Walking along the Columbia

The Riverwalk. Looking east.

The Riverwalk. Looking east.

In Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, you can walk along the shore on an asphalt path.  The path is called the Astoria Riverwalk and runs almost 13 miles from one end of town to the other and beyond that to the east.

The Riverwalk runs parallel to railroad tracks layed down more than a century ago. A 1913 trolley regularly rumbles down these tracks, noon to 6. The single car is usually crammed full, standing room only.  That’s one of the reasons Nebra and I chose one late afternoon to travel the Riverwalk by foot into town for supper. It is only about a mile and a half from the lodging on 34th Street and Leif Erickson.

Tanker in the Columbia.

Tanker in the Columbia.

The air is invigorating, cool now in the 60s with a light westerly breeze in our faces. We wear wind-breakers. Unbelievable that in 48 hours we have gone from an inferno in Phoenix to this in Oregon.

Only  a few pass us on the Riverwalk.  Some afoot, some jogging, a few on bicycles.

Season for harvesting wild berries.

Season for harvesting wild berries.

The Columbia has little activity. Several huge tankers are anchored in mid-stream waiting for what I do not know. Across the river to the north, the hills and mountains of Washington rise up as an emerald wall.  To the west, the horizon is broken only by the 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler  bridge that leads to Cape Disappointment and other interesting and historic places in Washington.

A tug boat ushers a tanker under the bridge, guiding it around the treacherous sandbars. The Columbia’s mouth is known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” A sign listing those sailors who have perished in these waters rests at the side of the Riverwalk.

IMG_2116Between us and the river is a lush strip of wild bushes and a few trees.  Nebra stops to examine wildflowers and patches of blackberry and huckleberry.  My camera is busy shooting the mossy-coated, green piles sticking out of the water. At one spot we see gulls (or are they terns?) resting atop of every one, all facing west to the setting sun.

As we close in on Astoria’s downtown, a concoction of museums, like the Maritime, restaurants and brewers pop into view. The main drag, Commercial Street, is up a few blocks on the left.

Astoria Megler Bridge.

Astoria Megler Bridge.

At 8th Street, we swerve south into the main part of Astoria. It is at this point of departure from the Riverwalk, we find at the Buoy restaurant. It’s No. 2 on Trip Advisor, says Nebra, who venture inside to check the menu.  She says there is a window in the floor looking down on the docks where a sea lion lazed.

Night on the river.

Night on the river.

And so the walk ends. It has been pleasant.

The Riverwalk, I think, is an ideal way to become acquainted with this little logging and fishing city at the edge of America near where the Lewis &  Clark Expedition made history.


The 4 millionth step

At 1:41 on this cool, rainy afternoon, I took my 4 millionth step of 2010, as measured by a digital pedometer.  It is a goal I’ve had in my gunsight since at least mid-summer.  

The original goal was 3.65 million steps.  That’s 10,000 a day, roughly five miles.  But I like round figures.  Four million rang a bell.  Anyway I believe most Americans walk about half of what I did this year.

It went down this way.  I knew at the start of the day I needed just 2,943 more steps to hit my 4 mil.  So, as I walked to the library with a backpack slung over my shoulder and a fresh cup of Starbucks coffee in my left hand, I pulled out the pedometer and let it dangle at my side, watching it intently.  Just 40 more, 39, 30 . . . .  

Soon, in front of a nondescript house on the north, I was there.  I dropped my pack on the sidewalk, set down my coffee cup and speed-dialed Nebra who was at her office.  “Flash,” I said, and I gave her the news.  Nebra can appreciate 4 million more than anyone I know.   She wears a pedometer just like mine, and we have competed all year.   She trails me now by about 300,000 and has virtually no shot at the 4 million.

If I was half the reporter I say I am, I would’ve noted which foot, left or right, landed at the magical moment.  But I did not.  And neither was I able to stop perfectly.  The pedometer slid by to the 2,944th step, one step beyond 4 mil.  But no matter. 

Today marked only the official count, a symbolic triumph.  In reality I reached 4 mil many days ago.  Only the gods know when.  I may walk 50 steps a day or more that never get counted.  Some mornings as I awake it takes a while for it to sink in.  “Now where did I leave that pedometer last night?”   So I waste steps looking for it.  And on the few days I have a heavy thought I simply forget to snap the gadget on. 

I doubt I can ever do better than this.  More, I doubt that I will ever want to do better than this.  To do 4 million took work.  More time each day that I wanted to spend, just to walk.  But I know this.  I’ll probably be wearing a pedometer the rest of my waking life.  It’s like a birthmark or a toe or a finger.  I can’t imagine myself without it.

But there is irony involved.  Nebra pointed it out to me just minutes ago.  On the day I hit 4 million I failed to reach 10,000 steps for the day.  Just now at midnight I have only 8,469.  I was too wrapped up in writing  this blog and at the same time watching the waning minutes of the Spurs-Nuggets game.  Too wrapped up for a short walk.

