Walking to Rivendell

I like to have something around which to organize my walking. Training for our big Kalamazoo to South Haven hike worked great, but having completed that I was looking for something new.

Via Nerd Fitness’s How to walk to Mordor page, I found this little page on Walking to Rivendell, and I think that just might be what I was looking for.

Way back in 2003, some clever people got the idea to go through The Fellowship of the Ring (and a handy Atlas of Middle Earth) and note down all the legs of Frodo’s journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell. Then, as they did their own daily walking, they tracked their progress, noting each milestone as they passed it. (Five miles along; crossed the Great Road from the Brandywine Bridge and entered Tookland.)

Jackie doesn’t seem to have the same strange urge I do to organize walks around some arbitrary or fantasy goal, but she has embraced the idea with some enthusiasm, and decided that we should begin at the beginning and follow the path of Bilbo’s journey to Rivendell. It begins with a hurried dash from Bag End to The Green Dragon in Bywater, then down the Great East Road to a camp site a couple of miles past the three farthing stone, for a total of 11 miles.

We won’t match Bilbo’s journey day by day, but we thought we’d at least start with an 11-mile walk to get into the spirit of the thing.

So yesterday we did.

To make the mileage come out right (and to avoid a boring bit of the walk that we do all the time), we took the bus to campus and started our walk there.

From the Research Park (just across the street from my old office) we walked through campus and on to the Urbana Library (where we returned a library book and checked out another), then went across the street to Lincoln Square Village where we had lunch in their little food court. We went back to the library where we split a brownie for desert and lingered over coffee. Then we headed west across the north end of campus, paused briefly in the Engineering Quad so I could play just a bit of Ingress, and proceeded to the water amenities at 2nd street.

We’d had lunch early, so it was at just about this point that the vitamin D window opened. It was preternaturally warm and sunny, so I took off my jacket and put it in my pack and we spent a half hour or so comprehensively walking the paths through both halves of the water amenities (with my arms exposed to the deadly ultraviolet light of the sun) before heading on to downtown Champaign. We walked through West Side Park, near our 2014 summer place, and then turned south and walked past our 2014–2015 winter palace.

Not far south of there, we passed a house where the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the road was filled with these tiny ceramic houses:

img_20160130_140716526_24689044956_o

Not exactly Rivendell’s last homely house, but I felt they were adequately in the spirit of elven houses anyway.

From there we proceeded to Hessel Park, and thence along familiar paths to home.

I neglected to run Endomondo, but Google Fit claims I walked 11.1 miles.

It was a great walk! Jackie had a sore shoulder and didn’t want to carry a pack, so I carried not only the library book, but also the first aid kit, our lunches, and water for two.

Jackie with our water bottles
Jackie with our water bottles

Speaking of water, last year Jackie bought one of these Camelbak water bottles, and was very pleased with it. I was happy enough using bicycle-style water bottles. But—by sheerest happenstance—the kindly admins at Wise Bread gave me (as a thank-you gift for being one of their writers) the exact same water bottle as Jackie’s—except that mine has the Wise Bread logo.

These bottles are a little bigger than the ones I carried last year. That together with the library book made my pack a little heavier—enough to be noticeable, but not too much for a walk to Rivendell.

I wore my minimalist boots, which seemed like a nice compromise between my regular hiking boots and going barefoot like a hobbit. In the summer I plan to get back to barefoot walking in a big way (although it may be a while before I’m taking my long walks barefoot).

Sunrise?

My friend Chuck​ likes to point out that we’ve already reached the worst of the winter darkness: Tomorrow the sun will set at 4:27 PM, and that’s as bad as it will get. As early as December 12th the sun won’t set until 4:28, and it just gets better from there.

For people working a regular job, a later sunset is a big deal (although it’s not really a big deal until January 24th, when sunset time is finally after 5:00 PM).

For me, though, it’s sunrise that really matters, and that keeps getting worse for a long while yet. We don’t hit our latest sunrise until December 30th when it’s not until 7:15 AM—and then it just stays there for almost two weeks. Things don’t really start getting better until January 12th, when the sun rises at 7:14.

So really, I should be luxuriating in the relatively early sunrise this morning. The sun will be up at 6:59 AM—before 7:00! Why, it won’t be this good again until February 5th! That’s after Groundhog’s Day!!!

(All these dates and times local to Savoy, Illinois in 2015–2016. Ephemeris data for your location will vary. But if you live in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, they won’t vary by enough.)

