It’s good to be strolling around the outskirts of town where sidewalks and people are scarce when the coffee caffeinates my bladder. For these occasions I scan for other humans, not wishing to inadvertently expose myself to a conviction necessitating checking in with the local officials each time I move. One morning, after the usual precautions, I was pleasantly refreshing myself a few steps off the road when a vulture landed on guardrail fifteen feet from me. I tried to shoo the big bird away with my little soldier still out of formation, thus assuring an R-rating for the movie adaptation of this tale. One never realizes how monstrous these carrion-gobbling monsters are until in close proximity and they are not even remotely scared of you. Also, it would be generous to describe this fella’s appearance as having fallen out of the Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down. Hyperbole aside, instinct dictated that I get the hell away from this bird so I made an inelegant backwards escape to the road while zipping up. With an air of disdain, a mighty swoosh of its black, cape-like wings, and piercing stare, Mr. Scary made for the sky. I had trouble shaking the sense it knew something I did not.
Adrenalized by my close encounter of the buzzard kind, my pace accelerated up to warp-twelve. I was literally miles form nowhere when my earphones abruptly reminded me I didn’t plug them in to recharge their little batteries the night before. No more tunes. The horror. That’s when I heard footsteps that weren’t coming from my feet. I looked behind me and on the other side of the lone road; a figure was gaining on me. Quickly. This guy was really moving. ‘Must be a kid,’ thinks me.
When he got beside me I looked over and nodded to a man who not only outweighed me, he’d been around the Sun many more times than I had. And he had a backpack, a big backpack, straining against the straps over his shoulders, telling of its weight. He looked over at me in my neon shirt, new shoes, and dead earphones and asked, “Hey, how’s it going?” Except he managed to pack all that into one syllable which he pushed past the smoldering cigar jutting tumescently from his mouth. Quickly he passed me and I noticed both his boots were untied. By the time we got back to civilization, he was a good half-mile ahead of me. This felt a lot like junior high school.
Even with hobo-dude passing me at warp-thirteen, I still like to walk. But I’m not fond of doing it in summer heat. I wanted to try something a bit more water oriented. After my river-rat friends suggested I was “the wrong body type” for a sit-in kayak, I got a sit on-top rig—thus avoiding the confined and inevitable ass-over-teakettle, upside-down water adventure. I see it unfolding thus: Unable to gracefully flip myself back upright, I’d bust the damn boat in half and rise from the water triumphantly with the paddle in my teeth…or a lesser variation of that scenario that doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth from someone with a beard, or a guy. So, it’s the three-cylinder, Ford Fiesta of the kayaking world for my new water-sled. I pulled out the conduit bender and turned my van’s ladder rack into a boat rack. (The neon tennis balls protecting the tube ends provided the stunningly ghetto DIY accents.) I find a nearby lake to float upon when I’m driven to augment my land-locked routine or am dissuaded by temperature or temperament from walking.
All this still involves coffee and facing a real aversion to anything that speaks first thing in the morning. I gave up long ago achieving my high school weight. My goal was to hold steady poundage, avoiding weight gain under the influence of prescribed pharmacology. What I didn’t expect was an expanded sense of my place in
our bucolic valley. I feel more acknowledged by the courtesy of someone driving a little over the dashed-yellow line to give me striding space than most of the FaceBook likes. My cortisol levels noticeably drop when a giant white egret with its P-trap neck audibly takes flight over the lake or an osprey hangs like Jesus in the sky just before it dives for a fish with a surprising small splash and a surprisingly loud squawk. Being on the water is an activity for which I actually like company since my most hyper and verbose friends seem to subside into themselves while bobbing atop a plastic pontoon in the midst of a body if water. Conversely, my most reticent friends seem to find something to conversationally explore when our kayaks are side by side in the Sun.
Between the solitary saunter down the country lane and the fellowship of the paddle, there is a good chance my BMI won’t be as high as my student loan payment. I think walking and paddling are two of the oldest forms of transportation. When we move our bodies away from sedentary informational consumption and toward muscle memory activity, the advantages are not just a drop in BP and LDL. For an hour and a half a day the world can burn and it will not be my problem. When I’m on the water, my phone is in a dry bag and gets pulled out for pictures of geese and Monty with a paddle in his teeth. There’s one image I saved of my boat on the edge of the water. In the foreground my Chacos are splayed out in the Sun. This is the image I send to people wanting to know why I’m not returning their calls. I have another one for those I have no intention calling back, but it’s not nearly as polite.