Mad for Walking

Last Saturday, as the world’s finest athletes prepared to undergo a smorgasbord of physical trials in Rio de Janeiro that border on the sadistic, Mary Cate and I rose early, solemnly pulled on stretchy black leggings, and laced up our sneakers. Mary Cate measured four scoops of grounds into our coffee machine while I sliced up a bunch of carrots. She cut holes in pieces of bread and toasted them in a skillet, cracking eggs into the center. I filtered water and filled our one-liter bottles. We checked the forecast, piled food and extra socks into an ultra-lightweight backpack, and slipped out the door and onto the sidewalk while our cats (and presumably most of our neighbors) stayed curled up under the sheets. Just another weekend. This is our ritual.

Mary Cate and I are fairly willowy folk, but neither of us has exerted very much effort to become that way – it’s just the way our bodies are built. As a pair, we are not naturally predisposed to feats of athleticism. We are, however, quite predisposed to grand, romantic ideas and sudden outbursts of wanderlust. This tendency has led us to midnight mountaintop meet-ups, surprise presents giftwrapped in nostalgia, and more than a few spontaneous trips to wherever-sounds-good. So when the idea occurred to me, it had no sooner passed my lips before it became a definite plan. Of course we were going to do it. There was no question, really. One day, not long from now, we were going to walk the thirty-three mile perimeter of Manhattan.

Mary Cate, who is far more sensible than I without sacrificing an ounce of sentimentality, quickly took stock of the various obstacles we would have to overcome before accomplishing our goal. We’d never walked more than six or seven miles in one go, we didn’t own a backpack or any hiking supplies, and we’d thrown away our water bottles in a desperate attempt to downsize before moving into our tiny New York flat. A few necessary purchases were made, a training schedule drawn up, and a target date for our saunter was set. We were both vaguely aware of the term “carb loading,” so the night before our first test, a ten-mile jaunt through Central Park, we both drank a couple of beers before going to bed. Tra la!

The next morning, we shook off vague headaches and set out. And it was splendid – we zipped through our route, holding hands and happily chattering at one another, pausing occasionally to stretch and to snack. We felt tired, certainly, but it was the happy sort of sleepiness that comes on the heels of a proud accomplishment. Emboldened by this success, we drew up a fourteen-mile course for the next weekend, which went off without a hitch. We felt better, even. Thirty-three miles? Never mind the fact that we hadn’t even covered half that distance ­– why, it would be a cinch!

Delusions like this one have an unpleasant way of straightening themselves out.

Our third weekend route took shape as an ambitious trek from our Upper West Side apartment all the way down to Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo, via the picturesque Brooklyn Bridge. Throughout the week, the forecast had called for clouds and rain. When we woke up to a bright, sunny day, we could scarcely believe our luck – we virtually bounded down the stairs and into the street. Looking back, the scene takes on a clichéd B-movie mien. Two perky, young protagonists, perfectly oblivious to the audience on the other side of the screen shouting, “Don’t go through that door!”

By the time we reached midtown, my t-shirt clung to my body like a particularly irksome disease. It was just after nine in the morning, and already pushing ninety degrees. The hottest and muggiest day of an already hot and muggy summer. To make matters worse, throngs of tourists teemed up and down Broadway. As I mopped my brow for the umpteenth time, somebody dressed in a Minnie Mouse costume gave me an encouraging thumbs-up. Where our previous outings had been full of bubbly conversation, this one was chiefly characterized by a grim silence.

That’s not to say that the entire day was miserable. We found plenty of interesting buildings, marveled at the view from the bridge, and fell head over heels for the charms of Brooklyn Heights. But as the miles wore on and the sun grew stronger, these pleasant diversions grew fewer and further between. We trudged on through our fourteenth mile, matching our previous high, and promptly hauled our worn and sunburned bodies into the nearest subway. Not the triumphant day we had envisioned, but in light of the circumstances, we’ll call it a Pyrrhic victory.

Rather tellingly, none of this has dampened our enthusiasm for walking together. Even as I write this, sore-limbed and slathered in aloe vera, I’m rather anxiously looking forward to next weekend’s outing. Of course we’ll still walk around this marvelous island. There’s no question, really. It’s just the sort of thing we would do.

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