This tree, with some sort of little red fruits all covered in ice by a freezing fog, kinda looks sunrise pink. Maybe I could pretend it is the dawn. Of course, before dawn it’s too dark to see it.

Frosty pink

Despite my anticipatory angst, I’m actually holding up pretty well so far. I’m sure the extra time spent walking outdoors is helping. Yesterday, I walked to my taiji class, then walked around during the time between the two classes (with Jackie for the first half of her walk home, and then around playing Ingress), and then walked home again after my second class. It was just a little over 6 miles, but my longest walk in a good while. I’m sure the two hours of taiji helped as well.

The odd motivating power of an unbroken streak

I have mixed feelings about using the motivating power of maintaining a streak.

Lots of people do it. Lots of writers write every day. Lots of runners run every day. There’s probably no virtuous activity out there that doesn’t have someone who has done it every day (or every week, or every year) for decades.

I understand the power. I feel it too, as I’ll describe in just a moment. But I have mixed feelings about it, primarily for two reasons.

First, it tempts people into doing things they shouldn’t just to maintain the streak.

Any runner who has run every day for years has almost certainly gone for a run even though he or she was sick. If it’s just a cold, that’s merely pointless. But going for a run with the flu is life-threatening.

Second, the demotivating power of a broken streak is huge.

For example, I had a streak going in the game Ingress, where there’s a badge for maintaining an unbroken streak of playing every day. I’d gotten my badges for 15-, 30-, and 60-day streaks. When my 180-day badge was due, I found that had apparently missed a day—my streak had ended at 172 days. I immediately abandoned any thought of getting that badge, and quit making any effort to play Ingress on a daily basis. I still play, but my current streak is 4 days.

Because of those issues, I try to be careful about motivating myself by trying to maintain a streak. I still do it though.

I went for a walk yesterday, only because I’m trying to get out for a walk every day this month.

After I hurt my knees in late October, my ability to walk was constrained for several weeks. It was very sad. I missed the last nice days for outdoor exercise, stuck inside resting my knees.

I find it easy to exercise in the summer, and hard in the winter. Every year I imagine that, if I can just keep going through the fall, I’ll preserve the habit and be able to keep going through the winter. It hasn’t worked very well in general, and certainly is out for this year, so I figured I’d do something different: Establish a new habit. I am perfectly capable of just deciding that I’ll get out and exercise in the winter in particular.

So I did decide that. Specifically, I decided that I’d try to meet the goal I’ve established in Google Fit, to get at least 90 minutes of movement every day.

Google Fit’s evaluation is just a bit odd. It’s central metric is minutes, but what it actually counts is steps, and I have no idea exactly how it translates occasional steps into minutes. It works very well when I go for a walk, but when I do taiji, for example, I get essentially no credit for having moved during that hour.

(As an aside, I should mention that I could just manually enter the hour or two I spend doing taiji. I did that for a while, but it isn’t really satisfactory. Among the great thing about Google Fit are that it’s simple and objective—there’s no need to do anything other than just carry my phone all the time, which I do anyway. Manually entering activity misses the whole point.)

Anyway, yesterday was a cold, wet, snowy day. Just the sort of day on which any sensible person would decide to simply stay inside. But I had this unbroken streak going, and a plan to hit 90 minutes of movement each day in December. So, I went out in the cold, wet snow and walked the remaining forty minutes or so to hit the mark.

Cold, wet, snowy day
Cold, wet, snowy day

During the summer, one can just stay in when the weather is bad, and still get plenty of exercise. Do that in the winter, and it’s all too easy to end up spending three months indoors. So, I am using the power of an unbroken streak to prevent that.

Another couple of weeks, and it will be a habit. A couple of weeks after that, and I’ll have met my movement goal for the month of December—and having gotten that far, I expect I’ll be able to move enough in January and February as well.

For now, though, I’ve just checked—and I see that I need another 24 minutes of walking today.

At least it’s not snowing.

The luxury of inattention

I read a lot about fitness.

Non-fiction about fitness can be motivating. I find it especially useful to read when I shouldn’t workout due to injury. It lets me maintain momentum through a period when I’d otherwise be idle. I also find fiction about getting in shape to be motivating. (Either one is generally a lot more motivating than most of what passes for fitness motivation. I’d meant to link that to the motivation stream in the “Fitness” community I follow in Google Plus, but decided against it. Too much of the so-called motivation is either demotivating or outright offensive.)

