I have never been a runner or even a jogger. I have, however, been a walker, a walker with a spring in my step, a good trot. When my husband and I take our three dogs for their daily constitutional (and to do their business outside our backyard) we frequently point out and bemoan those other companions of canines; they saunter at such a slow pace that we marvel at how they are moving at all. How is that even exercise?
Being Boomers in a health maintenance organization that issues more than occasional “tips,” which feel sometimes like dire warnings, about what we need to do in order to avoid heart bypass surgery, osteoporosis, or beyond borderline blood sugar, we are acutely aware that we need to move. Move with intention, move with vigor, move with some frequency and distance goals. A few years ago I wore a simple counter and aimed for a magical 10,000 step goal: no requirement of how flat the terrain, how small or large the steps. I was just about as consistent in this practice as I have been with so many other, whether writing Morning Pages, meditating on world scripture, composing daily Haikus, only eating vegan before 6 pm. Not so bad, not so good.
We have read that we need to spend 250 minutes a week doing some form of moderate aerobic exercise, which means at least 20 minutes a day, and then more on the weekends. Up until eight months ago, for more than 15 years, I could not even do the dog walk on Sundays: my mornings were all about preparing for and participating in worship services; the afternoons were either filled with meetings or a time of complete collapse that involved either a serious nap or couch time.
I am still tied up most Sundays that way, “preaching out” in congregations, nearby or quite a distance. But I have gained back a few of them, and more Saturdays as well, now that I don’t deliver a fresh sermon every time, sometimes only tweaking them. Which freed us up to do what we had wanted to do for a long time — find an organized group of other folks to walk with. More than that: to hike with.
My husband found what we had been looking for in what is now a quaint way. He saw an article in our daily newspaper about the Atlanta Outdoor Club, which he read had been in existence since 2005 and has several thousand members. You go online (natch), register, choose a user name and password, and sign a release from liability form. This entitles you to be informed of lots of activities: whitewater rafting, kayak trips, monthly socials at a chain Tex Mex, and what we had hoped for, dozens of hiking opportunities. They take place at sunrise, sunset, and in between most days of the week, all over the region. Their difficulty is supposedly ranked from D1 (very easygoing) to D5 (practically Sherpa-like).
We figured we were game for D2, even D3. I had been hiking with my family of origin at a very young age: trails in national parks: Teton, Yosemite, and Bryce Canyon. There was Girl Scouts badges for me, Boy Scouts for him. We had hiked and distance walked our way through many states and countries over our almost 30 year marriage; 10, 12, 15 miles a day.
We enjoyed our first experience very much, a two hour or so Friday afternoon, moderately paced trek through a familiar nearby county park, with enough off the familiar trail detours to make it an entirely new experience. The second, on a Sunday morning, took us about 45 minutes east to a state park, where we met up with a dozen or other walkers for what had been advertised as a leisurely five mile hike. The definition of hike being “a long walk in the countryside, usually for pleasure,” or “to March in a training exercise.” What it turned out to be, though our leader strenuously denied it (pun intended), was what is now being called a speed hike. You certainly don’t amble; stop to see the wildflowers budding, or to snap a phone picture of the creek rapids.
You practically jog, no matter how steep and winding the trail, how high the many steps, how many smaller and larger rocks and boulders you must clamor over or around. The measure of the success of this experience was not the sensations: the first warmish air after a horrible cold southern winter; the beauty of the still stark woods; the easy camaraderie with strangers. No, it was the fact we might have shaved 20 or 30 minutes off the time it took us from start to finish.
Let alone how many steps some of the hikers could document, how much and even how they moved. Those who wore what are being called activity trackers that combine a wearable device with a website or smartphone app to view data about their movements, a $290 million retail goldmine in 2013, with a prediction that the market could double this year. This week’s Science Times section in the NY Times is almost entirely devoted to this fitness fad, all about “The Monitored Man” (or woman).
These speed hikes were not what I expected, or truthfully, at age 65, can keep up on. I managed that first time, only slipping on damp creek side rocks once, scraping my ankle. But I was discouraged, exhausted — nauseous exhausted — and frankly disgusted by the time we got back in our car. I felt the same way about the group of us as we scrambled and charged through that wilderness as I have felt when I witnessed mountain bikers rushing past, or when I saw youth ziplining in a rainforest preserve — a habitat for rare butterflies and monkeys — in Guatemala last summer. For them, and for us, nature was only tangential to the real agenda of maximum burn, with a healthy measure of competition.
And yet, for our anniversary I bought two Fit Bits, one blue, one magenta, to motivate us to move more and more vigorously. To get those steps increased the cardio up. To “wire us well.” To speed our journey through the natural world. What’s up with that?