Mental Floss

Samantha Hunt's Notable Walkers

David K. Israel

I'm pleased to present a very special guest column this week by one of my new favorite authors, Samantha Hunt. First up, a mini-profile of K. Veerabadran, who holds world records for both continuous walking and continuous backwards walking. Be sure to tune back in tomorrow for Samantha's pieces on Arthur Blessit (who holds the distinction of being arrested 24 times for walking), and the following day for notable mid-19th century walker Jules Bourglay.

And now, without further rat-a-tat, I turn the post over to Samantha.

I once met a man who had tried to walk across the state of Iowa carrying a ladder on his back. I can't remember what the ladder was supposed to symbolize but I do recall that he didn't make it very far. My career as a long distance walker has been even shorter-lived. I dream about taking week-long walks but I've had trouble getting started. The instructions are simple enough: one foot in front of the other, and yet, the one walk I've always wanted to take -- from my house in Brooklyn to the house in Westchester County where I was raised "“ eludes me. There's many a deterrent: traffic, trucks, diesel fumes. The danger and dirt have kept me home. Walking out of New York City is no the ramble through the countryside. At times, in certain directions, it's not even possible. We are, in a way, trapped. Highways, bridges with no pedestrian lanes block our ways. It's so tough to be Johnny Appleseed nowadays that even the senseless words of homicidal madman Theodore Kaczynski begin to make some sense. "A walking man formerly could go where he pleased, go at his own pace without observing any traffic regulations"¦Since the introduction of motorized transport the arrangement of our cities has changed"¦the walker's freedom is now greatly restricted." I originally wrote these stories about notable walkers in 2002 but as the weather warms here in New York I begin, once again, to plan and scheme my pedestrian escape.

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Despite walking 137 kilometers backwards in twenty-four hours, world-record breaker K. Veerabadran moved into the future.

K. Veerabadran, in most photos, looks sad and small. His pants are too wide for his thin waist, and he curves his shoulders in towards his heart. His appearance does not reflect his success as an athlete. Though he has had no formal athletic training and waited until he was in his forties to begin his athletic ventures, Veerabadran holds records for both continuous walking and continuous backwards walking.

When Veerabadran is not walking he is an officer in the Tamil Nadu Directorate of Handlooms and Textiles. He is also a manager at the Loom World Showroom in Anna Nagar and he is the father of three children.

Veerabadran once walked continuously for five days and five nights. In this time he covered a distance of 573.4 kilometers, surpassing the previous record holder, an Englishman named Tom Benson's distance by a mere 2.4 kilometers. On the fifth day of this walk, the last, Veerabadran was weary from no sleep and little food. He passed through a field where onions and chilies were growing. Starved he began to eat the vegetables raw, voraciously. As Veerabadran reported to Joseph Pradeep Raj R of, "The result was that whatever sleepiness I was feeling went away with the fiery taste. With eyes streaming tears, I completed the run. I kept eating the onions and chilies and it was like petrol for me, at the end of which my mouth itself was blistered."

To break the world's backward walking record once held by American David Arnold, Veerabadran walked 137 kilometers, backwards, in twenty-four hours. Since then Veerabadran has three times attempted to break his own record. On his third bid he was struck by a truck on the road from Bangalore. Veerabadran was knocked unconscious and has, at least for now, sworn off future backwards walking record breaking endeavors.

Samantha Hunt's most recent book is The Invention of Everything Else, a novel about the life of Nikola Tesla.