9:36 to 11:02 — The Walk

by Brad Nelson   11/23/13

I haven’t been out for a walk or bike ride in well over two weeks, so my feet were getting a bit itchy. Oh, but the cold. The cold. Baby, it’s cold outside. It’s been sunny off and on most of the week. And every time I gave a thought to taking a break from work and going on a walk at noon (the best chance for those weak rays to take the edge off), well, I’d just stick my nose out the front door and think “Baby, it’s cold outside — maybe tomorrow.”

But for some reason this morning, tomorrow came it didn’t seem so cold. It was 9:30 a.m. and, cold or no cold, baby, it’s sunny outside and I knew this was as good as it’s going to get, at least for several months. So I went for a brisk walk on one of my usual routes in the deep woods.

It’s a long, looping route on a logging road through mostly tall evergreen trees and the inevitable thick evergreen underbrush. Except for the cold, you can hardly tell the outward appearance from June. It’s all green. I didn’t have my handy Garmin eTrex 30 with me. But I know from past experience that at a brisk pace I do about 3.7 mph. Given that I walked for 1 hour and 26 minutes, that equates to about a 5.3 mile course.

I’m guessing the temperature at the time was about 38 degrees. Whatever it was, the mud puddles were frozen solid, some of the larger ones were sheets of thick, broken slabs. (Were bears at work?) The surrounding underbrush was painted in a carpet of white crystals. It looked like a light snow had fallen.

Sometimes I walk briskly, intent on keeping statistics and pushing myself. Sometimes I take completely leisurely strolls through the forest. But usually it is some combination of the above. But today I just wanted to blow out the carbon, so to speak, and have a go. So I bundled up in several layers, including a heavy outer jacket, and set a torrid pace.

The only question would be how long it would be until I had to take off my jacket, presuming it would come off at all given the chilling temperatures. But about 1/3 of the way in, I was forced to at least unzip. And then at about the halfway point, I took the coat off completely having worked up a good sweat. My thick gloves came off as well. In cooler temperatures, that wouldn’t happen. But today it was a sign that I had gotten of my desk-job ass and put some elbow grease into it.

I have been on hundreds of walks or bike rides this summer. It was, all things considered, a very nice summer in Western Washington. And on every trip I noticed there would always be one moment where I thought “Ahh, this is why I do this. This was the best moment of the day.” And there always is one. There can be several of them, but always a best one. And that point came today when I had leaped past the halfway point and was heading in the direction of home, blood fully pumping, my jacket having been thrown off, and the weak but grateful sun at my back. My thought was “Ah, today, I am alive and not quite yet wheelchair bound.”

And I think that’s what many of us foolish elders are doing out in the woods. We are, to some extent, running from our mortality, convincing ourselves that we are not the dreaded of the most dread: old. In fact, it’s a veritable fraternity out here in the woods of 50+ men (and some women) peddling bikes or walking briskly, gray heads and still-willing legs, able to be vital but still looking somewhat silly on our bicycles. A couple from this fraternity passed me by in the opposite direction on their bikes. But it’s just too cold for me to be on a bike.

When walking I take two walking sticks with me. And they are not the aluminum yuppie-poles you can buy in a catalog for $30.00 or more. These are good, old-fashioned fallen branches or twigs. Selecting a good one is half the fun. Why pay? They’re laying all around for free. On today’s 4.3 mile loop, they are used mostly out of habit. It’s a fairly flat loop with a couple steep places, but mostly just rolling hills. They are just nice to have in one’s hands like two metronomes marking off the earth as you go.

But on steeper climbs, they are sometimes all that comes between you and falling on your butt, especially when doing brisk, downhill walks on loose earth or gravel. And given that today’s walk was on an old logging road, mostly level, the footing was good.

This being the case, it allows one’s mind to wander a bit. But such a thing is normally quite dangerous. I’m often hiking or biking in places that are not forgiving of a wandering mind. So even on relatively gentle walks as today, I’ve gotten into the habit of automatically planning each foot fall. My mind is somewhat concentrating on the mechanics of movement. Not only do ankles twist easily if you are not careful of where you are stepping, but it also helps the journey to step on smooth places rather than on small rocks and pebbles. All the pummeling of the under-sole can add up.

So on a walk such as today, there isn’t all that much philosophy going on in my head. I’m driving myself hard and fast, watching for the best places to put my foot (there is an abundance of slimy algae and moss to give you trouble if you don’t), and life itself just becomes a rhythm. Had the weather been warm, and had I not needed to keep moving to stay warm, I would have proverbially (or literally) stopped to smell the roses, for getting outside mankind’s bounds and to have thoughts beyond groupthink are what we all need. No iPhones make this trip with me, that is for sure. It is getting away form mankind that is half the fun. If I get no blisters, and it’s nice tomorrow, I may do this again.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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6 Responses to 9:36 to 11:02 — The Walk

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    My housemate and I used to take a daily walk, but she hasn’t been up to it for some time. We haven’t even been to the zoo in months. Age is catching up to us.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, the clock is slowing down for us all. But I’d go crazy without being able to escape into nature once in a while and get the blood pumping. When out on a walk, it’s the only time the mindless idea of “forward!” makes any sense. 😉

  2. NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

    This story resonates with a lot of us, I’d guess. I actually took fewer walks this past year than I usually have, but I still biked as much as ever. I’m not giving in to middle age without a struggle, but there are times, especially when heaving a barbell over my head, that my joints remind me they’re not 30 or even 40 any more, and I admit that has been rather frustrating for the past four years or so.

