your watch and you say, "Oh my God, I walked 12 miles today just going to museums and to lunch and walking around the park and reading the newspaper." So we're trying to set a sort of go out and discover for one lousy mile, look up at the trees, see a bird you've never seen, see a little lending library, that's in the street of your neighbors that you never noticed because you drove by so fast. So go out and think about who you are, what you want to do as you stroll along with the strength of your own legs. So that's what EverWalk's all about.

Diana Nyad

And we now are launching a new initiative, which is all stemmed from EverWalk called OceansCommit. So it's at oceanscommit.com, we're going to produce walks where you have choices, you can walk a mile, five miles, 20 miles. You can swim a mile in the ocean that day. We're going to do walks along oceans and all the people who walk that day, all the people who come to the beach rally at night, maybe it's the mayor of the local town. Maybe it's the guy or the woman who owns the hardware store. We're going to say, "Today's the day I commit going home and reducing single use plastics in my home." It's a really simple equation. You don't use single use plastics. You don't throw them out constantly and create that waste. That waste doesn't go to the landfill. Wind and sewage and all other kinds of things don't take that waste out to the ocean at 8 million tons a year. And five years from now, we say, "Look at that. If every individual did a little thing, stop using single use plastics, we can restore our oceans to their glory."

Diana Nyad

I know that's a whole bunch of stuff, but walking is definitely a part of my life now. And it feels a bit, not like the incredible intensity of the swimming, but the joy of crossing over the curvature of the earth and appreciating the planet. Our home planet is a beautiful specimen of a planet. So our walking is more about that than it is frankly about weight loss.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I want to come back to the question of intensity, the intensity of these extreme athletic feats in relation to the kind of pace of walking. But before doing so, just I want to go back to EverWalk and to OceansCommit for just a second so that our listeners understand the nature of the kinds of undertakings that you and Bonnie try to serve as catalysts for. So you mentioned that EverWalk Mile, which is this invitation for people collectively, I would imagine, right? In groups to go on walks together.

Diana Nyad

We do a lot of things at EverWalk. We've got ambassadors in every state, on every first Saturday of the month, they lead a walk. Many of them are kind of intense. We have a woman just outside Boston, for instance, she goes out and does a 30 mile walk like that. I mean, she's a walker. She walks Hillandale, the Camino in Spain and what not. She leads the first Saturday walk and it's usually pretty intense, it's never under 10 miles. Bonnie and I lead one here every first Saturday, that's only five miles. Because we tried to take not our desires into consideration, but who are our walkers? And most of them, 10 miles would be too much. It's too much for their day, for their legs, for their spirit. They don't want it.

Diana Nyad

So we walk five miles, but we do it in a one mile loop. So people can come late, they can leave early, but at least they'll get one mile in. So we're discovering that we've got to look at the mass public. And does the mass public want to walk from Boston to Cape Elizabeth, Maine? No. We had a couple of hundred people on that walk and for safety that's all we could handle. And we've also walked from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, and from Los Angeles down to San Diego. So we do that, EverWalk is part of what we call epic walks. We like to offer those because we have fans who like to do them, and Bonnie and I like those walks. We like to discover, we walk from the border of Washington to Seattle, the glorious Pacific Northwest. It was great.

Diana Nyad

But is that going to make a nation of walkers? Probably not. Those are people who are at a whole different sort of a vibe about what they think they can do and can't do. And they don't have many limitations put on themselves. But one mile, that's more a part of, as I said before, it's sort of a fabric of your life. Do you brush your teeth every morning? Do you make your bed when you get up every day just to be civil? Well, don't you go out to walk a mile, it's not for hardcore exercise, is just to be out and strolling and covering the earth and thinking, imagining, what's around you and who you can be.

