Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why I Walk...

Because I like it. Basically, that's it.

I continually see lists of the benefits of walking: it reduces your risk of heart attack; it helps to manage your blood pressure; it reduces your risk of getting diabetes; it manages your diabetes (if you already have it); it manages your weight; it manages your stress and boosts your spirits; it helps you stay strong and active as you get older. Now that I have been invited to join the AARP (how do they know that I just turned 50?!), I am privy to lists like these. They want to keep the aging American population healthy!

And so they provide us with information similar to this:

Does that look like fun to you?! This takes all the joy out of walking, if you ask me. I think of walking as more of an art than a science. I like the beauty of simply moving in nature. I learned to walk when I was one year old, and I can walk just fine now. I don't want to focus my eyes 15 to 20 feet in front of me. I want to look around! This is an illustration of how a person can become a walking machine. I'd rather just go for a walk.

(Photo below: me directing traffic on Mt. McLoughlin last year):

I'm glad for the health benefits of walking. It does keep me fit and energetic. It does give me a better sense of well-being. And I'm glad it reduces my risk of having a heart attack or becoming diabetic. But mostly I walk because I like it. I like being outside. I like to move. I like being in the fresh air. I like looking around at the scenery (whether in town, on my country roads, on the beach, or in the mountains) when I walk. I much prefer ambling along, or even speedwalking, outdoors, on my own two legs, to climbing on a machine and working up a sweat while staying in one place, usually looking at bare walls or maybe a TV screen that has been put on the exercise machine to keep one from being bored!

I'm not really complaining about exercise machines. I would have liked to have had a treadmill this winter when our roads were too icy, snowy, or muddy to take a long walk. Using an exercise machine is better than being inactive, but given the choice, I'll be outside! I don't care if it's raining, snowing, freezing, windy, or what. Someone said that there's no bad weather, there's just wrong clothes, and, except in the case of extreme weather conditions, I agree.

I take two kinds of walks. Sauntering, exploring walks and fast walks for exercise. I enjoy both. The reason I like to think about pushing the pace a bit (and doing some hills) on my fast walks is because I like to hike, especially in the mountains. And I like to go as high on the mountain as I can. Mountain hiking offers spectacular scenery. It's uncrowded and peaceful. The air is fresh and colors are more vivid at high elevation. And going on a difficult or strenuous hike is satisfying. It's especially satisfying to reach a summit.

Last year, Aaron and I climbed to the top of this mountain with some friends:

Mt. McLoughlin, Cascade Mountains

The summit is almost 10,000 feet. The hike is over 11 miles. Elevation gain is almost 5,000 feet. It wasn't Everest, but it was enjoyable. It wasn't a technical climb requiring equipment-- it was mostly a hike, sometimes steep, sometimes scrambling up boulder-strewn paths on hands and feet.

This year I want to climb this mountain:

South Sister, Cascade Mountains

The difficulty is about the same as that of the mountain I climbed last year. A beautiful, strenuous hike. I'm looking forward to it, and, in order to enjoy it, I need to ratchet up the intensity of my exercise walks. I do this every spring. I walk throughout the winter as much as I possibly can, but when the weather is brightening and the snow is melting and mountains are beckoning, I start getting the urge to hike, and that means I need to work a bit harder, to discipline myself, so that I can fully enjoy the more difficult hikes and climbs. It is no fun at all to labor torturously up the mountain! So I walk faster and harder in order to get fit, but the process is enjoyable because it's part of a nice vision. I have an aim, and the aim is to be able to enjoy a part God's wonderful creation that is not necessarily easy for everyone to access.

Aaron, partway up Mt. McLoughlin last summer.

And it's sort of gratifying, too, to think that fully enjoying something for its own sake is frustrating to that devil Screwtape. In The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, Screwtape chides his protegee, Wormwood, demon-in training:

And now for your blunders. You first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed. He read it because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea-- a walk taken alone through country he really likes. In other words, you allowed him two very positive pleasures... How can you have failed to see that real pleasure was the last thing you should have let him experience? Didn't you foresee it would kill by contrast all the worthless nonsense you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? Didn't you know that the kind of pleasure the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? Didn't you realize it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it...?

The man who truly enjoys anything for its own sake, without caring what other people say about it, is by that very fact protected against some of our most subtle methods of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people, food, or books he really likes in favor of the best people, the right food, the important books.

And I would venture to say that walking according to the chart above, or merely for the health benefits one gains from it, is as soul-deadening as pretentious eating and reading.