    Of course, Chicago isn’t western Washington – our high here yesterday when you were perambulating through the woods out there was about 30 – and the cold gets to me pretty easily. I don’t bike unless it’s at least in the upper 60’s, which means the season is short (I have an indoor exer-cycle for the other 6 months of the year).

    And I don’t think we look too silly hiking or biking in our gray hair (or no hair) provided we don’t try to pretend we’re still 30 by wearing the latest in exercise fashions, marketed to urban yuppies. As long as we’re trying to age gracefully rather than stay young forever, we’re doing all right. Our only youth, our only immortality is in our children, if we have been so blessed.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And I don’t think we look too silly hiking or biking in our gray hair (or no hair) provided we don’t try to pretend we’re still 30 by wearing the latest in exercise fashions, marketed to urban yuppies.

      Great point! I sort of snicker at all the 50+ Lance Armstrong wannabes, decked out in Yuppie Chic. Me, it’s an old sweatshirt and a pair of khaki shorts. No spandex. No racing stripes. No color coordination whatsoever other than the brown and gray of mud and dust.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In our case, at 74 Elizabeth is definitely not giving yo middle age.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I took another walk yesterday around noon in the same place but a slightly shorter (about 4 miles) circuit. I was still feeling it from the previous day so I wasn’t so ambitious.

    The temperatures by about 1:30 were fairly pleasant…for late November, the early-morning fog having mostly burned off. The sun was shining as brightly as could be expected. And it cast a somewhat enchanting glow as it poked low through the trees casting long shadows. A time or two on these cozy, forested roads I thought I was walking through the set of The Hobbit.

    Man’s achievement in building beautiful things is noteworthy. But there’s something special that arises on its own accord (or mostly so) in a forest. I say “mostly so” because this is a “working” forest (as most are in the Northwest) composed of Douglas firs. It’s my understanding that a decidedly deciduous forest is what would arise naturally given time.

    But Douglas firs are our friend and have a charm of their own. They stand tall, summer or winter, green and grand. Their very presence seems to be saying “I will not give in.” They do drop some of their needles now and again, but not anywhere on par with a maple. A fir tree always stands clothed, but a maple does not stand defiant to the elements but goes with the flow, every year presenting a colorful death of sorts.

    Normally I do not meet too many people where I hike or bike (which is half the point of going where I go), for it is somewhat remote and unknown. But I met this lady at the trailhead yesterday. She was perhaps about 22 and had a dog whose mouth must have been twenty two inches around. It was a boxer, or some type of dog such as that — squat and thick with a tremendous jaw. This dog looked as though it could bite you in half. He was as wide-bodied as a 747. But “Ben” was a push-over, as friendly as a puppy and wanted to come with me. (Dogs aren’t stupid.) But chicks need their dogs, especially when they are walking alone somewhere. And with this dog, she had very little to worry about. The dog looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger on a leach.

    Me, I don’t at all mind going out alone, although the occasional person you meet will tell you to watch out for the bears. And, indeed, that is a good caution. But I’ve seen only one bear, and it was at another forest up to the north. I caught only a glimpse of its hindquarters dashing into the underbrush off to the side of the road and sounding like a gamboling bowling ball as it crashed and thrashed through the forest like an escaping elephant. And as long as the hunters keep doing their job of going on the occasional hunt for bear in these forests, that is is scene that will likely be reenacted anytime a bear so much as gets a hint of a human.

    So while I’m conscious of bear encounters, it’s not bears that I’m worried about. But this summer, while riding my bike, I did come across a mountain lion. And unlike the scampering bears, this mountain lion barely acknowledged my presence as I approached it from the rear on my bike from about seventy-five yards back. Its lithe and limber body simply pranced in that cat-like way in front of me seemingly without a care. At some point as I approached, it took a left turn and bounded into the bushes. But it did not look like he was escaping or in panic like the bear. I kept an eye on my left as I passed just in case this cougar had any ideas of me as a potential meal. They can be dangerous I’ve heard.

    But most of the wildlife one finds, if one finds it at all (other than birds and insects), is the occasional rabbit, squirrel, or deer. Many more animals live in the woods, but many you will not see in the daytime because they are nocturnal or are too wary to be commonly seen. But the plants stay put and are a feast for the eyes unto themselves. To me, the evergreen never grows old.

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