Outdoor Laps

I’ve been at meetings at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado over the past few days. It’s a very fine facility, with great amenities and beautiful grounds. It has one particular feature that I’ve enjoyed during my brief visit: an outdoor walkway that runs in a continuous loop around the pond and the swimming pool on the grounds. In short, you can do laps if you want. Every day I’ve joined other guests in doing laps around the grounds.

On the Broadmoor walking loop, you can easily distinguish the casual strollers from the ardent exercisers. The strollers are taking their time, smiling, and enjoying the scenery; the exercisers–some of whom wear headbands, by the way–have a much more serious expression on their faces and are moving at a faster clip, often weaving around other walkers and checking their watches with a dissatisfied huffiness, as if the mere fact that they have to take slight detours around other pedestrians could ruin their workouts. I’d like to think I fall somewhere in between those groups on the lap-walking spectrum.

I’ve become a dedicated treadmiller when I’m at home, but I’ve enjoyed doing some outdoor walking during my visit here. Treadmills offer certain advantages, like keeping you at a steady pace and allowing you to keep track of calories burned and miles covered, but walking outside, taking deep gulps of fresh air and enjoying beautiful scenery, obviously offers its own special advantages.

The Garden Of The Gods

Yesterday we took a break from meetings in Colorado Springs to hike around the Garden of the Gods, an amazing array of rock formations. You drive through suburban neighborhoods, basketball courts, and soccer fields, then suddenly you notice jagged and colorful rock formations off in the distance, with Pike’s Peak and the Rockies in the background, One of the formations is bleached white, as shown in the photo above, but most of them are a vibrant and deep red. That’s when you know you’ve reached the Garden of the Gods.

The colossal rock formations in the Garden are sandstone, and they trace their history back hundreds of millions of years, to the period after the “ancestral Rockies”–the mountain range that existed here before the current Rockies were formed–had been eroded down to low hills and sediment. The climate then dried out and the landscape was covered with huge sand dunes, which eventually were covered by new layers of sediment that caused the sand to become compacted, forming horizontal sheets of sandstone. When tectonic plate shifts created the Rockies millions of years later, the sandstone formations were tilted and thrust upward, creating the Garden. In short, the story of the Garden is the story of geology and the inexorable forces of planetary change and pressure that have changed the landscape. When you think about it, the story of the Garden is also a humbling reminder that the human lifetime is a drop in the bucket compared to the millennia that shaped the formations that we mortals now enjoy.

The Garden is an easy hike, with most of the walking on paved paths. It’s also a relatively short hike, because the formations are confined to a limited area. We walked from the overflow lot to the site, spent about an hour and a half walking around and seeing the different formations from different vantage points, and enjoying the red crags against the blue skies, the little windows between the rocks in some of the formations, and the rocky balancing acts like the one seen in the photo below.

It was a brilliantly sunny day, with only a few clouds drifting across a bright blue sky, making for perfect conditions for taking photos of the formations. One thing to keep in mind if you visit the Garden of the Gods is that it is a dry climate and you will be changing elevation as you walk up and down–which means you’re going to want to bring a water bottle. We remembered to bring ours and were glad we did, because by the time our visit was ended we had drained our water supply.

One of the trails leads upward, via a series of steps, to a point where there is very little vegetation and visitors can scramble out onto the rock. Taking that trail allows you a close-up view of the sandstone and see some of the sedimentary layering, and allows you to get a better sense of how the area was formed. Except for a lone bush, you might as well be on the surface of Mars.

Some of the sheer rock faces are available for experienced and well-equipped rock climbers. During our visit we saw some hardy climbers on the top of one of the tallest formations. You can see the climbers below, as a tiny dot just to the left of the pinnacle of the formation on the right side of the photo. They must have had an amazing view of the Garden and the Rockies beyond.

From the upper trail you also get an interesting view of some of the formations, jutting dramatically above the surrounding trees, giving the observer a breathtaking vista that is a study in reds, blue, and greens. Whether you are an amateur geologist, or just interested in taking a walk through some beautiful scenery, the Garden of the Gods is worth a visit.

On A Walk To Scopello

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a confirmed walker. I enjoy walking not only because I need and like the exercise, but also because walking allows you to notice and appreciate things you might not see if you are driving past in a car traveling at 30 mph.

