February 26, 2013

Walking The Walk

When did we forget how to walk?

No, I mean how to walk farther than from the parking lot into the grocery store.

When was it that we forgot how to walk a moderate distance - like five miles? Many adults today can't remember the last time they walked five miles. I'll bet there are lots of high school kids who have never walked five miles in their entire lives.

For tens of thousands of years, if you wanted to go anywhere and didn't have a horse, you walked. Period. Five, ten, fifteen miles - if you had to get there, you walked. You didn't complain about it - it was something you just did, like breathing, or hauling water from the well.

Serious walkers - like armies on the march or folks making pilgrimages - walked hundreds or even thousands of miles. Well OK, some of them may have complained a bit. After all, suffering a little is what making a pilgrimage is all about.

But that all started changing a mere hundred years ago or so. And now look at the sorry state we're in.

Think about it. If you told someone you just walked two miles to the grocery to pick up a box of cornflakes, what's the first thing they would ask you?

"Why, what's wrong with your car?"

(In California, they would ask, "You mean all of your cars are in the shop at once?")

At some of our larger shopping malls, people walk out to their cars, drive to the other end of the parking lot, and re-enter the mall because it's "too far" to walk from one end of the mall to the other.

If you think about it in a detached, objective way, this is a little sick - literally. We should be asking why we're not leaving the damned car in the garage and walking a piddling little distance like two or three miles. Our bodies evolved over millions of years to carry us, under our own steam, distances much farther than that. What are we doing to those bodies by protecting them from even this small amount of exercise?

Statistics are starting to prove overwhelmingly just what we're doing to our bodies. A lot of those statistics have to do with our diet. But most discussions of the connection between diet and rampant obesity also mention the lack of even the simplest exercise in our lives. And even light exercise like walking is proving to have nearly as much benefit as more rigorous running, cycling, swimming, or trying to figure out how Windows 8 works.

But why am I ranting thus?

Well two reasons, actually.

The first is that I started walking - for fun as much as anything - about a year and a half ago when I discovered I couldn't go more than about three miles without getting tired. That scared the shitake mushrooms out of me, after being able to ride my bike all day without too much fatigue just a few years earlier.

The second is that fellow blogger, Frogma, started posting about her personal 'NONgoal' to paddle and walk a hundred miles in a month. Hmmm, I checked my logs and discovered I'd been doing about 65 miles a month for most of last year and wondered if I could do 100 in a month, too.

So, I set my own NONgoal at the beginning of this month and just passed 100 miles a few days ago - coincidentally about when Frogma also logged 100 miles.

Being a bit more anal than Frogma, I guess, I set up a spreadsheet to log my daily progress, which I can now share with you here via the wonder of Google Docs.

In theory, it wouldn't be too hard to set up one Google Doc that allowed a number of bloggers to log their progress in the same place and compare results. But that sounds a little too competitive for the water blogging community I know. Or is it?

At any rate, outing my progress like this gives me some incentive to stay on task. I'll be updating the log every time I walk throughout the year, so you can follow just how well or poorly I'm doing, if you are terminally bored.

I could go on about what I like about walking, but if you already do some regular exercise, you probably know about the peculiar addiction that develops to this sort of thing, and about how you actually feel worse if you start missing too many days.

If you don't exercise, you are probably already pissed off by these arrogant, elitist, holier-than-thou skinny little shits with the bumper stickers that say things like, "I'd rather be jogging," so I won't piss you off any more.

But, you may have noticed that I like duking it out in the comments page, so feel free to vent.


  1. You will be expecting me to give a lecture about rowing so here it is: Go Rowing.

    1. I guess rowing is like walking in that you can vary your exertion rate on the fly - or on the float - over a wide range from a relaxed cruise to athletic racing. I've tried running a few times, but to run at all requires some serious work.

  2. I remember trying to find the way into a restaurant in Houston but there was none - from the street. The only entrance was from their indoor car park. I also remember in suburban Maryland seeing a mall the other side of the road from the hotel and trying to walk there, taking my life into my hands.

    That's why I like NY and downtown DC where you get around as god intended: in a train buried deep underground.

    1. The lack of urban planning in the US to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists is an ugly issue that just underscores how obsessed with the car our culture has become. Only in the past 10 years or so have green groups gained enough political clout to begin effecting any change.

      In a cycle tour of Britain in 1980, I was amazed to find you could actually ride a bike on the bridge across the Severn into Wales. The following year, after touring 800 miles by bike through four countries in Europe, I was stopped by the police in Philadelphia two miles from the airport for crossing a highway bridge. The bridge wasn't posted as being closed to cyclists, but the cop said he had never seen a cyclist in the traffic lanes there before and that cycling "wasn't allowed". There was no other way from the airport into town.

    2. So what did you do? Wait 5 minutes and then try again?

    3. I was escorted to the side of the bridge I was trying to reach - very impressive riding a bike on a major thoroughfare with a police escort, complete with flashing lights.

      I was chastised for not knowing better despite the absence of any signs and sent on my way, presumably where cycling still "wasn't allowed".

      Curious, I just looked at this bridge via Google maps street view and the situation is exactly the same today - over 30 years later. There is a usable shoulder leading to the bridge, no posting about cycling being prohibited, and at the bridge, access to the walkway is closed off by a steel barrier, forcing all traffic into the main traffic lanes.

