Thursday, December 3, 2009

Takin' It To The Feet

A couple posts ago, I lamented the fact that my new short commute will probably make me fat(ter). This is a pretty real (and surprisingly un-funnyish) fear for me. I just turned 37. My dad had his first heart attack at 44. His third (that ended his life) was ten years later. On my mom's side, I lost my too-young grandfather this year to a heart condition he never saw coming. One day, he was seemingly healthy, and less than a week later, he died on the operating table during major bypass surgery.

Heavy stuff, I know. But it's what I live with. So when I start falling into bad patterns, eating garbage, exercising less, and straining my belt, I get nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I actually attempted running last weekend. Regular readers will know that running ranks somewhere near root canals on my list of activities to avoid. Luckily, my new abode is near a cemetery so I had a place to abuse myself where no passerby could mistake my stride for a seizure. Plus, it was a handy (or perhaps heavy-handed) mortality reminder to boot. But after one miserable half hour of jogging-cum-walking-cum-limping-cum-staggering, I remembered why I stopped running many, many years ago. It was perhaps one of the most pathetic displays of attempted athleticism ever committed on pavement.

As I waited for the shin splints to subside, it dawned on me: One mile to work is a lame bike ride, but it's a nice little walk. Do that round trip every day, and maybe I could stave off fatness without the masochism of running. So I've spent all this week going to work slowly on foot, and I think I'm a little hooked. Some reasons why:

THE SCENERY: Okay, downtown Des Moines ain't the Grand Canyon. But in the same way that I notice things on the bike that would go by too fast in the car, I notice things on foot that I just wouldn't pick up from the saddle. F'rinstance, I get to pass through a world-class sculpture park twice a day -- one that's closed to bikes and skateboards (determine for yourself if that's The Man keepin' me down). I also get to pass by the copper-walled, green-roofed Central Library and the historic Temple for Performing Arts. Local businesses, amazing landscaping (it helps to have Meredith Corporation -- publishers of Better Homes & Gardens -- between home and work), great architecture, subtle changes in weather, you name it. Sure, all of this is available to me on wheels, but the speed of riding and the focus it requires keeps me from paying enough attention. Plus, I can walk against the one-way streets, opening up dozens of new ways to approach downtown and dozens of new angles to view it.

THE TUNES: I have an unhealthy attachment to my iPod. There, I admitted it. But it scares me silly to close off my ears when I'm on the bike. I'll throw it in the handlebar bag when I know I'm going to be out on a long, isolated slog in need of inspiration, but most days, I ride without music. On foot, I have no qualms about turning it up to 11. Today, I was laughing myself extra-silly to the newest Flight of the Conchords album -- highly recommended.

THE CONVENIENCE: As easy as it is to lock up a bike, and as much as I want to think of myself as the Urban Super Bike Transportation Guy, I know darn well that I'm just a tiny bit hesitant to make stops on my way to/from work because I'll have to lock up. On foot, you just pop in wherever you decide you want to go, no parking required. Coffeehouses, restaurants, bars, odd little local shops, the market across the street from home, and even weird corners of the human ant farm that is the Des Moines Skywalk system -- nothing is off limits. If Carla wants to meet me downtown for dinner or a drink or a movie after work, I don't have to think about getting the bike home, because it's already home.

Downsides? Well, sure. For one, a 10-minute ride is a 20- to 25-minute walk depending on how many of those stops I make... and while I can tolerate just about any weather conditions for 10 minutes, a brisk Midwestern winter breeze gets old around minute 15. Also, let's call it like it is -- walking is what retirees do around the mall. There's just nothing cool about it, no way to pretend you're being EXTREME. Maybe it just needs rebranding, though. Urban hiking? Low-impact Parkour? I'm accepting submissions.

Don't worry, gentle reader(s). This is not going to become a walking blog, debating the minutiae of heel strike and stride length. I'm only really interested in the cocktail-party-yawn-inducing details of bikes, which I'll be thinking about during my daily walks.


Steve Fuller said...

Get thee to 28th Street south of Grand. A few hill repeats and you'll burn off those couch potatoes ;)

adam in toronto said...

Get a camera (ideally an old manual rangefinder, but anything better than a phone cam will do, and digital is a lot more convenient). Take pictures of the odd things you see on the way, and call yourself a flaneur (or a psychogeographer if you want to be postmodern and neologistic). Presto! Walking is cool.

Also post the results so's we can see.

Walking is great, I walk most trips under 2 miles (unless I need my bike's grocery baskets), and 5 or more if I have the time.