Going the extra mile

By Cynthia Robertson

University Heights man leads people on walks

Rain or shine, Dan Haslam walks nearly every day around his University Heights neighborhood as well as other parts of San Diego. Walking has been a central part of his life since 2000 when he moved to San Diego from Tucson, Arizona and joined up with Walkabout International, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Haslam will be leading several walks in January and beyond for the nonprofit group, where he also serves as second vice president.

“For me, my Walkabout friends have formed the basis of an extended family. Most of my friends are in Walkabout, and we celebrate each other’s birthdays, holidays and other family events,” he said.

Haslam could have had his pick of several other walking groups in San Diego, but he said Walkabout has more “characters” than the other organizations.

“And I mean this in a good way. Many of our people dance to the beat of a different drummer. Some may be ‘fringe’ social outcasts and some may be closet millionaires but all are still welcome with us. I like our diversity, as quirky as it may be to others,” he said.

There is no discrimination in age of walkers for Haslam’s jaunts.
“I’ve had infants on walks, unborn children in utero, kids in carriages. I think the oldest I’ve had was someone in their mid-90s. Several of our original Walkabout people from 40 years ago are still with the organization and either lead walks or go on them. That’s a real testament to our organization,” he said.

Haslam pointed out that any form of exercise is a discipline, but Walkabout has made the discipline fun, too. “It’s a great way to socialize, too, share local ‘finds’ in terms of restaurants, good deals while getting a good walk in,” he said.

On his “Tours-day Tuesday” walk — the latest one was scheduled for Jan. 10 in North Park — for instance, he leads a walk around the neighborhood. He calls it a “mystery tour of something unusual you may not have seen before,” then he will stop at his favorite Italian place for lunch with everyone.

Haslam spends quite a few hours preparing for each walk.

“Timing is everything. When you start out, you want to know that if you’re doing a circle walk, you can get back to the starting point in time. You have to allow for slowpokes, rest stops, and if you’re doing a narrative walk — a stop-and-talk walk — you allow enough time for this, too.

“So I always plan the route, pick out what I want to talk about and keep it in my head. It’s helpful to know about new construction projects, street closures and the like, too,” he said.
Many of Haslam’s walkers admire beautiful homes in the neighborhoods. More than a few times, the homeowners have come outside to find out who the walkers are.

Dan Haslam leads an eclectic group of walkers

“I’ll pull out a business card and explain about Walkabout and before you know it, the whole group is invited inside for an impromptu tour. That kind of experience makes it very special,” Haslam said.

One of his favorite walks was to visit the remaining “red light district” adult bookstores Downtown.

“I asked everyone to wear a raincoat and suggested in the write-up that the walk was geared primarily for men. Well, about a dozen women showed up, and I still did the walk as I intended. It was remarkable how brave the group was going into an adult bookstore as a group. In one three-storied store, each ascending floor got racier and racier, but it was no deterrent to these gals,” he said.

Most importantly, to him, Haslam has been working on the 40th anniversary celebrations for this year.

“Forty years is actually two generations. Our walkers in 1977 when we started were working people, who had free time in the evenings and weekends after their working hours. Now, most of our walkers are retired and can go on day trips on weekdays. Our oldest walk leader is 97 years old.”
For Haslam’s “Tours-day Tuesdays” each week, he will meet the walkers in a different section of town, arranging a small tour. He enjoys showing people “behind the scenes,” such as the back room of a museum.

“Our people are curious, and I think these walks will be popular,” Haslam said.

Haslam will also be the leader on several trips throughout 2017, which always include major walking tours. “It will be a memorable year,” he said.

“I think we’re habit-forming, and it’s a good habit, since it’s healthy,” Haslam said about Walkabout International.

“Once you pull up the rocking chair, you’re done for. I’d rather die on my feet,” he said.

For more information on Haslam’s walks and others led by Walkabout, go to walkabout-int.org.

— Cynthia Robertson is a local freelance writer.