Take it Outside

When I was a kid, corporal punishment had begun to be looked upon with suspicion. The Age of Reason had made its way into the arena of child rearing. Doctor Spock did not look kindly upon paddling. Only troglodytes still believed they could beat the sense into their offspring. Consequently, when my brother and I began to raise hell in the apartment, mother told us to “take it outside!” It mattered not whether it was June or January, the message was the same. And the message was received. It was time to get out of mother’s sight or pay the cost. Progressive child rearing be damned, we knew that to stick around much longer risked getting pelted with a copy of Baby and Child Care heaved at us from the vicinity of the kitchen. Accordingly, we grabbed whatever outer garments were appropriate to the season and headed outdoors.

If it was summer, little to no grabbing was necessary. In winter, however, we had better wrap ourselves in the clothing necessary to avoid catching our “death of cold” or face punishment even greater than that which was originally imminent had we stayed inside. As we know, childhood traumas such as the ones described above, leave an indelible impression on one’s psyche. They shape the adult which we later become. As a result, the great outdoors is looked upon by many of us as a refuge, a place to escape the restrictive confines of home life. So what if it is now January or February when frostbite and flu threaten? We must brave such dangers and embrace the freedom and fresh air which await us out in nature’s playground.
I must admit that I was taken aback last week when I was sitting in my dermatologist’s office, and I glanced at display on the wall advising me to exercise outside in the winter. But then I realized that even the skin doctor, the person who continually counsels us to avoid the sun at all costs in order to prevent deterioration and disease of our epidermis, acknowledges the necessity of braving the elements in winter. Now “taking it outside” enjoyed the blessings of medical science too. It was not only the advice of the beleaguered parent. There was no arguing against it.

Once this fact penetrated all logical defenses and conquered the inevitable procrastination, there was only one thing to do – head outside. Forget about the indoor treadmills and stair climbers, the stationary bikes now rechristened “pelotons,” the “spinning” classes, and the pilates studios. Those who endlessly circle the eighth-of-a-mile indoor track are afflicted with gerbil-in-a-cage syndrome. Those who join the mass of humanity sweating their way through masochistic sessions on heavy machinery that goes nowhere resemble something out of Fritz Lang’s nightmarish film Metropolis in which humanity is reduced to a robotic existence, senselessly repeating motions bereft of any benefit. No, we will frolic in the invigorating elements provided by nature. We will not pretend to ride a bike, we will ride one! We will not make believe we are climbing stairs, we will in fact mount them! We care not if the thermometer reads six degrees, we will do it!

So it was that I found myself one frigid winter morning staring at a frozen jogging trail, the water vapor from my every breath visibly suspended in the cold dry air. I was ready, but how to begin? I wore enough clothing to avoid immediately freezing as I emerged from my car, but not so much that I would become overheated as my temperature rose during exercise. But I couldn’t help noticing that the familiar path that lay before me did not appear as I last remembered it. Instead of the familiar, fairly smooth surface stretching into the horizon, I looked upon what seemed to be a cratered minefield more appropriate to the surface of the moon. Nevertheless, I would not be deterred. I started my run only to find to my dismay that my ankles were being twisted in all directions with each footfall. I looked closer and discovered the problem. I was trying to run on other people’s frozen footsteps. Other runners and walkers, my fellow outdoor exercisers, had trudged their way through mud that had frozen solid, memorializing their steps in what was now ice. This was dismaying to behold. What was I to do? My ankles ached with every stride. My equilibrium was thrown off as the forbidding conditions played havoc with my center of gravity. But if I didn’t get moving, I was going to freeze.

I looked closer at the terrain. If I could pick out just the right frozen footsteps, the ones that were approximately size 11D. I could stride comfortably enough. Of course this would entail hopping and/or jumping from one footstep to another as I spied each one that was of the correct size. So what? It would just be a more vigorous workout. I started to leap along this way, and made some progress, but it wasn’t very long before I mistook an animal track for a human one and landed awkwardly with a sharp twist to my instep. No, this wouldn’t do. There was only one path remaining, the one used by cars. So I stepped into the roadway, and followed the automobile tires as they forcefully melted black ice from my path. Oh, I did clearly detect some annoyance from drivers who had to swerve around me, and I did hear at least one garbled imprecation hurled my way, no doubt telling me to clear the hell out of the road before I get hit. But I just kept on truckin’. I was following my inner voice, the one that learned important lessons from my mother and my dermatologist. And those yelling at me were just jealous, too afraid to escape from their gerbil cages to join me.

So be it. I’ll be out there next weekend too when the forecast is for more snow and ice. If there is a thaw before then, and if your shoe size is 11D, I’d appreciate it if you’d run the path before I get there. Thank you in advance.


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