Tag Archives: walking

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.

Camino de no thank you

The only person I know to have walked the Camino de Santiago was an acquaintance from The SFU Writer’s Studio, Barb Kmiec. Before I heard a few stories from Barb, it was something I thought I might like to do one day.  I was impressed that a) she did it alone, and b) she survived it. I’m not positive she did the entire route, but I do believe she did complete enough of it to get the certificate.  After hearing about it, I made a decision right then that I could check off this quasi-desire and label it, Camino de no thank you.

The walking appeals to me. The hordes of peregrinos (pilgrims) and the sleeping options would preclude my taking the first step. Not to mention that lately, my weak right ankle, (an old basketball injury), and one crooked toe that I’m guessing has some minor arthritis, would have to get sorted out. The thought of sleeping in a room full of others, in a bad bunk, after a day of walking 15-25 km, reminded me of the worst hosteling experience I had in London in 2001 and in Edinburgh somewhere on the Royal Mile.

In London, just after arriving, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed because I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for a long time at that point, I was kept awake all night by man in the bunk above me. He was non-stop snoring. He didn’t speak English. We couldn’t communicate and we were the only ones in the two-bunk room. This went on for three nights. By the third evening, I was practically homicidal. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to just ask for a different room. Duh!

I do not want to re-experience that or sleep in a room full of people in an uncomfortable bed that thousands of others have slept in before me. I do not want to deal with disgusting, painful blisters to do a pilgrimage that, from a spiritual perspective, I don’t really know at this point why I’d do, and for me, the spiritual, not the physical, would be the point, although I gather they’re inextricably linked.

I’m telling you this because last weekend I found myself ordering a small guidebook, Camino Francés, written by Bryson Guptill, from P.E.I., that I’d seen referenced recently on social media. I’ll call it a no frills guide. You can read it in a night or less. You’ll get the route he took with tips, some photos, and exact GPS-plotted distances. If you’re looking to whet your appetite, this could be one book to have in your arsenal. I do have to give a warning about the quality of its binding however. It would probably not survive more than a few days in a pack. Maybe he’ll rethink that on the next printing and use a cerlox bind instead.

“Are you going to walk the Camino this year?” he asked me in an e-mail that he wrote back to me when I ordered the book.

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not this year. Probably not at all. But just in case.’

And it was that part of the sentence, ‘just in case’ and the fact that it had popped out of my mouth, [where the heck did that come from?], that left me both curious and a little worried. I mean, that I actually took the time to order the book did not escape my curious attention either.

Then yesterday morning after reading his book, I was up, unintentionally,  way too early, and I decided I must re-watch, The Way, with Martin Sheen. But it wasn’t to be found on Netflix.  Instead, I came across another film, Footprints: The path of your life, a documentary about 10 American guys led by a young Catholic priest from Arizona. I thought it was really good because of its focus on spirituality (in this case Catholicism) and besides you don’t often see a movie about 10 guys, with at least one who’d had some major losses to overcome, make it happen.

At some point, past the halfway mark, the group realized that the slowest members had to come first, regardless of how slow they might be. Halfway through they found a unique solution for making that happen on the major inclines. You’ll have to watch it to discover what that was. Apparently seven of the 10, just in case you’re still romanticizing such a trip, had to seek medical attention during the 40 day experience (this little tidbit runs quietly across the screen at the end of the movie).

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friend Dave Brent when I watched it  For all I know, he’s way ahead of me and he’s in training for it with all the walks he leads around the Lower Mainland as a secret warm up.  Dave, are you holding out on us as to your ultimate walking motivation?

So just wondering, how many of you secretly desire to do the Camino de Santiago? Have you already done it? Got any unique tips?

Walking and social media and a blast from the past

About six weeks ago, I had a gallbladder attack so severe that I had to call an ambulance. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to call an ambulance for yourself but it’s a really hard thing to do. It always seems to be required at 3:30 am when the dark and the silence closes in to make the decision even starker.