Our villa is about a mile from Scopello. I hadn’t taken the walk to town before today because it had previously been hot and cloudless, and it didn’t seem smart to trudge a mile uphill on a blazing, hot day. Today was cooler, however, with a nice breeze—ideal conditions for my walk. It began with a stroll up the tree-lined driveway, shown the photo above. At the top of the driveway you turn left and follow a level roadway for several hundred yards.

Almost immediately after turning onto the road I saw something I really hadn’t noticed before, even though I had driven past the area multiple times already. To the left of the road, past some flowers and a fence, there was a Sicilian farm field on the hillside tumbling down to the sea. The crop had been planted in tidy rows, and a charming stone building—a barn, perhaps?—stood framed against the blue waters behind and lit by a stray ray of sunshine. It was a beautiful scene.

At the first intersection you turn right and begin the uphill climb to Scopello, which rests on a mountainside far above the sea. The road winds steadily upward, and there are many pretty flowers along the way. As you near Scopello, your eye is drawn to an old structure that sits on a rocky crag above the town, as shown at the top of the photo above.

By the time you reach the outskirts of Scopello, you have a panoramic view of the coastline and can distinctly see the different colors caused by shallower coastal waters versus the deep sea. Today the ocean waters were a magnificent royal blue, while the shore waters were a bright, almost luminescent green, and white clouds sailed by in the blue skies above it all. The surrounding mountains rise abruptly from the sea, and the whole area was alive with color and wind blown movement. Much of the land near the coast is cultivated and beautifully maintained. Sicilians obviously care about their farms as much as they they care about their food—which means they care a lot.

I really liked this walk to Scopello.

Treadmill Rules

Lately I’ve been taking my morning walk on a treadmill in a small workout facility, rather than via a walk in the open air. It’s the first time I’ve really consistently used a gym and a treadmill. I’m getting in about the same amount of steps, but it is an entirely different vibe.

There are positives to the treadmill experience, of course. The primary benefit is that you aren’t subject to the whims of the weather and the possibility of some weather-related mishap, like slipping on ice during the winter or being sprayed with the splash when a passing car rockets through a rain puddle. But whereas walking outside, for me, tends to be a solitary exercise, treadmills in a gym are communal–and that means there are rules to be acknowledged and obeyed.

One of the rules involves respecting the personal space of the other treadmill users. In our little gym, there is a row of six treadmills. If you come in while some of those devices are being used, you need to find an empty treadmill that gives you at least a one empty treadmill buffer zone from any other user, if possible. Picking a treadmill right next to another user when there are plenty of unused machines would be viewed as unseemly and, well, weird. Another rule is that there is no talking, period. Even though multiple people are within a few feet of each other, everyone seeks to remain in their own little workout world, following their walking, jogging, or running routines, listening to their music or podcasts, and maintaining careful social separation. The other users don’t seem to even acknowledge each other’s presence with a nod or a smile.

Another big difference between walking outside and the treadmill experience is the looking presence of the machine itself. Outdoor walkers can always stop to tie their shoe or admire a pretty scene. Of course, you can’t do that on a treadmill, unless you want to be swept away by the moving belt and hurled into the exercise bikes behind you. There’s a pressure element, because you’d better keep your feet moving, and at the right clip. And the machines are very clock-centric. You program your time and start your routine, and you can’t help but look constantly at how much more time is left before the routine is over. That ever-present time concept simply doesn’t exist on an outdoor walk.

Morning On The Mile

This morning I took a walk along the Scioto Mile, heading down Gay Street and then turning right and heading north along the river. The path winds past the federal courthouse, under railroads bridges, and by the high-rise condos of the Arena District. You need to be sure to stick to the pavement and not venture onto the lawns, which are Canadian goose dropping zones. When you reach the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers and cross the bridge at that point, you get a nice view of downtown Columbus looking back up the river, as shown below.

Columbus Parks and Recreation has worked hard to try to make the riverfront more accessible and interesting. That effort will become increasingly important as more people move to the downtown area and the development of the long-neglected Franklinton area continues. Having parkland and walking and biking trails is a key part of the urban living experience.

How Now, Snow Plow?

Walking to work during a Midwestern winter poses many challenges. Storms pelt the pedestrian with snow, sleet, and freezing rain, and frigid temperatures turn the precipitation into sheets of slippery ice ready to produce a fall.