  3. You will be expecting me to give a lecture about running, so here it is: Go Running.

    Seriously, you are right. We don't walk as much as we should. Actually I do remember the last time I walked 5 miles. It was to our local library and back one day last year. But then libraries are going out of fashion too, aren't they?

    I guess I run partly because I'm impatient. I have run over 26 miles several times. I have run 10 miles or more several times in the last year. Does that count?

    I used to enjoy walking in hills and mountains a lot as a younger man. To enjoy the scenery as much as for exercise. Does that count?

    Tillerwoman and I do go for walks occasionally. Usually only a few miles these days. Does that count?

    When I sailed at Hayling Island in England in 2010 we had to walk our boats in shallow water back to the sailing club one day because the tide was against us and the wind wasn't strong enough to sail faster than the tide. Does that count?

    My niece is currently walking up Kilimanjaro. Does that count?

    1. I think everything 'counts' if it makes you feel better. There's nothing special about walking - it's working some form of exercise into our daily routine that's most important. I'd guess that sailing a small boat like a Laser is a lot more exercise than walking.

      But walking is probably the least we can do that still qualifies as exercise, and we've so let the car creep into our lives that a lot of us are physically unable to even walk anymore. We then scratch our heads and ask the experts why we are all turning into pear-shaped blobs. The fault, dear Tillerman, is not in the stars, but in our garages.

  4. My personal rules for tracking my miles basically say that anything that I wouldn't have to do if I didn't actually choose to counts. Walking to the closest subway station for the commute, or to the deli for lunch - no. Walking to the next subway station down the line, or around a few blocks on lunch hour? Yes.

    I still don't know how I'm going to work in sailing. So far that hasn't been an issue 'cause weekends have been unsuitable for sailing lately (what's that phrase that keeps popping up in Proper Course? Something about "seething cauldron of doom?") but one of these days I will have to sort that out.

    Maybe I should finally take a look at that trail GPS my dad gave me when he got a better one.

    1. I know you've avoided smartphones, but this is yet another reason for having one.

      A five dollar app on my iPhone does a lot more tracking and logging and data computation than I have any need for. And it has a number of nyah-nyah features that I've yet to explore. It will, for example, track your progress and post that in real time automatically to your Facebook page, with things like location, current distance and speed, and even a map of where you've been.

      It's hard to believe, but I think a lot of people do all of this jogging stuff so that they can show off to their friends.

    2. So if you walk one mile south and one mile east and one mile north and end up where you started, what color is the app?

  5. PS - I also have a spreadsheet, mine's just too ugly to bother sharing.

  6. "Cauldron of death and destruction" was the phrase. Coined by one of our fleet captains who also happens to be a sailing journalist.

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  11. As a young dude growing up in the city of Brotherly Love I ran a lot, mostly from the gangs who turf i crossed going to school. When in Va I walked a lot because my Grandfather did not want me to drive his car. I could drive the tractor, but sometimes that was not cool enough.
    Now that I am a world yacht cruiser I have found the need to revert to walking ( and the always driving wife has too also,, yay) or riding my bike. Do not mind at all. one seed things you miss when driving. Beside it is very Eco, and good for this retired body who since being away from my regular teaching Kung fu three times a week, at time spends way too much time on FB and the net catching up on missed Kung Fu movies and Anime.

    1. I guess if I'd had your motivation, Zen, I would have taken up running at an early age, too.

      I used to ride a bike a lot, but what I like about walking is that you don't need any equipment or need to 'gear up' for a half hour first. And you can do it anywhere - especially when traveling. Does the Kung fu help when negotiating a nice slip location with marina managers?

  12. When my wife and I got married back in 1990, I regularly biked. A lot. And I was in fighting trim -- 155 lbs or so.

    These days, not so much.

    I walk, but not enough. My stamina is such that I can generally out walk anyone that cares to join me, but my metabolism is such that I don't lose weight unless I walk almost three hours (about ten miles) per day.

    Doc, if you really want a goal, start training for this next year: http://www.onedayhike.org/

    I tried it several years ago. Signed up for the 100km and came up just short of the 50km distance due to my flat feet feeling like they were splitting in two. No blisters, just flat foot pain. I walked much faster than I had planned and wonder if that had anything to do with it.

    All that said, I'll join you. Today.

    1. I'm trying not to obsess about this too much, as I tend to do about most things that interest me. If I get too wrapped up in something, I eventually burn out and then stop doing it altogether.

      Maybe that's why I've put off writing this post for over a year. I'm trying to work out a balance so that I'll keep doing some useful exercise and not quit.

      The main point is that our bodies have evolved over millions of years expecting to do a certain amount of physical work every day. If we suddenly do nothing, something's going to go pear-shaped.

      Of course, having recently retired, I now have the luxury of spending a few hours a week just walking. Those with busier lives will have a harder time working this in. But, maybe we can learn something from the mechanics who work on those evil cars of ours.

      As they're so fond of saying, you can pay a little now or a lot later on.

    2. You and I must be related, as I behave the way.

      I still have some 15 years or more to go before retirement, but I started yesterday as I said I would and I'll keep you company on it.

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