Diana Nyad

We do a lot of things. We go to Key West every year. That's our sort of home away from home. After doing the Cuba swim, we lived in Key West. And the people rose up to help us in every way. We go back and we work for Habitat for Humanity there, and we walk 10 miles every morning. So EverWalk's about a lot of things, we just launched our first book club meeting. We do a snapshot club meeting where people take photos of things all over the world as they're walking and it's fantastic.

Diana Nyad

But The EverWalk Mile is sort of the new kind of vision of get your calendar out, take a picture of it at the end of the month and see how many days you put a red check on The EverWalk Mile. Maybe this June at a 30 days, you walk 25. It's pretty darn good. A couple of things came up. You couldn't go out, the weather and emergency, but you're walking 25 miles out of your 30, 31. You're a walker. You believe in walking for your mental and physical health. And I think that now's the time because almost the whole country discovered walking as the only thing they could do, even if they didn't walk before, they're all walking now.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yeah, exactly. And coming from particularly the areas of direct interest to me in my activity at the School of Design at Harvard, one of the big questions that's on the table right now is what will be the shape of cities as we move beyond the pandemic. And of course there were a lot of people pushing really hard to make cities more walkable, to make cities more human centered, less automobile centered. And so for those who have been involved in this battle now for sometimes decades, this is actually an exciting moment of opportunity where we have the first inklings of the kinds of shapes cities might assume that we think are more in line with culture, a society where walking would be once again central to the way that we operate in the world. Rather than reaching for the keys to the car, we get out and we walk, it's good for us, it's good for the communities we belong to. It's good for our connections to other people, for all the reasons you have already alluded to.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I guess this is a question that comes directly out of that perspective. How would you reshape the design of cities to make them ideal platforms for the kind of values that you were describing with respect to EverWalk? Aside from taking the streets back, reconquering them from cars, what would you want designed into the built environment that would reinforce the centrality of this profound form of mobility that is walking?

Diana Nyad

Yeah. Jeffrey, I'm quite sure with your academic history that you could talk much more intelligently than I could to sort of the history of planning cities. But I do know that in Paris and London specifically, all those centuries ago, those city planners, and of course this was before automobiles. So walking was front of mind for these people. But they were thinking, how wide should the avenues be? How many parks should there be with trees? So you could walk somewhere and take your baguette, and sit under a tree in the shade on a hot day.

Diana Nyad

And probably early, early, Washington, DC, certainly looks like it was planned as a walking city, along the Potomac and around all the great monuments. But probably as the car became our focus and our passion, I would like to hear whether city planners and city engineers and all the people who've been sitting around over recent decades have thought, we've got to think of walkers. We've got to make it more safe, more friendly, all that stuff. And now, New York city is literally closing down certain streets to cars so that people could go out and take over, not just the sidewalks, but the entire black top of those streets to walk. So I would imagine there's a lot of thinking about city planning and people have in a respectful way criticized me and EverWalk in the past to say, "Well, it's easy for you to say, you live in a nice suburban neighborhood where you can ... and LA is kind of like living in the suburbs, where you tell people get out every day and walk."

Diana Nyad

Well, I'm not going to tell my kid when he or she gets home after school or after dinner in the dark to go out and walk in our neighborhood. It's not safe. There are no sidewalks, first of all. So what are they going to be walking in the street with cars going by? The local park, the lights close at 7:00 PM. And we can't walk till dinner, till 9:00 PM. So it's a pie in the sky to think that you could walk out every door of every neighborhood, every apartment in every city and have a good, safe walk. So we're not there yet, but I guess in business they call it supply and demand. The more we stop driving ... And I have friends in LA, all over LA who say now, "It's so stupid. I used to get in my car and drive three minutes to go get the newspaper and get my coffee in the morning. It only takes me 14 minutes to walk there. So that's a mile and a mile back, and I enjoy it, I enjoy the coffee more, than having driven there, just get out and come home."

