Walking Is Harder than It Looks (Blog #5)

Walking Is Harder than It Looks

Walking seems pretty easy and enjoyable. Strolling around Bruce, Binney or Pomerance Park or strolling through the Babcock Preserve in Greenwich are very pleasant.

Apple News carried a news story today about the benefits of walking, which burns fat, frees the mind, lowers cholesterol, weight and blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Walking just 22 minutes a day or two-and-a-half hours a week can reduce your risk of having a heart attack by 30%. That’s impressive. Walking calms our anxiety and centers our mind. It strengthens our muscles, bones and joints and reduces insomnia. For the 17-50% of the population (depending on state and location) that doesn’t exercise, it’s a great thing to take up.

Many groups tout walking 10,000 a day. My wife does this. It’s a wonderful goal. We all need goals. You can do most of your walking at one time or spread it out into smaller intervals.

Studies show that women who walk over 4,400 steps a day had a lower death rate than those taking just 2,700 steps a day, but the benefits level off around 7,500 steps per day.

Yesterday, I walked 16.7 miles or 38,185 steps, 55 flights, and 2.2 miles per hour, which seems very slow, unless you’re carrying an overweight backpack and are going up and down hills for hours in strange terrain in the sun and heat and wondering how this is supposed to be fun! If the benefits level off around 7,500, I walked an extra 30,685 steps for nothing!

It will get better. I’m certain, but it’s not as easy as it was when I started hiking across Spain some seven or eight years ago.

I providentially began the Camino Primitivo on August 6th – the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is one of the great Christian celebrations, especially for Orthodox Christians. You know the story. Jesus took his three closest companions – Peter, James and John – on a hike. They ascended a mountain. While they were praying, Jesus was transformed. Light mystically radiated from him, and Moses and Elijah appeared beside him.

Peter said, “Let us build a house for each of you” as if they could capture this moment forever. Then they hear God speak and call Jesus God’s beloved “Son.” It was a breakthrough moment that exposed Jesus’ identity to his disciples. The disciples were not just hiking with a great teacher and healer. They were journeying with the Son of God.

The story of the Transfiguration reminds us how all of us can be transfigured when we journey with Christ, if we recognize him as the Son of God. We will always have our faults, but God can transform us if we journey as disciples of Jesus.

So, the Feast of the Transfiguration was a great day to start my Camino. Unfortunately, I lingered all morning in Oviedo, visiting a Benedictine monastery and the Pre-Romanesque church of San Julian de Los Prados, which was founded in the 9th century. I started my hike at 12:30 p.m. Few pilgrims were in sight. The sun was shining. It was warm.

I stopped to buy a small loaf of bread and some cheese for my hike. Then I got lost. I couldn’t find the scallop-shelled markers that marked the way. I tried my GPS and plugged in a location along the first day’s trail. It led me out of the city in the wrong direction.

So, I committed a cardinal pilgrim sin and took a taxi to make up for lost time and to avoid retracing my steps and walking through more unforgettable roads just to exit Oviedo. The taxi driver dropped me off at the trail, where a marker with a scallop shell pointed the way.

I soon realized that playing tennis, swimming a mile or more a day and occasional visits to the gym in order to cycle or lift weights and a few small hikes was insufficient preparation for walking 16.7 miles on my first day.

It was not terribly fun. I listened to books on Audible in Spanish, French and Italian to pass the time. I’ve been listening to Les Miserables. I think that it’s the greatest novel ever written and the finest Christian novel as it plums the human heart and soul.

I stopped to pray in tiny chapels and churches. I asked for the Virgin Mary to bless my journey. A few miles shy of Grado, I telephoned my hostess, Marta, who picked me up and took me to Palacio Fernandez Heres – five kilometers outside Grado. It’s a magical B&B nestled in the Asturian mountains. Marta prepared a fantastic salad with “gamoneu” cheese.

Asturias has 40 major valleys. Each valley produces its own cheese. Each cheese is distinct due to the elevation where the goats, cows and sheep graze and whether the cheeses are made one, two or three types of milk. I mistakenly drank Asturian cider from a half-full glass. This was a mistake, Marta, explained.

When you pour cider, it bubbles. Asturians drink whatever they pour immediately. Otherwise, the bubbles disappear. When they see someone who slowly sips from a half-full glass, Asturians jokingly say, “He must be from Madrid!” So, we all have lessons to learn, mountains to climb and tired feet to rest, but there is joy along the way.

With love and prayers from Spain,

Marek

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