Now, I figured out pretty quickly that it must be a gallbladder attack because three years ago, I thought I was having a heart attack that turned out to be a gallbladder attack. This time though, I just put two and two together. Besides, I’d made the horrible mistake of eating an entire bag of Salsa Fresca rice chips that night and I don’t even really know what Salsa Fresca means but to my gallbladder it meant, “Are you #@!! kidding me?”

About a week afterwards, the episode still vivid, and the tenderness of my right side subsiding, I decided to make a few changes. They recommended surgery but I’m kind of a surgery-over-my-dead-body kind of gal. Especially when lifestyle and food choices are the problem. Why convict my innocent, abused gall bladder? How about taking some personal responsibility?

I Googled extensively. I punched in the words gallbladder and liver and all sorts of “natural” remedies popped up.  I settled on assembling this beet, carrot, apple juice, apple cider vinegar concoction which required boiling the carrots and the beets first and then blendering them so as to drink it through a straw (so as not to stain my teeth). I chose to forego the natural remedy that required the ingestion of Epsom Salts but claimed to rid the body of gall stones, in contrast to medical papers that refute such a thing is naturally possible.

I started taking a Milk Thistle supplement for my liver. I stopped drinking alcohol, except if the social occasion and my mood dictated that I felt like one drink. Everything in moderation. Even moderation. I stopped drinking coffee, at least on a daily basis, as a way of not starting the morning with a spoon full of sugar because black coffee is not something I desire to ever acclimatize to. Now I just put on the kettle and squeeze an organic lemon of its juice and drink that first thing. Good for the liver.

I’ve started eating much better, following the philosophy of that guy Michael Pollan and the example of my friend Gwen. “Eat. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

And, I started walking. I bought a pair of Skechers which helps me to feel like I’m walking in slippers. I put on a pedometer (because I’m old school and don’t want to send the money on a Fitbit) and marked off the days that I walked. In August, I walked between 2 and 4 miles, sometimes 5 miles max. on all but four of the 31 days, not including the tiny steps around the apartment, around the block walking.

I also knew I would need some accountability and inexplicably the first person who popped into my head was Gary. It’s kind of weird that I should choose him since I haven’t seen him in 18 years when we met on a trip through the Yucatan and into Chiapas.  We hadn’t even kept in touch in the last decade although I did see him for one day sometime around 2005 when he came to Squamish for an Outward Bound course.

gary

Gary, 18 years ago in Chiapas

He seemed like the perfect accountability buddy to me: super fit and on the other side of the country. He couldn’t really get in my face should I get lazy. I’m sure it seemed alarmingly weird that I should contact him for such a thing but to his credit, without missing a beat, he was ready to play along.

It took just one sentence from him complaining about someone he knew to really drive home my lack of commitment to exercise.  He said, and I quote, “I have to get up and go to work every day and drive, sometimes 90 minutes back fighting traffic and she can’t even spend one hour of her entire day getting some exercise.” Hello! Was he talking about me? He might as well have been. And that’s how it began.

Now six weeks later, I feel like I’ve really hit my stride. Five miles takes about 1.5 hours. The  circumferences that my legs are carrying me is ever-widening the way circles push out from the center when you drop a pebble into a pond. At this point I have to remind myself that I’m not aiming for Forrest Gump wannabe, I’m just trying to get a little exercise on a mostly daily basis and it’s working. At the same time, I’m experiencing the beautiful side effects of all sorts of weird and interesting ideas flowing through my consciousness that seem to be a direct result of the body’s physical movement.

I text Gary when I’m done. “5.1 miles. 10,817 steps. Fav time to walk? Late Sunday afternoon. Just got back” He texts me back. “Wow.”  “That’s great.” “You’re getting more exercise than I am.”

And, of course, we text about more than walking. We’ve learned a lot more about each others current lives in the process. In the meantime, I’ve lost 9 pounds and my gallbladder has been happily silent.