Diana Nyad

So yeah, there is the issue of time. Do you have time? Or do you have to go get that coffee in three minutes and get back? But aren't there ... I mean, when we did the Seattle walk, there was a group there, gosh, I'm going to forget their name right now. But all they do is go into the towns and the cities of the state of Washington and meet with the city planners, the engineers, the mayors and all that to decide how safe, how good a walking city is this today, and what can we do over the next three years to make it more and more of a walking friendly city? So I know there's a movement among city planners around the United States. And I would think now that we've seen what's happened with COVID, that those meetings are probably including the conversation of walking. Don't you think at the moment you probably know better? Is that what's happening?

Jeffrey Schnapp

Absolutely. It's happening not just in the United States but really worldwide. In the city of Milan alone, the mayor just recently announced the transformation of 35 kilometers of city streets back into purely pedestrian and cycling friendly streets. That would have provoked a massive uprising of storekeepers and all kinds of folks who would have been against it only a year ago. So things are moving in that direction, but of course it's a tremendous challenge. The built environment is not something you throw a switch on, you have to go out there and repurpose spaces, you have to redesign them and make them friendly to walking, you have to make them safe. You just touched upon that point for people who live in high density urban areas, that can be a challenge itself. You have to make sure the infrastructure is there. And those are all choices based on values and the greater value that urban planners attributed to automobile movement over the movement of pedestrians was of course an issue.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I want to go back to, you touched upon earlier the differences between being engaged in a really intense athletic pursuit and walking. And the very first podcast that I did for this series is with a neuroscientist who's focused on the cognitive mental effects of walking on our thinking processes, our creative processes, the way we socialize. And one of the things that he was emphasizing is the very close correlation that you just mentioned with respect to Thoreau and many of the kind of classic authors of the canon of literature on walking between thinking and walking. That as humans walking puts us in a kind of state that's a little bit of a contemplative state, that kind of the pace of walking works with the pace of our mental activity.

Jeffrey Schnapp

And one of the most fascinating things I found in just reading up on some of the details of your multiple swims between Cuba and Florida, the fifth of which was of course your successful crossing of that extraordinarily challenging passage, was just how you managed the kind of intensity, mental intensity of a task like that, that almost requires your mind to separate itself from your body. You mentioned in particular in one interview the way you use music and counting and other strategies. I think our audience would be super interested in hearing more about that.

Diana Nyad

If you talk to anybody who's done the extreme stuff, even if you go back and read the Scott and the Shackleton, North and South pole treks, and you talk to anybody who's done like I have some of the very long ... I've done the longest, but there are a lot of several brave individuals who have done incredible swims around the earth’s oceans. But you talk to those people, Ed Viesturs is an alpine climber, climbed Everest more than any other human being without oxygen. But he's done the Annapurna, K2, he's done all of them. And when they get into a state of what you might call sensory deprivation, so you’ve got no vision, you've got no hearing.

Diana Nyad

So you have to take it a step further than being on your bike for instance, because you've got to be able to see clearly, just see where you're going, and it would be helpful if you hear. So you put your pods in your ear, but in the swimming, just technically by the sport you're not allowed to use headphones. So if you want to be singing, you're singing to yourself in your mind. And the mind is not geared to thinking of concrete things for very long. If you and I would just sit here, right where you are, right where I am, looking at each other. I'm looking at you in Woodstock, Vermont. You're looking at me in Los Angeles, and we didn't speak for 53 hours. We just decided to stay awake. We use a little coffee, whatever, but we're not going to speak. We're just going to sit here for 53 hours.

Diana Nyad

You're not going to be able to think like, oh, who are you going to book next year for a podcast. And what's your Harvard syllabus going to be like for next year. And how's your kid doing tomorrow in his schoolwork. You're going to be off in your past, it's going to be wapping through your brain. And thoughts of what Stephen Hawking said about black holes is going to be rummaging around. So it's a very extreme state when you're swimming to try to even keep focused, like what am I doing? Am I trying to look at that red light breath after breath over there? Why am I following that red line? It's very hard believe it or not, just to keep your focus on “what am I doing and why am I doing this?”

