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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/2/2003

If travel is in your future, start walking

In retrospect, the very best thing that could ever have happened to me 20 years ago was getting downsized, or laid off, let go, made redundant, or whatever the politically correct terminology for getting fired is these days.

Admittedly, at the time, being told that after 14 years of service you are no longer needed was pretty traumatic. And pushing a shopping cart around a local supermarket at 3 in the afternoon when you're absolutely certain that you should be attending some important meeting does take getting used to.

But being cast adrift in mid-career ... and in middle age ... also has a curious way of concentrating the mind, and it was, in my case, nothing if not fortuitous.

It kick-started this column, for example. Propelled us, eventually, into a small corner of the travel industry where our combined backgrounds, skills, and experiences could be put to profitable and distinctly more pleasurable use. And it got us a dog.

The idea of pet ownership had always been hovering somewhere in the back of our minds, but until that point it had been out of the question. We were away at work all day and traveled frequently on extended business trips or vacations.

No sooner had the home office opened up however, than in came a woofer - a black, shaggy pound pooch with a sorry history and all the attendant problems. The perfect pet, in fact, for a pair of softies!

We don't need to outline here the negatives of pet ownership. The vet bills. The dog sitting. The occasional accidents. The shedding. The clearing up.

But one of the unexpected benefits - and there are so many - was the daily exercise that our Maggie needed and craved. And received.

Every single day of her long life - and she made it to 16 years old - we would go out together. Rain or shine, sunshine or blizzard. Thirty minutes. An hour. Into the woods. Across a golf course. Onto the trails of the Huron National Forest, whenever we were up north. And nothing, absolutely nothing, could ever sidetrack those walks with Maggie, or with any of our later dogs.

As time went on and other sports became impossible, this regular exercise proved an invaluable base for much longer weekend hikes, and eventually led to some even greater perambulatory challenges.

All of this was rattling around the other Sunday morning when a friend and I were walking the eight-mile Maumee trail between Grand Rapids and Waterville, something we've been doing regularly for several years.

Few people were abroad - the odd jogger, a couple of dog walkers, a mad cyclist on a mountain bike.

It was brisk out there. Our breath billowed in huge balloons. The trail was ice-covered and slippery. And the tree trunks and branches were outlined in slivers of snow. But the sun was out and hundreds of Canada geese and a handful of elegant white swans groomed themselves, honked, and made use of the welcome strips of open water. Every few minutes the river ice burped loudly.

My friend and I were talking about the kind of things that hiking buddies who have covered hundreds, if not thousands, of miles together usually natter on about: Politics, sports, health care, family, travel, hiking equipment - and health care.

We reminisced about some of the memorable moments from our recent 200-mile hike along the Thames Path: The day it rained ceaselessly, the wind blew ferociously across our backs, and the cows in the meadow ran for shelter. That special B&B near Oxford, with its oak-beamed rooms, a Great Dane called Harvey, and a fruit filled organic breakfast. A long, hearty, and very liquid evening in a 17th-century pub in Goring, the John Barleycorn, where friends were made. And that grand feeling of relief and accomplishment when we finally reached the finish line at the Thames Barrier in London after 16 days of walking.

It was then that my friend said, “You know, you haven't written about walking recently. And its benefits.”

The benefits were all too obvious to us, of course - improved health, lower blood pressure, flexibility. But perhaps most importantly, there is a special confidence born of the knowledge that at our age we could still go out for a mile or 10 without undue effort or adverse reactions.

Those benefits translate directly into better and healthier traveling.

Travel of any kind can be hazardous to the health of the unfit, the untrained, and the overweight. However soft or cosseted a trip might be, it will still require a higher level of stamina, strength, and resilience than is required at home. The traveler must carry or lift luggage, stand in long lines at airports or museums, Make tracks to a distant restaurant, explore city streets, and negotiate stairs and hills. Not to mention sleeping in strange beds and eating exotic foods.

So if you have travel in your sights in the coming year, now is definitely the time to step out and start building up that endurance. Get out and walk.

A dog might help some. So might getting downsized. But the best advice we have is, just do it!



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