Ten Miles – Why?

On Easter Sunday, I walked 10 miles. I started by hitting the big post office by Penn Station and mailing off my taxes – the big post office is open all the time, including Easter Sunday – and the headed over to the river and walked down Hudson Park, around Battery Park City, and then across to the East River Ferry, which I took home. Years ago, I would have walked up the East Side Esplanade, but much of it is closed now as they rethink the hardscape parks in light of climate change. Knowing much of this was closed, I went out on every pier along the Hudson, including The Little Island, the new park visible from the High Line. For much of the walk, the sun was out and the flowers were blooming but the wind was blustering, and it was cold. And, when the sun ducked behind the clouds, it was really cold.

When I brag that I’ve walked 10 miles, people often look at me dubiously, like Why would I walk 10 miles? Even my niece, a runner who does marathons, wonders why I would walk 10 miles. Recently I’ve read articles saying 7 miles is enough but I am committed to 10.

My joy in walking 10 miles stems from an event that happened many years ago, long before phones counted your distance or could pinpoint you location and show you surrounding maps at any moment. My husband and I were staying with family at a lake house in the Finger Lakes. At the house, it was cool and shaded, but up the hill, farms replaced forest and the weather turned warmer.

I had been walking 3 miles regularly, the distance from my home to my office, and wanted to keep that up while on vacation but was unfamiliar with the roads in that area. On the first morning of our vacation, I came down to breakfast and found my sister- and brother-in-law just returning from a jog, a 3-mile jog. I asked my brother-in-law for his route, which he described on the table using forks and knives and a jar of jam. A little nervous about exploring a new area on my own, I asked my husband to join me. We set off without water – it was about an hour’s worth of walking and, like I said, on the lake it was cool and moist.

And somewhere we took a wrong turn. To this day, I am not sure if I mis-heard my brother-in-law or if he gave bad directions – it was his first time jogging that route, so he was not intimately familiar wit it – or what. But my husband and I found ourselves facing a major road that was not the right road.

An argument ensued. My husband is not a walker, preferring wheels. It was hot, up among the cornfields and chamomile meadows. Walks on unfamiliar routes often feel much longer than walks on familiar routes. Our argument fell along these lines.

Me: This is a simple problem to solve – let’s just go back the way we came.

My husband: You are wrong. You got us lost and you have lost the right to have an opinion about the best way to get home.

And he set off in precisely the wrong direction. I knew, at the time, it was the wrong direction. But I was younger and not as confident in my beliefs and had not realized yet how bad his sense of direction is. I read recently that people who grow up in cities based on grids have a worse sense of direction than people who grew up elsewhere, and maybe that’s it. But I recognize now that he has a very bad sense of direction and that he is unaware how bad his sense of direction is. Now, I’d say, Okay, you go that way, I’ll go this way and I’ll see you back at the house. But then, I followed meekly in his steps, beating myself up for having gotten us lost, getting more and more dehydrated and discouraged with every step.

I won’t describe the journey back. It was sheer torment for me, accompanied as it was by periodic calls from his sister, asking if we planned to go to the green market with them (“Tell her to come pick us up,” I whispered but he batted my suggestion away and told her to go without us), a long slog along a really busy state road that we had no business walking along, dead deer in the culvert that ran alongside.

The further we went, the more exhausted and demoralized I became, and the further I fell behind his pace. He disappeared around the next corner and then into the distance, and I was alone, miserable, sunburnt. Finally he reappeared, in our car: he had hurried back to get the car so he could come rescue me. The car was air-conditioned and safe and made short work of the remaining distance. We returned home, I took a cold shower, drank a bunch of water, ate something sweet and caloric and went back to bed.

Later that week, we drove the route to measure the distance: we had walked 10 miles.

And I made a vow to myself that I was never going to feel like that after 10 miles ever again.

You never know when you will need to walk 10 miles. People in NYC found themselves having to walk that far on 9/11, and during at least two blackouts while I’ve lived here. If the power is out or the subways are closed, someone working in the Financial District but living uptown or in Brooklyn or Queens, will find themselves walking home as a matter of course.

So I started training for 10 miles. I took my 3 mile walk and just added to it, a little at a time, until I stretched it to 5 miles, 7 miles, 8, 9, and finally 10. And then I walked 10 often enough that it no longer drained me. And it still gives me a sense of accomplishment. One time, on a visit to Chicago, I once walked 20 in a day, in sandals, without suffering too much, but I wouldn’t recommend it, and we did eat two deep-dish pizzas that day.

I tell myself there are other challenges I should set myself: I should practice walking up to my apartment instead of taking the elevator – there is nothing like walking home in a blackout and then having to walk up 10 flights of stairs to finish you off, especially since blackouts often occur in the summer, when it is 100 degrees out and 100% humidity. But I have never made up my mind to that. My knees don’t like it.

So that is the reason why I walk 10 miles. It is a commitment to myself. It’s led me to explore my city – and other areas – in a new way. It gets me outside, and it’s good exercise.

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