Early one morning last week I cycled indoors because Blanca is injured.* Afterwards I plopped into my desk chair to swat back the day’s first wave of emails. All while looking at the Salish Sea.
A rowing scull suddenly materialized. The solo rower probably launched from OAR’s (Olympia Area Rowing) downtown marina dock. With steady strong strokes, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. Then, five minutes later, after reaching their appointed turn around, they shot by again heading south back to the dock no doubt.
I thought about the probable outline of the rower’s morning—waking early, driving to the marina, lifting the boat from its rack, being on the water at dawn, and rowing a long ways on beautiful glassy water with real purpose. And as required for all Pacific Northwesterners, stopping for the daily latte on the way home.
Then I thought about the rest of the rower’s day and despite everything—the ‘rona, the impending forest fire smoke, the faux electronic schooling, the negative national politics—I bet they had at least a decent, if not good, if not great day. How could they not with that kind of start?
Be the rower. Wake up early. And move. Outside**. Walk, bike, swim, run, paddle, row, skate. With someone or alone. Add some caffeine. Then try to have a bad day. I dare you.
* long sordid story starring a real duffus
**once the fire smoke apocalypse is over
“SUVs are a monument to a broader American failure that has seen pedestrians and cyclists forsaken for endless miles of road building, with non–car users forced to push what Miller calls “beg buttons” to pause traffic to enter roads that should be egalitarian public spaces.
SUVs . . . not only bring a stew of pollution and an element of fear to those attempting to traverse roads on foot or bike—they are also fundamentally inefficient. ‘You are taking a 200-pound package, a human, and wrapping it in a 6,000-pound shipping container,’ he said. ‘For some reason we think that is a good way to move through a city. If Amazon used that rationale it would be out of business in a week.'”
Two other significant and related benefits to “active travel”, improved health and reduced health care costs.
These are strange days. The Good Wife kicks off most with an early morning walk through the hood, visiting assorted animals, and then stopping at Jim’s at the end to pick wild flowers.
We never met Jim, who lived two houses away, he died before we moved in, but his story lives. He was generous to a fault, much more committed to caring for others than himself, which explains his dilapidated home that’s now owned by some bank. Like Jim, his yard keeps giving even in its natural state, especially in its natural state—apples, pears, and amazing flowers.
The GalPal should’ve been a florist because she is a natural at arranging flowers. And they bring her incredible joy. She just beams at them. I’ve tried talking her into setting up a table out front where she could sell her bouquets to passersby so that I could buy more raspberry chocolate gelato as the weather warms, but she has no interest in homegrown laissez faire capitalism.
Probably because she studied abroad in Sweden in college. Whatever the reason, do not look to her to jumpstart our moribund economy. But by all means, do look to her for natural beauty.
This blog was born out of a desire to step off the treadmill of life long enough to think about meaning and purpose in life.
Since our collective treadmill has been rendered inoperable by the coronavirus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to think more deeply about how to live.
But how do we do that when we’re like sedentary people trying to create exercise routines, how do we start being introspective and reflective, of thinking conceptually about what we want for ourselves, our neighbors, the world? How to reimagine our post-coronavirus lives?
One way is to rethink what’s most important. For example, many people are being more thankful for the non-materialistic joys in their lives, whether that’s a daily walk, deeper appreciation for nature, shared meals with family, or renewed conversations with lapsed friends. Similarly, many people are rethinking their consumer habits, realizing how little most material things adds to their lives. Many, of course, will have to spend less post-pandemic, others will choose to.
And yet, this isn’t such a golden opportunity to press pause or do much of anything for the 90.1% of people who are deeply worried about how they’ll meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Many, many people can’t get past the most basic of questions, “How will I/we meet our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, medical care?”
As a member of the New American Aristocracy, I have the luxury of reinvigorating my inner life; meanwhile, hundreds of millions of poor, working class, and middle class people around the world wonder how they’ll feed, house, and cloth themselves without steady work that pays livable wages.