But the most galling challenges of all are man made: the huge snow piles that are plowed into existence after a big storm like the one that hit Columbus last week. They are galling precisely because they demonstrate beyond dispute the second-class citizenship of the walker. The streets are cleared, to allow speedy passage of the almighty cars, buses, and even bicycles, and in so doing new and absurd obstacles are created for those who are hoofing it to work.

At intersections, the plows seem motivated by an evil, anti-walker animus, because they shove the snow into huge piles placed precisely at entrances to crosswalks–like the these piles at the intersection of Fourth and Main that I had to navigate yesterday. You almost need a sherpa to climb them and find just the right pass. And, as the snow piles melt and refreeze, ultimately turning black and filthy with cinders, asphalt pieces, and captured car exhaust, they will pose a new, ever-more disgusting impediment to safe passage for days to come.

Of course, the snow plow operators aren’t motivated by hatred of walkers. Instead, they are oblivious to walkers, and simply don’t care that pedestrians might be inconvenienced by the plowed piles. That’s what makes the piles so galling. No one even thinks of the walkers.

It’s ironic when you think about it. Cities like Columbus make big shows of adopting “green” policies and creating bike lanes and other nods to environmentally conscious forms of transportation, yet at the same time they not only ignore the basic needs of those who commute by the most environmentally friendly method of all, but also create new and totally unnecessary obstacles for them. Columbus’ green policies would have a lot more credibility if snow plow drivers were simply instructed to not create ludicrous barriers at crosswalks.

Ten More Minutes Of Walking

The American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine recently published a metastudy that looked at the impact of physical activity and mortality. Drawing upon a pool of data about thousands of American adults, the study concluded that even a modest amount of additional physical activity–walking only ten more minutes a day–could, collectively, prevent thousands of early deaths.

The problem with Americans is that too many of us are couch potatoes who sit pretty much all day, at work and at home. And prior research has shown that constant sitting is just not good for your health. People who don’t exercise are far more likely to struggle with obesity and have inactivity-related medical conditions that lead to premature deaths that could have been prevented with more exercise. A 2020 study of 44,000 adults in the United States and Europe, for example, found that “the most sedentary men and women in the study, who sat almost all day, were as much as 260 percent more likely to die prematurely as the most highly active people studied, who exercised for at least 30 minutes most days.”

The study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is admittedly speculative, and put the metadata into a statistical model that sought to determine what would happen if people simply walked briskly for an additional 10, 20, or 30 minutes each day. The model showed an anticipated direct cause and effect between more exercise and fewer early deaths.

Notably, the study was based on pre-pandemic data, from what many of us fondly think of as the “normal” world. Obviously, though, its conclusions could be used to question the health impact of extended “shutdown” and “stay-at-home” orders that have the effect of preventing people from exercising. Sedentary lifestyles obviously significant health problems, and any public health care initiative that encourages such lifestyles cannot be viewed as risk-free. What’s past is past, but in the future, we need to remember that.

Post-Pie Remorse

After a terrific Thanksgiving, with lots of family time, football, food, amber ale, thorough analysis of The Game, and a few friendly hands of euchre, today I’m dealing with the traditional bout of post-Thanksgiving remorse. Specifically, I’m feeling guilty that, when we returned home last night, I was unable to resist scarfing down a piece of pumpkin pie, followed immediately by a piece of pecan pie.

At that point, sated by my late-night pie intake, I went to bed and slept soundly. But the morning’s light always seems to bring second thoughts, and there is no doubt that the two-piece-of-pie nightcap drove my overall caloric intake into the red zone, setting the stage for the equally traditional winter weight gain that typically occurs over the next few months.

But this year, I vow to resist the norm. There was only one response, therefore, to my post-pie guilt: leash up Betty and take a few laps around Schiller Park on a cold, gray morning with snowflakes drifting down, hoping that the prompt walkabout will burn the calories before they find the waistline.

In reality, if I hope to make a meaningful dent in yesterday’s calorie count, multiple walks will be in my future, and maybe a short jog, too.

Appreciating A Wet Walk

It rained for most of the day yesterday, rained some more throughout the night, and is raining still this morning. As this look down our road/driveway shows, my walk today is going to be a wet one.