There’s an issue with this source of motivation: both fiction and non-fiction come with a worldview—a model of what fitness is, what it’s for, what behaviors lead to it.

This is noticeable in non-fiction, particularly when the model is weird as to its goals or methods. But it’s especially noticeable in fiction, because then it gets bound up with the goals of the fictional characters. For example, the hero in Greg Rucka’s Critical Space (I’ve mentioned the fitness montage in the middle of that book before, as a good example of the sort of thing I find motivating) is getting in shape to be ready to defend against an assassin.

As long as I’m choosing reasonable behaviors that lead to fitness in a model of my choice, I figure the fact that there’s an action hero doing some of the same stuff is harmless.

Sometimes the fictional character’s worldview resonates with me. For example, one thing Rucka’s hero describes is that learning how to carry himself—learning how to be balanced, centered—teaches him how to see that in other people. My taiji practice has begun to produce the same result in me. I notice when people do or don’t have a good vertical structure, something that I never would have thought to notice before.

Other times the fictional character’s worldview holds nuggets that are genuinely worth picking up. It’s common, for example, for a hero to get better at paying attention to what’s going on—to be more vigilant and watchful. Clearly a useful perspective if you’re living in a thriller or an action-adventure, but probably even if you’re not. Paying attention to what’s going on around you is just good advice. Even if you’re not being targeted by an assassin, being inattentive makes you more vulnerable to everything from muggings to being hit by a car.

Which brings me to the title of this post. As someone who does not live in a thriller or action-adventure, I have the luxury of not paying attention.

As one specific example, when I play Ingress, I pay very close attention indeed—but the focus of my attention is on the fictional augmented reality of the game. Despite its grounding in the actual built environment of public sculpture, the game really distracts me from paying attention to the people who are nearby. I do make a point of being very careful about cars—I don’t cross roads or driveways with my head down at my phone—but I’m much less attentive to people nearby.

While I’m playing Ingress, an assassin would have no trouble getting to within arm’s reach completely unnoticed.

The other augmented reality game I play, Zombies Run!, isn’t as bad, because it doesn’t occupy my eyes. Even so, its fictional world colors my perspective of the real world.

I’m not alone in this. Mur Lafferty describes the immersive power of the game this way:

I was running to avoid a zombie chase . . . and I passed another runner going the opposite way. I nearly yelled that she was running right toward the zombies and she should turn and race away like me. But since I don’t want to be labeled the neighborhood crazy lady, I didn’t do this. I also feel a need, when I pass someone walking, to tell them that they should pick up the pace because of what is behind me . . .

An immersive game is fun. It is a great luxury to feel safe wandering about in public with my attention on a fictional world rather than the real one. I probably indulge myself a bit too much.

In this case, it would probably be wiser to take the advice of my action heroes, and pay attention.

New perspective on running weather

I’ve always quit running during the winter. I found I could make myself get out and run in temps down to about 50 degrees, but when it got colder than that I didn’t enjoy the runs enough to make myself get out and run. I regretted this, because it meant that I did very little running for about six months of the year, but I didn’t regret it enough to get out and run in the cold.

This winter things have been a little different—the two phone-based games I’ve been playing have given me whole new motivations to get out.

I’ve walked 323 kilometers (200 miles!) playing Ingress, which I started playing back in September, almost all of that being walking that I wouldn’t have done without the game. That has stood me in good stead as a way to preserve fitness over the winter (although that includes walking that I did in the fall).

I experimented a bit with Ingress running, but found that although it was fine for the Ingress, it detracted from the run. I spent so much time pausing to play Ingress, that the average speed of my runs made them look like walks. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I may well do some more Ingress running this summer as a way to visit all my local portals without spending all day at it, but I missed the continuous effort of the run. I also missed having a measurable run, one that I could compare with an earlier run and get a sense of whether my fitness was ahead or behind of where it had been that year.

So, the Ingress hasn’t been getting me out to run, although it does get me out to walk.

However, I haven’t needed Ingress for running motivation, because I’ve got Zombies, Run!

It turns out, I don’t need temps above 50 to get me out to run, if I’m playing a Zombie mission. However, I’m still unwilling to run on ice and snow (because I’m not an idiot), and the cold, snowy winter, combined with the fact that people in Champaign-Urbana are the most un-neighborly people I’ve ever encountered when it comes to shoveling sidewalks, has meant that we’ve had conditions that kept me from running for the whole second half of January and most of February.