Gideon Litchfield, in an essay titled “Where not going back to normal,” points this out:
“As usual. . . the true cost will be borne by the poorest and weakest. People with less access to health care, or who live in more disease-prone areas, will now also be more frequently shut out of places and opportunities open to everyone else. Gig workers—from drivers to plumbers to freelance yoga instructors—will see their jobs become even more precarious. Immigrants, refugees, the undocumented, and ex-convicts will face yet another obstacle to gaining a foothold in society.”
“But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.”
The cynic in me thinks it’s more likely that heightened scarcity—especially of decent jobs—will cause people to be even more self-centered. The negative critiques of globalization add to my skepticism, if not cynicism. The worst case scenario is every person and every country for themselves in an increasingly cutthroat survival of the fittest competition. I hope I’m way off.
If the “New American” or “World Aristocracy” are smart, they’ll realize it’s in their own enlightened self-interest to think about how to assist and empower the “ones who have lost far too much already”. Ultimately, we will all sink or swim together.
In the end, it’s a question of time and perspective. Like any uber-lucky ten-percenter, at age 58, I can “circle my wagons” and save, invest, and spend with only my family and me in mind. I would live very comfortably, but my daughters’ children and their children would inherit an even less hospitable world.
Instead, I intend on taking the long view by focusing less on my comfort and more on the common good, or as stated in the humble blog’s byline, small steps toward thriving families, schools, and communities.
1. Given Kathryn Schulz’s prodigious talent, the New Yorker’s future is bright. As frightening and superbly written as anything I’ve read in a long time. The Really Big One. Subtitle—An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. Made me want to buy in Bend, Oregon.
2. By Emily Oster, What’s the Optimal Speed for Exercise? Last pgraph:
“If we take this research at face value, we learn a few things. First, some exercise reduces your risk of death. Second, the optimal walking/jogging exercise is light to moderate jogging. The optimal speed is between 5 and 7 mph, and if you do 25 minutes about three times a week, you’re all set. Nothing in the data suggests that running more — farther, or faster — will do more to lower your risk of death.”
3. From the Wall Street Journal, The Sane Way to Cycle Competitively.
4. Pathetic to the point of sad. From LetsRun.com, Lehigh Valley Got it Wrong: The Evidence is Conclusive: Mike Rossi—The Viral Boston Marathon Dad—Is A Marathon Cheat And Should Never Have Been On The Starting Line in Boston.
I have a neighbor who makes money off of his car. He carefully shops for an underpriced used one, then takes immaculate care of it, and then gets reimbursed by his employer at 50+ cents per mile.
I admire his fiscal discipline, but who wants to spend their weekend washing their car the way he does? One time he yelled at another neighbor who was washing the bottom 90% of her van. “You gotta start with the roof and work down!” Best comeback ever, “No one’s gonna see the top!” Blood pressure spike. And he routinely rips me for using the last bit of dirty water in the bucket to wash my wheels, but I tell him my goal is for my car to be 90% as clean as his in 10% of the time. And normally it is.
We’re all obsessive about something. One could argue I substitute exercise for car washing. Last week was pretty typical for April. Four runs for 28.7 total miles. Two swims for 6,000 meters and two bike rides for 90 miles. And an hour lifting weights. Total time, 11-12 hours. People like me tend to have a lot of fitness activity-based friendships and we often find the swimming, cycling, and running enjoyable in and of itself. We’d still go out and run, swim, and cycle even if there weren’t empirical health benefits tied to those activities. We’re lucky that our hobbies come with health benefits.
Some people no doubt think about my commitment to fitness the same way I think about people who obsess about the stock market’s every move and spend their days thinking, talking, and writing about money. There’s an opportunity cost to finance tunnel vision. Life passes by. Investing wisely is a means towards other more meaningful ends—like learning about other people’s interests and engaging with them.
Like extreme car washing, there’s a tipping point where a person’s fitness routine can detract from their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. That’s where “Doc Mike Evans” comes in. He asks a great question near the end of this high-speed informative whiteboard lecture—Can you limit your sleeping and sitting to just 23.5 hours a day?
Like my quicker, more casual approach to car washing, Doc Evans explains how you can achieve most of my health benefits in much less time. Walk 20-30 minutes a day. Even better if you integrate walking as a means of transportation by living within a mile of your work, a grocery store, and other stores. And of course driving less is good for your pocketbook and the environment too.
