Last Sunday afternoon, Jan. 2, while most people were probably sitting in front of their new plasma TVs watching football, or listening to music on their iPODs, or Googling something significant, my friend, Ed, and I were out walking the Maumee Trail between Grand Rapids and Waterville.
It was raining, or partly raining, and grey. And not surprisingly, we had the place pretty well to ourselves.
There were some fishermen, on the Grand Rapids side, hauling huge and ugly carp buffaloes, they called them out of the fast-moving and muddy river. A lone jogger in an Ohio State sweatshirt plodded by, breathing heavily. And a middle aged couple was out exercising a 6-month-old pointer, which stirred some long forgotten lines from An Epitaph by William Cowper:
Here lies one who never drew
Blood himself, yet many slew
Gave the gun its aim and figure
Made in field, yet n er pulled trigger
And ending with:
... And your wonder vain to shorten
Pointer to Sir John Throckmorton.
It was obviously going to be one of those days!
When a fast-moving fog, scudding down the river, caught up with us and wrapped its tendrils round the arches of the Waterville Bridge, the experience morphed into a wintry scene that was part poetry, part mystery, and part history, when at the spectacular riverbend outlook, Ed who knows about these things told how the Maumee River had long been used by Indians as a route into the Ohio River.
Anyway, as this was also the first time that we d hiked together since our walk across Britain back in June, the nine miles passed quick as a flash, as we replayed some of the highlights of that incredible journey:
The great people we had met. Fellow hikers from all over the world, and friendly locals from Lancashire and Yorkshire. The remote farms and pubs and B&Bs in which we d stayed, with their rejuvenating English tea and biscuits. And beautiful, bountiful full British breakfasts!
Then there were the lofty mountains and deep gorges we had conquered, one boulder at a time. And the long, knee crushing descents. Finally, the extreme joy and relief of spotting, still two days out, the North Sea. And then completing our 200 mile trek in Robin Hood s Bay to hugs and high-fives!
Interestingly enough, this Coast to Coast Path (C2C) was recently named one of the Best Walks in the World by a panel of long-distance hiking experts and environmentalists in Britain s Country Walking magazine.
The C2C came in a strong second behind the famed Milford Track in New Zealand, and ahead of a hike at the Everest Base Camp, a tour of Mont Blanc, the Drakensberg in South Africa, the Inca Trail in Peru, and the Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
The panel noted that the Coast to Coast Trail had superb scenery and drips with history. While the magazine said that it was a walk that 90 percent of its readers want to tackle one day.
We bring up this talk of trails and long distance walks and exercise for a very specific reason.
It s hardly a secret that travel today is hard. And getting harder. Remember the pre-Christmas airline meltdown that tied up all those airports, had people sleeping rough, and misplaced millions of pieces of luggage?
Well, substitute any of a hundred other causes of potential travel hiccupery mechanical failures, bad weather, strikes, terror alerts, or whatever and it s patently obvious that if we are to survive even the smallest contretemps, we d better be in good shape.
It is also abundantly clear that, as a nation, we are not very good in this department. And we appear totally unprepared for even the minor rigors of modern travel, like standing in long lines. Climbing multiple flights of stairs. Navigating cobblestone streets. Lifting heavy luggage over our heads. Or even walking a mile or two to a hotel or restaurant.
So as this is resolution time, why not join us as we set ourselves some exercise goals for 2005, designed to get back into traveling shape.
The options, of course, are legion.
But some might start with a modest 350-mile annual walking goal. Just a mile a day ( approximately 20 minutes afoot) is the equivalent of walking to Mackinac Island in a year. Not bad.
Or take our own personal challenge. A thousand miles. To Southern Florida at just 2.75 miles a day.
But you d better get started, we re already 20 miles ahead of you!