Diana Nyad

And then I used to use both counting - I come from a family of foreign language speakers, so I've got a few in my back pocket - I would count in German, in French, in Spanish and in English, thousands of different strokes. I might, let's say, okay, I'm going to do 10,000 strokes touching with the left arm only in French. And when I hit a thousand, I'm going to go right to Spanish. Then I'm going to go to German. Then I'm going to go to English. That's 10,000 strokes in each. And I would know exactly what the time would be. Your stroke is like a metronome, just like when you get on your bike, you're at a certain cadence. Whether you're going uphill, downhill. As a general rule, you're trying to keep the same cadence.

Diana Nyad

Well, in swimming, I'm hitting 54 strokes a minute. And if I sing something like Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou. So I know that song backwards and forwards. I don't hear it, I'm just hearing it in my brain. It's my memory of the most beautiful whoever sang, Roy Orbison. And I'm singing with every left stroke, I'm singing, “Uuh, la la la, I've got a worried mind. La la la baby behind on Blue Bayou.” And we get to the end of 1000 versions of the entire song of Blue Bayou by Roy Orbison, I have covered nine hours and 45 minutes. So it's extreme. I used to talk to Ed Viesturs and say, "You're in a whiteout on Everest. All you can see is your snowshoe in front of you. You can't see the peak of the mountain. You can't even see the guy in front of you. You are just in an absolute white out."

Diana Nyad

He said, "I only have one song, Diana. And I say it got me up to that peak many times." And it was, “Oh, the bear goes over the mountains, the bear goes over the mountain.” I said, "Oh my God, I would go insane." I got some Beatles, some Dylan, some Janis Joplin and all the songs in my generation. But those songs were not just for some frilly entertainment. They were to count the passage of time and keep me engaged. Because otherwise the mind is so far off that you're in fantasies and you're in nightmares and you're in full-fledged hallucinations. And pretty soon your body is not going to be operating the way it should automatic.

Diana Nyad

Now, the walking, I have similar things. I'll take a song to sing to get up a certain stretch, but I'm not in pain while I'm walking. Now I'm not walking cross country going 35 miles a day with big blood blisters. I've just, even for me to go out and walk 20 miles, I have to get ready for it. And I have to get the feet ready, get the knees ready, get the quads ready. But I’mnever in abject pain and in an extreme situation like I was with the swimming, but there is a cadence. And there's a delight that the body feels to be in motion and to be, as I said before, to be observing.

Diana Nyad

And I mentioned Virginia Woolf, what she could observe in one day in London, and not to mention write about it with the kind of prose that she was able to write about with, it's just, I come home, I'm cooking, when I come home from a walk, I zoom over to the computer, or I'm full of energy as to what I want to get done next. Even if I haven't been thinking about it in a very immediate concrete way, the brain is happening. I know Steve Jobs in the end used to do all his meetings by walking. If you wanted to have half an hour of Steve jobs, you're going to have to book a walk. Well, that's what Bonnie and I do now. And people, because if they need to meet you and they need their computer, they've got their phone. So they can be walking with you and get all kinds of work done.

Diana Nyad

I don't take any meeting anymore unless we take a walk together, and it's so freeing. I just took a walk with my godson. He just graduated Brown the other day. And we've been very tight his whole life. He's 21 now. But he reveals things to me when we walk about his girlfriend and about his pot smoking, and whatever else he's got that he would never ever talk to me about if we were just sitting at a table and constrained by the wall behind us. Now there's no wall, and we're now looking deep into each other's eyes. And it's like a truth serum. The walk is like a truth serum, everything comes out. So it's just genius.

Jeffrey Schnapp

And it really is fascinating. And this is exactly where I wanted to lead the conversation. The incredibly solitary nature of extreme sports in particular, no matter how much there's teamwork and so forth, it's ultimately you there in some kind of cloud of something, right? And whereas in the case of walking instead, there's this space for conversation. There's a kind of social space. There's a space where we step outside of our ordinary little boxes and enclosures with other people typically and we coordinate. If people walk together, they actually stride together. There's an external expression of something that's going on also in our heads.