Forget my approach of driving to the pool and overdoing it in the form of occasional marathons and triathlons*. Instead, as Doc Evans advises, walk 20-30 minutes a day and enjoy markedly improved mental and physical health.
Maybe you’re already a walker, but wish there were even more tangible health benefits. Evans explains how you can reap additional benefits by extending the time and distance of your daily walks. But since time is most people’s greatest obstacle, I suggest picking up the intensity by choosing more hilly routes. My running teammates probably get tired of me saying, “The hills are our friends.” When I don’t feel like exerting myself much, which is a lot of the time, I sometimes commit to a hilly route because hills force me to increase the intensity. As an added benefit, when I’m running up hill, my conservative Republican Nutter friends don’t have enough oxygen to complain about the current political scene. If you’re a Florida or Texas flatlander, move.
We expect complexity today, but this isn’t. If you want to enjoy an improved quality (and quantity) of life, take a ten minute walk sometime today. And then repeat tomorrow. And the next day. Extend it to twenty minutes next week. And repeat. Every day.
* This summer I’m going to be more family focused than last year. We’re looking forward to a fair number of visitors from afar, and at the end of the summer, launching Seventeen at a still-to-be-decided college. I’m #34 on the RAMROD waitlist which means I’ll definitely get in and Danny and I plan on running the Wonderland Trail in mid-August. I may throw in a few short/medium distance triathlons on unscheduled weekends. Or maybe I’ll just take a walk.
Improbable sentence. “Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out Thursday with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on the third day of his improbable journey with VICE to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later dining on sushi and drinking with him at his palace.
Personal finance vid of the month. Helaine Olen, author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry“.
Apocalypse sign. CTA Digital’s iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad.
Noteworthy death. Mr. Matthew Crowley.
Weightroom t-shirt. “Gardening. It’s cheaper than therapy.”
Wasted talent. Professional sports division. My favorite excerpt, “Justify My Glove”.
Consumer purchase, minimalist division.
Nature pic—Holden Village (taken by La Fuerza)
Weekend get-away—Holden Village
Most widely read post. The Link Between Walking or Cycling to School and Concentration.
If I promised to give you two dollars five years from today, for one dollar right now, would you give me the dollar? What if I promised to give you twice as much of a much larger sum right now? Could you scrape together the funds and muster up the self-discipline to wait for your return? What about your family and friends?
Great article by Mike Maciag in “Governing the State’s and Localities”. Thanks to “Dan Dan the Transpo Man” for forwarding the link.
In short, cities with more walkers and cyclists are less obese. Key excerpts:
• An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, and another third still maintain weights exceeding those deemed healthy. This doesn’t bode well for governments and individuals paying insurance premiums, especially with the country’s aging population.
• Historically, studies have linked trails, sidewalks and bike lanes with an increase in walking or cycling. As medical costs continue to rise and evidence mounts that such infrastructure also improves well-being, more officials might look to give health consideration greater standing in transportation planning.
• While only a fraction of workers in an area may opt to bike or walk to work, having the necessary infrastructure in place compels others to use it more regularly.
• . . . the correlation between commuting and residents not considered obese nor overweight was strong–16 percent greater than the relationship with median household income.
• When cutting expenses, health costs are an easy target. A recent study by two Lehigh University researchers reported obesity-related costs accounted for $190 billion annually in U.S. health expenditures, nearly 21 percent of the country’s total bill.
• Those looking to move can use the popular walkscore.com website to measure how accessible an apartment or home’s various neighborhood amenities are on foot.
The problem is we’re not financially savvy enough to tax ourselves—say in terms of raising the federal gas tax by a $1/gallon—in the short-term to fund the necessary walking and cycling infrastructure in the medium-term that would lead to health cost savings in the long-term. Collectively, we’re unwilling to pay a little more for a hybrid when the “buy back” is somewhere down the road.
In our Southeast Olympia corner of the world, the Byrnes family’s walkabililty score is a pathetic 18 out of 100. On the other hand, we’re blessed with wonderful sidewalks and bike lanes almost everywhere. Maybe I should start using them. Maybe I should walk more. Or run. Or cycle.