The Walk

Long before the alarm goes off at 4:41 a.m., I wonder whether I will get back to sleep.  I turn over restlessly, shifting positions in the hope that sleep will come again quickly.  I’ve only been in bed for four hours, and slept only three of those; I need sleep to come quickly.

It doesn’t come quickly.  Even before the alarm sounds, I hear the click-tap-click of a mechanism buried deeply inside the bedside clock, a precursor to the jarring noise it will make if I let it go. I reach quickly to shut it off, avoiding those progressively louder beeps that, when I’m fortunate enough to sleep through the night,  awaken me to the sound of a garbage truck alerting the world that it is backing up blindly down an alley.

So, for the second morning running, I get out of bed, slip into my flip-flops, and walk naked through the house to the extra bedroom that doubles as my office  The night before I carefully laid out my lime-green tee-shirt, slippery gray exercise shorts, and highly elastic but tight-clinging sports underwear, preparing for the morning and what has developed into an almost daily habit of walking four or five miles in the dark.

There was a time I would have been quite reticent to wander about the house in the nude.  There are three floor-to-ceiling windows just outside the master bedroom door, providing full visual access to my nakedness to someone with night goggles and an interest in the dangling protuberances of an aging, overweight man.  But I have long since reasoned that it is highly unlikely that there will be anyone outside the window, trying to look in.  I don’t turn on the light until after I’ve become moderately presentable, but even then I don’t expect there to be prying eyes peering over the fence or between the boards or actually in the back yard, closer to the house.

With the exception of these last two nights and a few other rare occurrences in months and years past, any prying eyes would have seen only a fat man in his underwear.  These last two nights I slept nude only because I had piled all of my underwear in the hamper, intent on washing them.  Two nights in a row I took off the pair I was wearing and put on a pair of lined walking shorts to lounge around the house.  Two nights in a row I got side-tracked; I took off my lounging shorts when I went to bed, but had nothing else to put on.  Pajamas, to me, might as well be the instruments of satan; I avoid them.

Nudity and hampers full of dirty underwear aside, this morning my mind was on taking my walk.  I flipped on the bathroom light next to my office, walked to the scale to weight myself, then went back to my desk to take my blood pressure and pulse readings. I have been engaging in these rituals ever since I committed, in early March, to walk 1000 miles before year end.  Past health issues related to weight, blood pressure, and high triglycerides prompted me to include these medical procedures in my morning routines.

Before I get dressed for the walk, I meticulously record my weight, my blood pressure, and my pulse rate, paying close attention to the mean arterial pressure and pulse pressure that are calculated by means of a formula in the spreadsheet in which I enter the other numbers.  Lately, and this morning was no exception, I curse the unwelcome numbers in all categories, starting with weight and continuing on with blood pressure and the other attendant numbers.  Only the pulse rate offers anything remotely positive, but I take what I can get and I smile at the screen.

Then, I slip on the specialized walking underwear, the shorts, and the lime green tee-shirt that will, I hope, be sufficiently eye-catching to bicyclists and motorists I encounter to cause them to steer away from me as they approach.  And I place a long ball-chain, to which a house-key is affixed, around my neck so I can lock the door as I leave and unlock it as I return.  A twenty-dollar bill goes into the left pocket of my shorts because I do not want to be caught penniless if a mugger decides today is my day; an angry mugger who picks an empty-pocketed victim might well decide the victim deserves a sharp rap on the head, or worse.  On my left wrist, the one on which I usually wear my watch, I have a thick black band, made of rubber, to which is a affixed a thin piece of aluminum, I think, onto which my name, my telephone number, and my wife’s name has been engraved.  The band replaced my drivers license, which I used to carry in the same pocket as the $20 bill. If the mugger or a car strikes and I am unable to speak, I reason that paramedics or whoever else might come upon me would have sense enough to look at the band and conclude that the name and phone number are mine. The last piece of this long initiation to my walk involves clipping my iPhone to the right side of my shorts; the iPhone will be both a communications life-line in a pinch and, more importantly, the repository of my RunKeeper application which tracks my distance, speed, calories burned, and other stuff related to my walk.

When, finally, all of these preparatory steps have been taken and I am standing outside with a locked door behind me, I consider where I will walk.  Almost invariably, by this time, I am having a conversation with myself in my head, talking about how far I will go and which route I will take.  It won’t be until at least 15-20 minutes into the walk that I will decide how far I will go; until then, I am relatively certain it will be a short walk, shorter than almost all days that have gone before, because I am simply not feeling up to a longer walk than, say, 2 miles.  By the time I have gone a mile or so, though, I feel much better and have decided it will be at least 4 miles and, if my feet do not complain too bitterly, more likely 5.

But before I walk that initial mile I must decide on a route.  Because it is dark and my night vision is bad and getting worse, I generally decide to stick to the major arteries nearby, the ones with street lights.  Even they have long stretches either without lights or on which the light is blocked by large trees, but they are better than neighborhood side streets.  It occurs to me on most days that I don’t decide on a route until I am on it.  Somehow, I am wondering where I am going to go until I get to the point where I have to choose to go left or right or straight and I just choose one of the directions, which makes the decision about route far less complex; once I’ve gone in one direction or another, my options have been severely curtailed, so I am able to more easily narrow my choices.

Today, I headed south from my subdivision to an intersection with a walking trail, an extension of a major trail that runs north-south, just east of where I live. I decided to turn to the west.  My options after that decision were limited; either I would go left or right in about a mile.  But that decision wasn’t reached until I got to that left-or-right decision point.  I opted to go left for a block, then left again for about half a mile, then right for awhile, then left for just under a mile, then left again for about 2 miles, then left, then right, the right again, then left, then left again, and finally right until I reached my house.

So, that one little paragraph pretty well describes my walk.  Except for the people I encountered along the way, many of whom responded to my “good morning!” in kind.  And except for the tiny slice of the moon that I saw as I headed out from my house.  And except for the unexpectedly warm air I encountered as I walked out my front door, a good fifteen degrees warmer than the last time I burst out my front door for one of my walks.  And except for the way even a slight breeze can feel so overwhelmingly cool when it hits you as you round a corner, stepping out of the shadow of a tall brick wall into space with no obstructions.

All of those things are hard to describe.  One day, though, I will do it.  And this is where that will happen.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to The Walk

  1. bev says:

    Thanks for describing the nature of your walks. The spontaneous decisions about taking his or that turn have always been part of the joy of walking or hiking.

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