Fresh-Air Compensatory Jaunts After a Central Valley Smokestorm
When walking becomes a compulsion.
I couldn’t go out for a walk this past Friday because of the bad air, so I overdid it at home with the kettlebell, and then felt sore for days thereafter.
As I have written about in a previous newsletter, Jillian Michaels has been torturing me with her video workouts for about a decade. If you try one of her recorded workout routines after a long break, and then substitute a 15 lb kettlebell for the recommended 5 lb hand weight that she uses in her video Six Weeks to a Six-Pack, you will feel overextended, winded, and sore after about 15 minutes, at least if you are me.
Regular readers know that my reading of books such as Atomic Habits by James Clear and Deep Work by Cal Newport has led me to my daily regimen of ultra-low-impact exercise: every day I take long walks with my disabled son Jukie. This has become such a regular part of our pandemic routine that I feel deprived or incomplete if we don’t walk for two hours, sometimes split over different sections of the day. Because of this consistency, he and I are on track to walk 2,000 miles this year, the equivalent of more than 75 marathons. As James Clear says, “Intensity makes a good story. Consistency makes progress.”
So I walk every day, but not this past Friday, a day when the air was choked with Dixie Fire smoke. I tried to make up for the unavailable outdoors by wearing my phone / steps-tracker indoors all day, including while running up and down the stairs as I attended to family needs (a big part of my day for the past 18 months), and as I was doing prisoner lunges and other cruel sounding (side planks?) exercises for Jillian Michaels. These incidental exercises, what exercise biologists call Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (or NEAT), were complemented minimally by the three-minute walk to the hotel where my daughter Geneva is a bartender. Despite these vain (in both senses of the word) indoor efforts, Friday I ended up walking less than half my quota – only about 6,000 steps!
Resolved to compensate for this perambulatory disappointment when the air had cleared, Jukie and I set out early on Saturday, starting with a long walk north, following Mace Ranch bike paths wherever they would take us. We ended up so far north that we circled the Wildhorse Golf Course, a beautiful part of Davis that I don’t get to explore often.
In doing so, I returned to memories of a rainy winter afternoon more than ten years ago when I made that same golf course circumference walk with Jukie and his younger brother Truman. As is the case now, on that walk, Jukie wanted to explore every tree and shrub we passed by. There were also puddles to splash through. We enjoyed the added challenge of Truman being too young – maybe four years old? – to make such a long walk; back then, aimless and unhurried Jukie was also unaccustomed to such long jaunts. Soon they both asked to be carried.
So I would pick up Truman, who was as light as a feather compared to his nine-year-old brother, carry him 25 yards up the path, and then go back for Jukie, and carry him past his brother about 50 yards up the path, and then go back to get Truman. The success of this experiment depended on neither one of them stumbling into a drainage ditch while I was attending to the other “passenger.” The aerobic workout felt very much like what the Swedes call a fartlek, only with the added bonus of the ongoing fireman carry of my two boys. After a while, Truman would stroll forward on his little legs while I was carrying Jukie, and at least once Jukie thought it would be funny to start scampering off in the wrong direction, yodeling and laughing while he ran. At one point, I had to make sure that the dark stick in Jukie’s hand was not, in fact, a snake. That boy does not suffer from ophidiophobia, so back then I had to keep a close eye on him when we ventured into the wild areas of Davis.
Today my two boys and I are more hearty and adventuresome walkers. On agenda-free Saturdays, Jukie and I are like Springsteen’s “river that don’t know where it’s flowing,” for we often will take “a wrong turn and just [keep] going.” On such days, our hearts are hungry more for miles, rather than destinations: this past Saturday Jukie and I walked and walked until we were recalled by my wife Kate with the news that the air quality had again deteriorated.
We covered 11 miles on Saturday. That’s just a mile or two less than the distance between Davis and Winters, or between our house in South Davis and Sacramento’s Tower Bridge. In all the years that I lived in Sacramento (most of the 1990s), I never once biked or walked the distance between these two cities. If Jukie and I encounter an upcoming Saturday when both the temperature and the air quality appeal to us, my strong walker and I will cross that daylong feat from our bucket list.
For me, the simplest exercise of walking has become the most satisfying, in part because it gives me time to think, as Forrest Gump does when he famously runs across the country a few times. I find there is something bracing and even dignified about a long walk. As Edward Abbey says, “Walking is the only form of transportation in which a man proceeds erect - like a man - on his own legs, under his own power. There is immense satisfaction in that.”
Special thanks to all the teams that support the Pub Quiz and these newsletters on Patreon. Over these last two weeks, I’ve enjoyed welcoming back to de Vere’s Irish Pub in Davis people who that have sustained this effort, including, last week, members of the teams The Outside Agitators and Bono’s Pro Bono Obo Bonobos. I include them here because they are so much fun to say. If you would like to receive print versions of the Pub Quiz while on vacation, or if you’d rather just enjoy the fun from afar rather than congregating with teammates and other friends, please consider subscribing.
Stay safe, and I look forward to seeing you this evening!
P.S. Below please find five questions from last week’s quiz:
People That Were Born the Year Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was Released. LeBron James, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Zuckerberg were all released the same year as Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop. With a one year margin of error, name the year.
Sports. Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won an Olympic gold medal for her home country of over 108 million people, ending her nation’s 97-year medal drought. Name the country.
Great Italians. Starting with a V, what was the name of the Tuscany town where Leonardo da Vinci was born?
Unusual Words. A nosegay is closest to which of the following: Flowers, a kennel, perfume, spectacles?
Pop Culture – Television. Dunder Mifflin is a fictional paper company in what US state?
P.P.S. “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Friedrich Nietzsche