Jeffrey Schnapp

The reason it interests neuroscience and anthropologists in particular is that being bipeds is of course such a fundamental aspect of our identity as homo sapiens. And when we crossed the Savannas, when we migrated, the great migrations of human history, those were social activities. They weren't solitary endeavors, they were collective. And we developed this extraordinary skill set. It's a much more complex behavior than we think it is, because we're so used to it, because it's us. But it's really fascinating.

Jeffrey Schnapp

One thing I was curious to hear your thoughts on. So as you may know, Piaggio Fast Forward is trying to create robotic carriers that will allow people to do all kinds of walking based tasks that they would otherwise reach for the keys to the car to perform, to try to get people to walk more, to even those things where there may be some practical obstacle, which is associated with carrying stuff. The fact that we as humans like to move around the world with lots of stuff, whatever that stuff might be. And one of the things that you learn when you try to design smart vehicles that help people to choose walking is just how complex walking is actually, navigating sidewalks, moving around, adjusting your pace, coordinating with other people.

Jeffrey Schnapp

But it isn't just that that is a challenge. It's also, you don't want other vehicles that are supporting people's choice of walking to get in the way of other walkers. They have to get out of the way, we want people to walk more. So I guess my question for you is just in organizing, for example, group walks, which is something that EverWalk has been doing really successfully. How much coordination do you envisage for these walks? Do you just allow them to kind of unfold spontaneously, or when they get to a certain scale do you start to kind of choreograph how they unfold?

Diana Nyad

You’ve got two things going on. One is just simply road safety. So you imagine walking from Philadelphia to DC. Sometimes you're out in the middle of Maryland farmland and you're on beautiful country roads with huge wide shoulders, and so it's a no brainer. Then you're walking through the city of Baltimore with all kinds of very poor old, old, centuries old brick sidewalks. And so we have all kinds of ... we take a year to go from Philadelphia to DC. We have an event team that spends a year getting permits. And you're checking in with highway patrol, town mayors, the police, the mayors, it takes us all of our budget and all of our time for the year to plan a walk of just 134 miles, 200 people. So it's a huge planning sort of thing.

Diana Nyad

And that's why we're sort of gravitating, we will still do epics because we love them. But if we can only affect so few people and we spend all of our resources on it, it's clear that it's not the greatest business way to go about building the EverWalk nation. But that's why we're thinking about many more people would walk a mile every day, than would walk 134 miles in seven days. And that mile, that should be pretty self-sustaining. Most people can decide where is a safe mile and how can I get it, and how will I get my groceries home if that's what I decided to do. I can see getting there and back, but really, now am I going to be the type that I look like a crazy person who's carrying a rolling shopping cart down the sidewalk? Maybe. Maybe that's what we're all going to become instead of driving.

Diana Nyad

But one of the docs from The Mayo Clinic a few years ago kind of coined a new phrase, sitting is the new smoking. And you're so right. If we look through the annals of history, I mean, we, the homosapien walked out of Africa. We walked Asia. We walked through Europe. So we are nomadic walkers if we want to be. And I do think that there's a movement afoot, so to speak, of walking, climbing back into the American culture. I do think it's there.

Jeffrey Schnapp

A march to walking, to walking again. And on that very note, I wanted to ask you, are there any upcoming events that EverWalk has been preparing for as soon as it becomes possible to put them into effect, that you might like people to know about when this podcast goes out?

Diana Nyad

Yeah, there are two things. One is, as I just said, the people who check out our website EverWalk, The EverWalk Mile would just begin if you launch that now. July 1st will be the first month that we put out a calendar, and people can mark their mile every day. Let's see how many people really want to make this part of their daily, automatic, natural life behaviors. And a year from now, June is always World Ocean Month. And June 8th is usually World Ocean Day. So we had a plan for this June.