Oh well.  In the walking world, there is always tomorrow.  The pedometer zeroes out at midnight.

Slavery to a pedometer and Striking Distance

I never thought I would end up like this.  I’m a slave to the numbers on my pedometer. 

Everyday my self-worth is at risk.  It’s like academia’s mantra, Publish or Perish.  I must walk 10,000 steps or I’m a failure.  This all started, as I’ve written before, when I purchased a Japanese-made digital pedometer more than a year ago.   (Does America make anything anymore?)  The instrument has slowly but surely taken over my life. 

At one time during the past year, I coined a walking term.  Striking Distance.  Striking Distance is the number of steps I need to take before midnight to reach my goal of 10,000.  It is something I usually assess around 6 in the evening.  It has to be something within reason.  If I need 5,000 steps, it is futile, not worth the effort, and I accept the horrible truth about myself. 

 Striking Distance has changed recently.  It once was 3,500 more steps before midnight.  Now it is 4,500.  I even have a 4,500-step route that I know I can achieve even if I wait until 11:15 p.m.

Now a new Striking Distance emerged.  I realized tonight on my way back by car from The Gelato Spot that I am within Striking Distance of 4 million steps for the year, by the end of December.   Two scoops of gelato, by the way, is what the monthly loser buys the champion, and tonight I collected my August prize from Nebra, who won in July.

For the year, I have walked 3,136,051 measured steps.  That means I have to average a fraction more than 9,390 steps a day through December 31, a number that doesn’t at all frighten me.  I averaged 11,824 last month.  Nebra has a much more difficult task to reach 4 million.  She will have to do 12,223 a day.

Anyway, to see how ridiculous this pedometer thing has gotten, here we were driving home from gelato and as we approached the house I asked Nebra to stop the car and let me out.  It was after 11 o’clock and I was still 600 steps short.  I must, mandated almost by my little black instrument, to walk two more blocks.  No problem.  Another 10,000 is now in the books, a 32nd straight day I have not felt like a failure.  But it was victory and slavery at the same time.

Number of steps in a lifetime?

How many steps will you walk in a lifetime? 

No one knows for sure.  That’s because of course no one counts them.  I myself was remiss.  I failed as a parent when I did not have a pedometer implanted in the waists of my infant children.  I could have made history that way, maybe even made Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  

But having used a digital pedometer now for nine months, I have at last become an expert at something.  I can now estimate the number of steps the average American will take in a lifetime of 78.4 years, and I can do that without fear of contradiction, largely because no one but me would spend a few minutes figuring it out.

 I will start by paring off three years.  A year and a half before we learn to walk, and another year and a half at the end when we don’t or can’t move a single muscle.  That leaves the average American’s walking life at 75 years.  Ah, a walking life.  I just invented a statistical term. 

 Anyway, by deep introspection and mulling over my experiences, I believe the average American will average, and I’m being generous here, 7,500 steps a day.   That’s not much activity.  But we do have our priorities.  TV and the car for starters.  And for the few of us who still do it, book reading.  Anyway that totals 2.735 million steps a year.

Now multiply it times the 75 years of walking life and you reach roughly 205 million steps during your life.  Now that is a statistic you don’t see everyday.  Of course you must figure out the tricky part:  Are you an average American?

Not all steps are equal

In trying to walk 10,000 steps a day for health, I have found there are steps and then there are moderate steps.  Both are OK.  Moderate is better.

That’s what I like about my Omron digital pedometer.  It measures both. 

Moderate steps,  says about.com quoting from a Canadian study, improve aerobic fitness and reduces systolic blood pressure (the upper number in a BP reading).  The study also found non-moderate steps can burn the same amount of calories and reduce “fasting” blood glucose and cholesterol.’

A moderate step is normal walking speed or one taken at a brisk pace.  That comes to 2.5 mph to 3.4 mph, according to my pedometer’s instruction manual.  Shuffling around the house won’t count as moderate steps.

Anyone who has ridden a treadmill knows that 2.5 mph is an easy pace for most, that 4 mph is slow jog and that 6 mph is running. 

Since we began a walking program this year, Nebra and I have take more than 1.4 million total steps.  Of those about 60 percent, or three in five, have been moderate ones. 

This month, for example, Nebra’s percentage of moderate steps is 63.6 %.  Mine averages 59.7 %. 

I refuse to get manic about this walking thing.  I don’t intend to overdo it.  And at times I resent the time away from reading books and writing.  I started the program in September of last  year, and it quickly became a part of my daily routine.

[For a record of my daily, monthly and yearly step count, see the Walking page.]

Taking steps

10,000 steps a day can run into work

The average American will take well over one million steps a year despite a penchant to avoid anything physical.

That may sound like a lot, but a million steps comes out to a toe or two shy of 2,740 a day.  You can almost do that by lying on the sofa watching the tube and padding to the refrigerator and back 27 times.

To be fit, some believe, you must do almost four times that amount of steps.  The goal is 10,000 a day.   Or 3.65 million a year.  It’s harder than you think.

