Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Little Town(s)

A few years ago, my wife bought Fitbit trackers for the family. Basically, she wanted one, and figured that if we all had them, we'd support her use of one. I was pretty skeptical about it at the time, but almost from the first day using it, I was hooked. From an exercise standpoint, it's mostly about mindfulness: the number on the tracker lets me know when I'm being a slug, and I feel guilty and move around. And the competitive aspect is somewhat motivating.

So I get more exercise, I'm in better shape, etc. All good.

But what's most surprising to me is how having and using the tracker has changed my perception of my world: the cities where I work and live, as well as places I visit. In short, my view of what's walkable is completely different than it used to be.

For example, I work in San Francisco, near the civic center or mid-Market areas (basically at the intersection of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue...lovely). And I go to a fair number of Giants baseball games at AT&T Park. From the time the park opened, I thought nothing of walking there from BART. We'd come over from the East Bay, get off at Embarcadero, and walk the mile or so along the waterfront to the ballpark. It's lovely, and it's good exercise.

But when I went to a game after work, I would hop on a Muni train at the Van Ness station and ride it down to the park. (Sometimes I would only take the train as far as BART, often to meet someone, then walk from there.) Then one day I just decided to see what it would take to walk to the park from my office. Surprise! Google Maps told me it would only take about 40 minutes, meaning it's about two miles. So I started walking. Truthfully, it doesn't take much longer than riding the subway, since that's quite a roundabout route. And it's good exercise. And I do it pretty often. I will admit that a wrong turn one day taught me the real meaning of the term "wrong side of the tracks," but otherwise, it's been great.

Similarly, my wife and I fairly often find ourselves needing to go somewhere, either here at home or when visiting cities such as New York, London, or Sydney. And instead of assuming that we need a cab or a subway, we now pretty much assume we can just walk most places. It's great, because we get to see a lot of those cities. And we literally find ourselves walking across town: from the Financial District to the Maritime Museum in San Francisco, from Rockridge to Jack London Square in Oakland, from the Upper West Side, down the High Line to the Meatpacking District in NYC. And it goes on. Ultimately, I've concluded that the world is much smaller than I used to think it was.

The other revelation that came along with this realization is that we're capable of walking much farther than we thought. We often hear or see a recommendation that one should walk about 10,000 steps a day to keep healthy. So at some point my wife and her brother were speculating about how many steps one really could cram into a day. My personal best at the time was about 33,000 (a very busy day at Disneyland!), and hers was closer to 40,000 (her steps are shorter than mine). This ended up in a commitment that the next time my brother-in-law came to town, we would all head off on an expedition to see how far we could walk.

Which ended up being Boxing Day last year (December 26). We started off from downtown San Francisco, walking around the Embarcadero toward the touristy end of town. Luck was with us, as we had a break in the rainy weather, and the day was clear, warm, and pleasant. And we walked around past Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Crissy Field, and Fort Point, then past the Golden Gate Bridge, down the coast toward Ocean Beach. Down around the Cliff House we reversed, and headed back up toward the bridge, and walked across the Golden Gate into Marin County, then down into Sausalito, ending up at our favorite seafood restaurant (Fish).

When all was said and done, we had each done well over 60,000 steps and exceeded 26.2 miles. We walked a marathon! I would never have imagined I could do such a thing. My feet were awfully tired, and if I were going to do it again, I would make sure to change shoes during the day, but overall, it was an amazing time, and again, really changed my perception about how big San Francisco is and what I can do when I set my mind to it.