Diana Nyad

We are going to next June do a 300 mile walk from Jacksonville, down the whole Atlantic coast to Florida, to Miami. And each day people can choose one mile, five miles or 10 miles walking or 20 miles by the way. Or they can swim one mile or they can do some of both of that. And every day at the end of the day, like I said, on that beach, whether it be St. Augustine or Jupiter, Florida, or Palm beach, Florida, or wherever it is, we'll have a big rally. And it'll be, kids look at Greta Thunberg. I mean kids are who's going to save the planet. They're up on what's happening in our ecological world. And we've got a kid in Florida. He's our a youth ambassador. He's 13 years old. His name is Austin Sayfie Aagaard.

Diana Nyad

Every Monday, not during COVID times, but every Monday he goes to a different school, elementary school, junior high, high school, in the Dade County and Broward County areas of Fort Lauderdale in Miami. And he lectures that class on single use plastics. He says, "I'm telling you kids, you better go home today, you tell your mom, you tell your dad that we are no longer using single use garbage bags, single use straws, single use cups. We're not going to fast food places and getting a big bag of plastic that we're going to throw out after the meal. We're done with that. Okay, mom, dad, that's what we're doing."

Diana Nyad

And he's a radical activist. So kids are going to speak at these rallies. Business people are going to speak. Hopefully we'll have the Al Gore's of the world come in and we're just going to make a drive, as we say, one person can't do everything. But I'll tell you Jeffrey, I'm no lifelong oceans activist, but I have fallen in love with the world's oceans by being immersed in them, by being immersed in this blue jewel of a planet. And our OceansCommit EverWalk events, the first big one, June, 2021. And we're not yet ready to take registration for it because we can't plan it entirely yet. But that's going to be our first big 300 mile expanse of ocean, walking, swimming - committing. And we're going to get a million signatures of people changing their ways and their businesses and their homes in terms of single use plastics.

Jeffrey Schnapp

That sounds brilliant. So once again, that's going to be starting on June 8th, 2021?

Diana Nyad

A whole year away. And I know it's a long way, but what did they say now? They had planned the Boston Marathon, should have been in April for September 14th, first time in history they've canceled it and they're going to wait all the way to next April, and it's a shame. But we're all in this together as everybody keeps saying.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Exactly. So in closing our conversation, I wanted to return to a theme that you touched upon earlier. It's a theme of particular interest to those of us who are moving into our sixties and seventies. You said you're 70, I'm 65.

Diana Nyad

65. Jeffrey, 65, it must be nice to be young. See, that's why I hang out with people like you. I want to know about the au courant latest music and everything.

Jeffrey Schnapp

[laugh] One of the points I wanted to bring up is just that what's unique about walking I think is that it is a form of mobility and activity that is so democratic in the sense that it really operates for all generations, all social groups. Of course we can't forget the distinctive and often dire mobility challenges faced by the disabled, but almost by definition, a world that has addressed these special challenges is a world that's also congenial to pedestrianism, and for that matter to cycling.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Whereas many forms of athleticism or mobility have restrictions on them of one kind or another, walking is one that really kind of travels so to speak. And I mean, that makes a movement like yours really important because it speaks of course to young people, to issues of equity and social justice, to issues of environment, sustainability. But it also speaks to people who maybe are past the period of their lives, where they can engage in extreme back country skiing or climbing Annapurna.

Diana Nyad

And I must say that most people I know my age who were terrific adventurers or athletes, younger. Their knees are, they're worse for wear. And so walking suits them and still can achieve all those types of athletic things they want to do. I mean, I admit that I have a pretty rigorous routine in addition to walking. I just, my particular body and spirit needs that stuff. But there are lots of people who especially at our ages, Jeffrey and up, can walk right to the very last day, and get all those Thoreau type contemplative benefits from it.