Today, though, the temperatures got up into the upper-30s, and got the snow and ice melting at speed. It was 36 degrees when I got back from lunch, and I’d seen that many sidewalks were finally clear, so I just changed into running clothes and headed right back out again.

I ran 3.16 miles in 37:11, for an 11:47 pace. (Zombies, Run! reports it as an 11:45 pace, probably due to rounding.)

Looking at my running log from last year, I see I didn’t do a 3-mile run until early May—so I’m a full two months ahead of the game. (Looking at the running log in more detail, I see that the issue wasn’t my aerobic fitness, it was the tendons in my knees that objected when I first ran 2.2 miles, and then again when I ran 2.4 miles. Last year I held my runs at those distances until my knees quit hurting. Being able to check this sort of thing is just what I’m talking about, when I complain about Ingress running not producing measurable, comparable runs. Happily, my knees felt fine today, probably because of all the walking.)

Best of all, the forecast is for highs above freezing every day for as far as the eye can see.

Now that I have my phone-based running games, all I ask is that the sidewalks be clear of ice and snow—and highs above freezing will take care of that.

After a brief lull as I began integrating already written text into my novel, things have picked up again, and the novel progresses apace.

Modest success with new daily routine, plus zombies

I’ve been waiting to post about how successful my new daily routine has been until I’ve had at least one day where I actually followed it in each particular, and today was that day.

In fact, just aiming at my new routine has been enough to increase my productivity quite a bit. I’ve had at least one writing session nearly every day, and I’ve gotten some sort of exercise nearly every day, and most days have had plenty of both.

So, the new daily routine has been at least a modest success so far.

Today:

  • I wrote early.
  • I went to the Fitness Center and lifted weights.
  • I came back and wrote some more.
  • I had a light lunch.
  • I went out and experimented with combining Zombies, Run! and Ingress. (It seemed to work okay, as long as I paused Zombies before trying to Ingress.)
  • I came back home and put a final polish on a Wise Bread post I’d written a few days ago, then shared it with the editors.

Having accomplished all that stuff, figure I’m free to do whatever I want for the rest of the day.

By the way, here’s my zombie-ingress outing as tracked by Zombies, Run. I went 3.61 km (which works out to 2.24 miles) in 1:28:22. That would be a very slow run, but it was fine for a walk where I was spent many minutes standing around at portals. (I left the program in kilometers rather than miles, only because Ingress does everything in kilometers. I’ll probably change it, though. I think in miles when I run.)

Boot failure

I headed out to play some Ingress this afternoon, only to be forced back before I even reached my first portal. I suffered from near-catastrophic boot failure.

boot-failureBoth boots had developed a crack in the sole and mid-sole, right at the ball of the foot.

It’s possible that the crack had been there a while—it wasn’t noticeable as long as I was walking on cleared sidewalks. But as soon as I started walking through snow, it failed badly: Snow started accumulating in the crack, forcing it wider, and forcing my toes to bend backwards. Once I returned to dry pavement, a few steps knocked most of the snow out, allowing my toes to straighten out again.

The crack didn’t immediately let water in, so I actually considered continuing. But a few seconds of contemplating total boot failure at a point where returning home would require walking a mile through slushy snow, I just turned around and headed home.

Happily, these are my old, summer boots. I only got them out today because my winter hiking boots had gotten wet on each of several outings in a row, and I thought it would be best to let them dry completely, and then reapply their waterproof coating before wearing them out in the weather again.

Sometime in the next few months I’ll have to buy new summer boots. I’m okay with that—these boots were not quite as satisfactory as my previous pair of summer hiking boots. Good to get a chance to get a pair that are better. (My winter boots, on the other hand, have been very satisfactory indeed.)

Another attempt at a daily schedule

One reason I haven’t been more productive these past two years is that I’ve let my fitness activities consume the morning hours that are my prime writing time. I know that, and I want to free that time up for writing, but I’m loath to give up my taiji, because of the way it has been almost miraculous in changing my body for the better.

Five years ago I was starting to feel old. I could still do all the ordinary stuff I needed to do every day, but my spare capacity was shrinking. My balance and flexibility and strength and endurance were all less than they had been—and only just barely good enough. Any unusual stress, such as carrying something heavy up or down stairs, or moving across rough or shifting terrain, seemed dangerous. I had trouble getting a full night’s sleep, because my back would ache after lying still for a few hours.

