I’ve had episodes of exercise devotion over the years. In the early 90s I tackled Cindy Crawford videos, then Step Aerobics, roller blading, and the Buns of Steel series. Decades later, after my third baby, I got hooked on Pilates. And according to Google, the most popular post on my personal blog is about the year after baby number four when I became an accidental evangelist for Barre classes.
Despite how it sounds, I’m not an exercise fanatic. The effort I exert is average at best. What happens is that I get excited about the next new thing because I know it’s important to do some physical activity. Then eventually I lose motivation or get bored. There’s only one option left when the walls of the gym or the expense of yoga sculpt classes becomes too overwhelming: I walk.
At the end of this spring I put my gym membership on hold and rediscovered the simplicity of a walk. Right away I remembered the walks I took in high school before I had my driver’s license or my parents’ permission to buy videos. In those days, I’d grab my Walkman and my latest mix tape, then randomly head in one direction or another. By today’s standards, it’s astonishing that nobody knew where I went. I couldn’t text to say whether I was on the Green Bay Trail heading towards Glencoe or heading to downtown Highland Park. I couldn’t tell my mom that instead of the trail I’d decided to meander south on Sheridan Road. Alone with my music and my dramatic teenage thoughts, I was an explorer. I was free.
Walking With Friends
Although I like walking alone, I’ve also scheduled many walking dates with friends this summer. I’m convinced that there’s no time with a friend as quality as the 45 minutes or so spent on a walk. The last point in my life when I consistently made time for such a luxury was during my freshmen year of college. In the mid-90s, when we still didn’t have cell phones that left the car, a walk with a friend was an uninterrupted, intensely focused experience. We’d fill the hour with details about our families and high school experiences, returning to the dorm strangers no more.
Leaving the gym for the summer has meant using a good portion of my exercise time connecting with old and new friends. I meet people for walks in the parking lot after a camp drop off where the crowd is different from the one I see during the school year. I’ve also become closer with women who live in my neighborhood as they’re the ones available for a spontaneous night walk after the kids are down.
The conversations I have with friends during these walks would never transpire over a meal. Perhaps the discussions are deeper because we’re trying to forget that we’re exercising. I also suspect that the lack of eye contact as we watch for approaching cars makes it easier to divulge what’s going on in our lives. Whatever the reason, I always feel significantly closer to someone at the end of a walk than I did at the beginning, and that includes my husband. A few times this summer we’ve taken a walk when we have a babysitter, which allows us to catch up in a way that bears no resemblance to the quick summaries exchanged during a hectic weeknight of dinner.
Walking With Kids
As a family we’re getting outside more, too. Two of our kids can ride a bike while the other two fit in the double stroller. Perhaps my favorite walk so far was the one I took with my oldest the other day. Sam rode his bike while I moved quickly to keep up without running. (I am not a runner.) Every so often he’d turn around in a nearby driveway until I was next to him. We’d talk for a few minutes, but then the impulse to ride fast would propel him again. In a few days Sam turns 10, yet it seems impossible that a decade has passed since he and I explored those streets as a twosome.
Walking For Sanity
During the summer Sam was born, I’d go days at a time without taking him anywhere. Overwhelmed with anxiety combined with a case of the baby blues, I found it easier to stay home so I could feed Sam and change him with as few tears as possible for either of us. “Put Sam in the stroller and go for a walk once a day,” a friend said. She encouraged me to get out for at least 20 minutes, promising that Sam and I would benefit from the sunlight, fresh air, and the change of scenery. My friend was absolutely right, but until this current gym-free summer, I’d forgotten how easily a walk quiets my mind.
My walks alone are less “free” now than they were when I was young with nothing but time to spare. And my walks with friends are sometimes interrupted by various adult responsibilities (and texts). Nevertheless, I still appreciate the way this summer of walking has reminded me of previous phases of my life. When the temperatures drop to typical Minnesota lows, I’ll likely rejoin the gym and enjoy the energy of my favorite teachers, but for now I’m relishing the summer days and nights still ahead of me and all the quality walking I have yet to do.
Illustration by Christine Juneau