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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