Taiji (together with lifting) turned that completely around. I feel better than I’ve felt in years. I really don’t want to give that up.

The problem is, I’ve been devoting a huge chunk of each morning to the lifting and the taiji class, and morning is by far my most productive time to write.

Fortunately, I think I’ve figured out a way to deal with that. The key—and I’ve known this for a long time—is to start my writing first. Once I’ve had a solid writing session, taking a break for some exercise is perfect. After that, I can get back to writing. (Whereas I’ve found it very hard to start writing after a long morning of exercise.)

The way we’d been doing it, we’d do our lifting before taiji. We briefly experimented with doing the lifting after taiji, but I found that hurt my knees. (My theory is that the taiji tired out the small muscles that stabilize my knees, making them just a little too wobbly for heavy lifting.) This has been great for actually doing the lifting, but has meant an awfully early start to the day—too early to fit in writing first.

So, during the last week of December and the first two weeks of January, while the taiji class is on break, I’m experimenting with a new daily routine. I’m still tweaking it, but as currently sketched out, it looks like this:

  • At 7:00, right after breakfast, I sit down to write fiction, and work for 90 minutes.
  • At 8:30 I take a break and spend the hour from 9:00 to 10:00 engaging in some fitness activity: lifting or taiji. (Once the class resumes, I’ll do the class on days that it meets, and lift on the other days.)
  • Back home by 10:30, I write fiction for another 90 minutes, then break for lunch at noon.
  • After lunch I get back outside and walk again. Lately I’ve been using this time to play Ingress, but in the summer I may just walk, go for a run, or whatever.
  • In the mid-to-late afternoon, I may do a bit more work on some writing-related activity: Writing non-fiction (such as a Wise Bread post), revising stories, submitting stuff to editors, critiquing work for the Incognitos, etc.

I’m trying to be a bit more careful about social media, because of how easy it is to fritter away a whole morning reading stuff my friends have found interesting, without abandoning it. Right now I’m checking social media briefly before breakfast, then staying away from it until after lunch, then pretty much allowing unlimited checking in the afternoons.

I’ve been doing this for more than a week now (with the modification that on Saturday and Sunday I just do one fiction-writing session, rather than two). It’s going great so far—I’ve gotten several thousand words written on my novel.

I’ll keep you posted.

[The core of this post was originally written as part of my year-end summary of my writing. However, not being about my writing in 2013, it didn’t belong there, so I’ve pulled it out and made it a post of its own.]

Playing Ingress (now in open beta!)

For about six weeks now, I’ve been playing Ingress.

It’s a game. You could almost call it a video game—you see what’s happening on a video screen—but to play you have to go outside: The action of the game happens at specific places in the real world.

The conceit of the game is that matter from another dimension is intruding into our world via portals. In our world, these portals appear as works of public art or unique architecture. Via the game (running on an Android phone or tablet), you can locate and manipulate these portals.

I’ve been having a great time. I’m working with a half-dozen or so local Resistance players, some new like me, others already at level 8 and mainly providing support (since they’re no longer working to level up themselves).

The structure of the game encourages team play—building a powerful portal requires multiple high-level players to work together. But the team play doesn’t need to be simultaneous, just somewhat coordinated. Lower-level players can make faster progress if they play with a higher-level player, but it’s not necessary.

Screenshot_2013-11-01-11-15-12Besides the pleasures of loosely integrated, minimal-pressure teamwork, the other great thing about the game is that, because it takes place in the real world, to play it you have to go out in the real world. The game reports on how far you’ve walked in the course of playing it—for me, 50 km in the past six weeks. (See “Distance walked” in screenshot.) I credit that walking with helping me maintain my weight even though I haven’t been able to run for the past month.

I’m also really into the public art aspect of the game. I was already a huge fan of public art, but the game has made me connect with individual works in a way that I hadn’t. I’m aware of individual pieces in a whole new way—how they relate in space with one another and with other aspects of the community. (Although it is a different experience now to go for a walk downtown. Even when I’m not playing, I’m aware that certain works that are portals in the game. I have to remember that most people are not.)

Anyway, Ingress is now in open beta. If you have an Android device, you can just download the game and go.

I recommend it.

If you’re local and play, get in touch. I’d be glad to help you level up.