Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stumbling Toward Fitness

Being outdoors is my anchor.  Since I was a kid being outside and exercise there have been a frequent sources of joy.  Professionally I preserve, defend and restore land, so I get regular doses of the outdoors through work as well.  I've always eaten a lot, I'm fairly muscular and I hit the gym regularly.  Difficult relationships over the past few years have managed to consume a lot of my attention and my work load has also contributed to my expanding waist. I can still power through hikes, but I'm huffing and puffing more, I haven't been running much in years, the bike and kayak haven't gotten much use lately, and I've gained about 50 lbs over the past ten years. 

The year started well, with three weeks off from late December into early January, a backpacking trip along the Coast trail and good hikes on Mt. Diablo and at Pinnacles.  The time off marked the beginning of a new relationship but long distance relationship travel got in the way of fitness.  In March I led an annual memorial hike from the base of Mt. Diablo to the peak and back down, a 3300' climb and descent over 13 miles, and my lungs and legs were having trouble recovering from the steepest parts. 

In March I snapped my biceps tendon in my right arm at the gym, and had surgery two weeks later.  My relationship was going through some ups and downs, and I started an intense 13 week election campaign.  The surgery went well but the initial three month recovery meant not picking up more than five pounds with my dominant arm.  At the end of April I led a three-day backpacking trip.  Although Winter and Spring are normally my fittest time of the year, the surgery, work and relationship combined to leave me in the worst shape I'd been in, in years.  In college and my twenties I'd been a 145 pound long distance runner and cyclist.  By 2001 I was a moderately muscular 185 to 200 lb weight lifter.  We won the election campaign but by July 4th, 2010 I was at my highest weight ever, 245 lbs and in need of larger waist bands. 

Work, relationship, less time outdoors; it's self indulgent but I felt imprisoned.  Besides being out of shape, my mood was low, the closest I get to depression, and I wasn't feeling especially healthy.  Self-indulgent because I know a hike or some time outdoors would immediately make me feel better, but the hikes I was taking were reminding me how out of shape I am. 

Before the surgery, I started to grab the bull by the horns by changing my diet to close to vegetarianism.  As the initial three month recovery ended I started making other plans. A number of things were mixing in my head. I was about to return to the gym but the weights would be very light for at least another six months.  I'd have to do more cardio.  Somehow the best way for me to get to the gym regularly is to have workout partners and to schedule workouts like work time appointments--I'm less likely to cancel on a workout partner to work late.  I needed to start scheduling more than just gym visits. 

There's a blog I like that's linked here, The Daily Ocean, on which Sara Bayles of Santa Monica writes about "365 days of collecting, weighing, and documenting beach trash."  It's rambling, thoughtful and engaging, her non-consecutive but frequent beach walks to think about all of our trash washing into the ocean, and her small part in cleaning it up and making change.  The change I want to make will be more personal and less altruistic but I thought a blog might help me the way scheduling workouts does, a regular structure as a reminder and a tally of both exercise and what I want to accomplish.  When I hike I always pick up at least one piece of trash--I think of it as the 'price of admission' to the parks I visit, so besides my exercise tallies and descriptions, I'll keep track of various 'prices of admission,' the ways in which I give back, a small tribute to how Sara has inspired me.

Would my blog be just an online diary read by a few friends or would it actually accomplish something beyond the personal?  I've built a number of trails and am interested in the movement which is creating better and better urban regional trails, in addition to all of the ones in parks. There are literally thousands of miles of trails within an hours' drive of my house in the East Bay, on and between about 1.2 million acres of preserved land and among the Bay Area's 7 million people.

Friends are involved with the creation of two signature regional trails, the mostly flat and paved San Francisco Bay Trail and the mostly unpaved and hilly Bay Area Ridge Trail. They both circle the Bay, are each about 2/3rds complete, and will be about 500+ and 550+ miles respectively. They happen to cross in two places, the Golden Gate Bridge and near my house the Martinez-Benicia Bridge. I've traveled plenty of the segments of each trail but I've decided that I will start over, hike them both over the next 12-18 months and blog to raise awareness about them.  My days on the trail will be, like Sara's, non-consecutive. 

While gathering information to get started I scouted a section of the Bay Trail in Foster City and pretty quickly realized that as pleasant as it was, I'd be doing most sections out and back and the pavement would get old on my feet.  The Bay Trail is great to visit because you're mostly next to the water but the way to really experience it as exercise is to cycle it.  The Ridge Trail is really made for hiking, and a lot of its segments allow for return loops on other trails.  For variety, I'll crosstrain and start the Ridge Trail in the East Bay and the Bay Trail on the Penninsula, but no hard and fast rules other than completing all the segments, hopefully in 12-18 months. 

Finally, what to name the blog?  Besides fitness what I really want is a return to more frequent joy.  I get it when I'm exercising outdoors--at times to the level of ecstasy.  Sometimes everything--the landscape, the exercise, the experiences--combines to become moments of pure, crystalline ecstasy.  It happens less when I'm out of shape. I've for years loved the title of one of Sarah McLachlan's albums, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, and it captures what I have in mind.  I needed not to confuse McLachlan fans with my blog though so in setting up the blog I chose a variation.  Frankly I slipped, and used "stumbling" instead of "fumbling" but isn't that even more appropriate?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds great, Seth. I'll look forward to hearing about your progress, and seeing you on the trail!