That’s an estimate. I figure I’ve walked along the Echo River on average twice a week for at least twenty-five years—about the time I decided I needed to incorporate intentional exercise into my life. That estimate takes into account bad weather and, recently, winters away. When I’m home and it’s nice, I walk almost every day, and almost always the same route. Out the driveway, turn left, and walk along the river for a mile and a half, to the first corner, and back. I used to go the other direction, which is in some ways a nicer walk, until neighbours started warning me about bears on that route.
For the last few weeks I’ve been walking with an app on my iPhone that tells me I’ve been lying to myself all these years and instead of a three-mile walk, it’s not quite two and a half.
The day I acquired Pacer, I smugly set off on my usual walk, certain I would hit the preset goal of 10,000 steps easily. Ha. More like 6,000. Which makes me “active” according to Pacer, but not “very active,” which I hit around 9,000. So, not only have I been deceiving myself about distance, I’ve been deceiving myself about my fitness level as well.
But the app just measures steps, so I could probably make it three miles and closer to 10,000 steps by shortening my stride.
Pacer and I agree about time. I do the walk in 50-55 minutes, and that’s been true for years. I watch that time closely. If I manage it in 50 minutes or less, I feel fit and young. If I take longer than 55 minutes, I worry that I’m getting old and frail, and I step it up the next time. The app agrees: 50-55 minutes. So far, not frail. And not old, either, I guess, since it has assigned me a name: PacerGirl1945. Okay, the 1945 sort of hints at “old”.
Even after 2,500 jaunts, this walk never bores me. At times, I’ve amused myself by plugging in. I listened to a Harry Potter audio book over many walks, years ago. I’ve gone on binges where I listen to podcasts, mostly Ideas from CBC radio. For a month or so, I listened to Garrison Keillor every day. Rarely, I’ve listened to music. But mostly, I’ve just taken the hour—well, 50 minutes or so—to look at the river and engage myself in solitary conversation. There’s never much traffic—often none at all—so there’s not much fuel for neighbourhood gossip about the crazy lady who walks along the river and talks to herself. Sometimes I stop and talk to neighbours if they’re in their yards, which of course throws my time-keeping off. Or did in the old, check-your-watch days. Pacer only counts the time when I’m actually moving.
I was thinking today, as I walked and Pacer counted, about how the river has changed. Fifty years ago it was lined with elms. By the time we arrived here, forty-three years ago, the elms were dead or dying. For a long time, their skeletons remained, but there is no sign of them now. New trees have grown up, of course–some, like this one just across the road from our house, perched precariously along the river’s edge. (It’s a maple. We’re still in the process of leafing out here in northern Ontario.)
The past twenty years saw a gradual, steady drop in water levels around the Great Lakes, and that’s affected the Echo River. Docks were left high and dry, and where my walk used to offer uninterrupted views of the water, the view is now obstructed by thickets of tag alders that have grown up along much of the shore. When they’re fully leafed out, you can’t tell there’s a river behind them.
Last year they seemed healthy enough even with their wet feet, but this year they’re budding out slowly and erratically. If water levels stay up, they may eventually disappear, but in the meantime I suspect I’ll be looking at the river through dead branches. Still, it’s good to see it returning to what seems to me it’s “proper” size.
Even the route of the walk has changed somewhat, another result of changing river levels.
About 15 years ago, a whole section of our road collapsed into the river. Literally. In a matter of moments, it just caved in. This is a cul-de-sac with no alternate route in or out, and within hours, the township had built a detour through a neighbour’s field. Within a few weeks, the road had been relocated a bit farther from the river and the bank reinforced with rock. To me, it seems counter-intuitive, but apparently the collapse was another result of low water levels. The engineers who studied the problem pointed out that nobody would approve the construction of a road this close to the river now. They compared the consistency of the clay beneath the roadbed to toothpaste and explained that the river played a role in holding the gooey mess in place by providing back-pressure on the bank. Less river, less back-pressure. Watch out, they said. So far, so good since the only place for the road to move away from the water along our stretch would be into our front yard.
I think we have to conclude that our house is on toothpaste, too. Something I’d rather not think about. What’s that song? Something about a firm foundation? It’s stood for almost a century, so I guess I won’t worry.