I don’t mind a wet walk. In fact, I appreciate them as a real change of pace. You’ve got to adjust your mindset for a wet walk, because you’ll need to really pay attention to what you’re doing. I don’t wear my earbuds and listen to music on the wet walks, because I want to stay actively engaged with my surroundings. No wool gathering is permitted. You’ve got puddles to dodge, and an umbrella to maneuver against the windblown raindrops, and potential splashes from passing pickups to watch out for.

But once you get out into all that rain and wetness and puddled terrain, you find things to like. The road has a special shine to it. The rain makes drumming and popping sounds against the fabric of the umbrella and the leaves on the trees and the surface of the puddles. The wet air almost seems to hug you, and the watery breeze smells fresh and clean and good. And when you get back, wetter than when you left, you feel pretty good about going out at all.

New Shoes

I needed some new walking shoes, so I went to the shoe store looking for something suitable. I’ve bought shoes on-line in the past, but I figured that in Columbus—unlike Stonington—actual brick and mortar shoe stores with sweeping selections are close at hand. And, when it comes to footwear, there’s a lot to be said for looking around at different options in person, grabbing a few boxes to make sure of sizing, sitting down on one of those communal padded stools, and trying shoes on. On-line shopping is convenient, but you’re never really sure about shoes until you’ve removed the paper wadding, laced them up, and taken those first few tentative steps.

My feet have taken a beating after 64 years of hard daily use, and I was aiming exclusively for comfort, rather than style. I opted for these Vans Deluxe Comfort Ortholite sneakers. it was an easy call, because when I put them on my feet immediately communicated to my brain: “Hey, these are comfortable. I mean, really comfortable!” So I bought them, and it turns out my feet were right.

A few days of morning walks hasn’t changed that opinion. The shoes have lots of padding on the sole, and it feels like walking on a cloud. I always enjoy my walks, but these new shoes just make the walks that much better.

The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

It was a hot, sunny weekend in Columbus, and lots of German Village residents and visitors were out and about. I did a lot of walking around the Village and around Schiller Park. With the temperature touching the 90s, it’s not surprising that nobody was masked up; wearing any kind of mask in that heat would have been unbearable. And one other change in behavior was readily apparent, too: people were sharing the sidewalks and walking past each other, shoulder to shoulder, without veering.

It was incredibly refreshing to walk the pretty streets of German Village without having to veer around parked cars or use the roadway to achieve at least six feet of social distancing. No one was consciously trying to maintain the buffer zone, and no one seemed to mind being in close proximity with other people, either. It struck me as another good sign of returning normalcy.

We’ll all carry our own memories of what it was like for us, personally, during the COVID shutdown period. One of my memories will be dodging traffic and other pedestrians and getting annoyed with people who hogged the sidewalk without yielding or moving over to help achieve social distancing recommendations. I’m glad they are just memories now.

Walk/Don’t Walk

According to the trusty weather app, the prolonged frigid spell that has had Columbus in its icy grip is finally supposed to break this week. Today, for example, the temperature is supposed to briefly reach a point above freezing for the first time in weeks.

But this is no time to let down your guard, because we’re now entering the most treacherous period of all: when the snow and ice will melt, somewhat, during the day, but then freeze again overnight. The result of the melt/refreeze/melt/refreeze process is sidewalks that look like this one that I encountered on Third Street, on my way back from my morning walk around Schiller Park today. Try to navigate the icy patches, and you’re basically cruising for a (rear end) bruising in a fall. A good rule of thumb is to avoid stepping on any translucent area, and stick instead to the packed snow-covered segments. But soon, thanks to the melting and freezing, there won’t be any of those safety zones, and pedestrians will have to entrust their fates to the capricious whimsy of the winter gods.

If all of this weren’t difficult enough for the walkers among us, the weather app reports that we’re supposed to get freezing rain tomorrow. The mind reels at what a dose of freezing rain will do to patches like the one shown above.

Fortunately, the temperature is supposed to shoot up to around 50 degrees on Wednesday, which should take care of most of the ice. It can’t get here soon enough.

Street Walking

Since we’ve returned to Colimbus from Stonington, I’ve had to get my street walking reflexes back.

Not that kind of “streetwalking,” of course. I’m talking about literally walking in the street, with the traffic — exactly what your Mom told you not to do. In German Village, if you want to walk (and I do) and you want to maintain social distancing (and I do), you’re inevitably going to be veering out into the street from time to time to avoid approaching walkers and joggers on the sidewalks.

