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Having a tough day? Walk it off…

I sometimes think we forget what we are capable of. As an example, more than 42 000 people from 70 countries are currently taking part in the 4Days Marches, the world’s biggest hiking competition. The famous Dutch event happens in my hometown.

What started out as a military training exercise 113 years ago is now a global phenomenon. One that has certainly put Nijmegen on the map, in part thanks to the week-long summer festival held alongside.  

When Amsterdam hosted the Olympics in 1928, the ‘Walk of the World’ was opened to athletes from abroad for the first time. Ever since, there’s been a sea of foreign flags in almost every neighbourhood (a sign the resident is hosting an international walker).

My brother-in-law’s sister Rowenna is competing for the 20th and final time this week. She is walking 40km a day in her military uniform and carrying a 10kg backpack. At 35, she is the youngest participant celebrating a 20-year participation record. To get a medal, every contestant must complete a 40km or 50km route. Or you can opt to march ‘just’ 30km every day for four days.

Achieving this goal in four days calls for incredible discipline. I’m impressed (and surprised) to see that, despite the heatwave, hundreds of people crossed the finish line. Amid safety concerns, the first day had to be cancelled. Avid walkers opposed to the decision went it alone, leaving at 1am to beat the heat.

This meant no emergency aid was available but, luckily this time, there were no incidents. In 2006, two walkers died (and 69 were taken to hospital) because of extreme heat and fatigue. This shows we can push our boundaries while realising we’re not superheroes: we’re only human after all.

A silver lining for many is the summer festival offering a wide range of music, food and drinks, carnival attractions and interactive artwork – including several sculptures from scrap. It was encouraging to hear artists speak to the crowds about relevant themes like minimising our footprint and ‘doing the right thing’ for a cleaner world. Sidenote: all the rides are powered by renewable energy.

Another quirky project is the ‘Pee to Tea’ station operated by Semilla Sanitation. It’s exactly as it sounds: a mobile toilet solution that captures up to 40 000 litres of urine and converts it into 90% pure water and 10% fertiliser. The latter is used in the production of organic mint tea.

The municipality installed a dozen brightly coloured waste bins along the River Waal, each with its own theme, to tackle littering. Inspired by the efforts of the Ocean Cleanup, it has also created a 500 metre ‘anti-waste’ net to catch stray plastic cups in the river. Recovered cups can be recycled into food-grade packaging.  

Perhaps closed loop festivals aren’t such a long shot, after all?

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