Diana Nyad

Sometimes we talk, I'll just be frank with you. It's one thing to start a business, a small business, and look at all these small business owners suffering now, as to how they worked all their lives to open their Italian restaurant with their grandmother's recipes. And now being closed for three months and maybe more or opening to 25% capacity, it could kill them. It could be the end of their dreams. I've had small businesses and they've been somewhat successful. I haven't had to put my own money into them. They've made it for more than five years. But when you start a movement, that's what EverWalk is, we're not a business, we don't make any money. We're not selling anything except for hopefully aspiration and inspiration to get out and walk, and the community and the sense-of-self stuff that walking brings you. But it's not easy, it's a very crowded marketplace out there.

Diana Nyad

Let's do the ride and raise money for this. And so it's not easy. And sometimes we think we really should market to people our age, Bonnie is 67, I'm 70, you're 65. You're more interested in walking than probably a 20 year old, probably. So yes, walking is for everybody. And we have kids who are so darn proud when they finish a mile. We'd love to get schools in the country instituting the EverWalk Mile. Let kids walk a mile before they sit down to school, get some of that crazy energy out and it would be a good thing to be together, move along together, probably start them a habit for the rest of their lifetimes, if they walked a mile every day when they got to school.

Diana Nyad

But that takes extra teachers, that take safety outside the school parameter to make that happen. We were finding, ideas are cheap, who's going to institute them? But EverWalk, we think more and more, we never did confine it to a certain age group or a certain, just women instead of men, so we didn't do that. And the reason we even called our brand EverWalk is for everybody, it's every day, it's all the rest of your life forever, EverWalk. But we are thinking of branding more and more toward what we ... I don't know if we call ourselves seniors. I've never been so happy to be a senior. I get to the grocery store at 7:00 AM and I'm the only person there.

Diana Nyad

But so we're thinking more and more of doing a little bit of a niche marketing to say, Are you over 50? Well, walking. Walking won't hurt your knees like running. It won't be dangerous like cycling. You can choose your time anywhere, it's logistically easy. And all those other as we've mentioned before, the meditative aspects, the observational, the community aspects of walking." What do you think about that? Should we do more of a niche marketing or should we just keep ourselves open? Everybody, anybody can walk every day, come walk with us.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Personally, I think it's not an either/or proposition. I think you can kind of do both. But I do think that there's needs in all generational groups. I mean, middle aged people are probably the people who walk the least. Kids probably walk a lot more than most of their parents do. And the social and health consequences of not walking as you know better than I, are just absolutely devastating. You look at the plague of obesity in American society. You look at so many of the consequences of being a riding rather than walking culture. I think there's just urgent need on all fronts.

Jeffrey Schnapp

But I think seniors are a particular target population, there's no question about it. The health benefits as well as the cognitive and mental benefits are just so dramatic. And often the levels of activity required are not very high. A mile is already a big walk. A lot of people don't take 500 steps in the day. So I think there's real urgency to this theme. And I think any initiative that EverWalk undertakes will be a really valuable contribution to transforming the kinds of habits that we've inherited from the automobile era. Diana Nyad, thank you so much for joining us. You are an inspiration and I look forward to perhaps even joining the 300 mile Epic on June 8th, 2021, where you will know it's me because a bright red gita robot will be tagging along behind me as I walk.

Diana Nyad

Now, wouldn't that be something Jeffrey to see you out there, wouldn't that? I look forward to meeting you one day.

Thank you for listening to the Piaggio Fast Forward podcast and come back soon for further lively conversations about walking, light mobility, robots and the design of neighborhoods, cities, and towns. The PFF podcast is hosted by Jeffrey Schnapp, sound engineering by Robert Allen, narration by Ryan Harms, produced by Elizabeth Murphy, web designed by Jerry Ding. Intro music is Funkorama by Kevin MacLeod. End music is Your Call by Kevin MacLeod. Special thanks to Tory Leeming. To learn more about PFF and gita, please visit piaggiofastforward.com.