Street walking requires special awareness that wasn’t needed in Stonington. Up there, in our neighborhood, most streets don’t have sidewalks, so you walk in the street as a matter of course — but there’s really not all that much traffic, and not many parallel-parked cars (or joggers or bicycles, because of the abrupt steep inclines everywhere). In German Village, those are three of the things you’ve got to look out for when you venture into the street. You’ve got to be mindful of whether there are people who are in those parked cars you’re thinking of walking between in order to dodge those approaching walkers, because people in parked cars may be getting ready to pull out. And you need to be sure to look both ways, because you could have a cyclist or jogger approaching from either direction. And you’ve got to watch the cars, too, obviously— some of them are moving pretty fast, flouting the speed limit, and angry at the world. They don’t like sharing the street with us social distancers. And you need to be sure to wear white or other bright colors, to ensure you are seen by the drivers, cyclists, and joggers you’re trying to avoid.

I sometimes wonder whether walking in traffic to maintain social distancing is more dangerous than the coronavirus. It probably is, but it does keep you alert and on your toes first thing in the morning.

My Morning Hills

Stonington is a town built on hills, like a San Francisco writ small.  There are hills everywhere.  In fact, you can’t walk 30 yards from our front door without encountering a hill.  But on my morning walk, two hills in particular loom large.

I’m a creature of habit, and I always take the same path on my 6:30 a.m. strolls.  I follow Main Street to reach the downtown area, then turn right to head down to the mail boat dock and the east end of the harbor — encountering a few mild hills on the way.  But after I enjoy the smell of the ocean air and sight of the boats on the water, I turn left and head up Granite Street — and I do mean “up.”

Granite Street (pictured above) is aptly named, because the Granite Street Hill is hard and brutal — like the stone that gives the street its name.  The hill rises like a massive fist from the harbor, heading directly up at a constant 45-degree angle, so abruptly that you need to lean forward into the hill to keep your balance.  The only redeeming quality of the Granite Street hill is that it is short in length.  By the time I reach the top my legs are groaning and I’m breathing hard, gulping down big mouthfuls of that seaside breeze but feeling good that the first hill is behind me.

Then it’s down a gentle slope that heads back into town, past the coffee shop and library, where the second hill challenge is found.  Pink Street (pictured below) heads north from town, past the motel cabins, and then winds to the left in a giant arc that skirts a stream that runs down to the harbor.  The slope of the Pink Street hill is blessedly more gradual than its Granite Street counterpart, but the path is much longer, running about a quarter mile, at a constant 30 degree uphill slope, past houses, lobster traps, and the old high school turned community center.  Every morning, I wonder if the Pink Street path will ever end.

Of course, it does, and when I reach the end I’m far above town and sea level, ready to head down a few more hills rising from the west end of the harbor to get back to our place.  I’ve got one last little hill to climb, just before turning onto our street, but it’s puny compared to what I’ve done already.  With Granite Street and Pink Street behind me, I’m ready to face the day. 

Old Habits . . . Die Surprisingly Easily

For years, my daily routine when I’m at home has been unvarying:  when I get up in the morning, I take a brisk walk, on the same route, in the same direction, to get the blood pumping and the brain engaged.  I did it rain or shine, hot or cold, without exceptions, with no ifs, ands, or buts.

When we lived in New Albany, my route took my around the Yantis Loop.  When we moved to German Village, my course changed to circumnavigation of Schiller Park.  But in either case, the early morning walk was a key component of the day, mixing inner compulsion, simple enjoyment, and a desire to be sure to get some exercise before plopping myself down behind my desk.

I would call my morning walk routine a “habit.”

But when we came to Maine recently and had to self-quarantine on the footprint of our cottage for two weeks, I was unable to take my morning walk.  The first few days I got up early anyway, but in short order I realized that I there was no need to do so because I couldn’t take my walk, so I might as well roll over in bed and sleep a little longer.  And that turned out to be pretty enjoyable, actually. 

By the time the 14 days was over, I found that my routine had been shattered.  On the first day after the quarantine ended, I took my walk, but on the second day it rained, and I decided I should just stay home, without really giving it much thought.  But when I did think about it, I thought:  “What the hell?”

So clearly, my long-standing habit has been broken to pieces and needs to be reestablished.  I thought the saying was, “old habits die hard,” but that turns out to be totally wrong.  Maybe it should be, “good habits die easily.”