To reach 10,000 steps a day you will more than likely have to plan an extra walk or two.  Unless you are a waitress or construction worker.  Or an avid sleepwalker.  So you probably need something to spur you.

For me, the impetus to walk more was the purchase of an accurate digital pedometer, cost about $40.  With its magic, it spurred me to walk that extra block or two, to park the car in the farthest reaches of the mall’s lot and, if you become manic like me, to set personal records.

Take yesterday.  I needed 12,184 steps to average over 12,000 a day for the month of April.  Nebra required 9,961 to keep her average above 10,000.  We both went to extraordinary efforts to reach those goals.

Having whiled away most of the day in lethargy, I jumped on the treadmill at the Y for 53 minutes and closed out April with the big bang of 15,347 steps.  That left my monthly average at 12,105.  A personal best since I first began counting steps last September.

Nebra also found herself in a bind due to her office work.  She came home in the evening and walked along Central Avenue, until I picked her up for a late supper at Macayo’s.  Even then, she needed 2,000 steps.  So on the way home, I let her out of the car so she could walk back. In the end, her daily total was 10,381, leaving her daily average for April at 10,014. 

Both of us crossed the million-step mark for 2010 weeks ago.  Nebra on April 19, I on the 7th. 

At my present pace of 10,745 steps a day for the year, I’ll have 3.91 million by December 31.  Already, I can see a frantic Holiday period trying to reach 4 million.

Dueling pedometers

For Christmas, I gave Nebra a digital pedometer to match mine.   The pedometer is a very accurate Omron HJ-303.  She had one of those erratic pendulum pedometers and was unhappy with it.  I thought the gift would bring an even larger smile to her usually sunny face and it did.

I also thought it might be interesting if we could compare the number of steps as we marched along our separate ways during the day.  And maybe it would motivate us in our goal to reach that magical 10,000 steps every day.

“Let the competition begin,” I said as the New Year rolled in. Little did I realize what a foolish suggestion that was.  

 What competition?   Nebra has smoked me the first two weeks of the year.  She is averaging 708 steps more a day than I.  It doesn’t sound like much, those 708 steps.  It’s just over a quarter of a mile.   But they add up, as I’ve soberly come to realize.  As of yesterday, Debra’s average was 10,310 steps a day. Mine was 9,602.

Counting steps is nothing new, if my limited research is right.  The Romans did it with their own mechanized devices.  Leonardo da Vinci thought such a device would have military value.  Some credit our former president, Thomas Jefferson, for bringing pedometers to the U.S. from France at the turn of the 19th Century.

The recent popularity of pedometers in the U.S. is due to yet another foreign import, so I’ve read.   In 1965, a Japanese company began marketing a “manpo-kei.”    I believe the translation is “10,000 steps meter.”  I remember giving my suddenly health-aware father a nice pendulum pedometer for Christmas almost 30 years ago.  And now my digital and Nebra’s are made by the Omron Corporation in Kyoto, Japan, as part of its healthcare business. 

The magic of 10,000 steps is this.  It is equal to what I believe is the Center of Disease Control’s recommendation of walking five miles a day for good health.  Another website classified steps this way:  5,000 sedentary lifestyle, 7,500 somewhat active, 10,000 active and 12,500 and up, very active.  Most Americans must dedicate themselves to an extra walk or two a day to meet the 10,000.   To me, having a reliable pedometer is key. 

The HJ-303 does all but put on your socks with its four modes.  It records daily steps and keeps a memory of them for seven days.  It also zeroes out automatically at midnight and starts a new summary.  The pedometer counts the “moderate” steps separately.  If you can take 100 steps in a minute, then those are the moderate steps I’m talking about.  This pedometer also measures calories burned and computes mileage walked.  The last function is a trip meter, the only mode that can be reset.

Three times this morning on the way to the corner coffee shop, I checked for accuracy. I counted 200 steps myself, then checked the pedometer.  The pedometer’s results were 201, 201 and 200.  That’s an accuracy of 99.7 percent.  Or an error of about 30 steps in a 10,000-step day.

I’m less satisfied with the Omron’s trip button.  It seems to get increasingly hard to reset.  And the mileage is off some, though I have likely not measured my stride accurately.  Right now it has my distance at 1.2 miles, but it should read 1.5 considering I am at 3,000 steps and my usual count is 2,000 steps to the mile.  But for $40 at REI, the pedometer, my first digital, has been a bargain.

In any case I hope to start a special blog page soon, showing our household “competition” from the start of the year to its end.  I’ve even thought of a monthly traveling trophy to the winner, the trophy being kept by the yearly champion and engraved. 

No matter the outcome, I have pegged myself a winner.  The competition motivates me to a more active life.  And, I hope, to better health, though it is not bad by any stretch that I can tell.  I’m averaging 9,600 steps a day through the first two weeks.  That comes to an amazing 3.5 million steps a  year.