December 11, 2012

Longer in the tooth means a shorter stride and I can't count anymore

All hikers have diversions. Their thoughts turn away from the trail at various times and focus on other aspects of life. How can this not happen. The outdoors is a perfect setting for the mind to wander. This can often be the case when hiking mile after mile along a low elevation trail bordered with seemingly nothing more than ferns and firs.

The green and brown shapes among the ferns and firs

Often, while walking through a low elevation forest with no extended views and nothing but continuous brown and green shapes to look at, the mind turns toward a myriad of other things. I often think about work (only because I enjoy my job) or what I need to do the following week to keep up with life. I think about my daughter and, sometimes, thoughts turn toward a minor ailment (like tendonitis), that is keeping me from hiking without pain.

One diversion I started many years ago when hiking, after all the other diversions on a particular hike had ran their course, was keeping track of how many strides it took to get to a certain point on the trail. Too cheap to go out and purchase a pedometer, I simply went down to the local track and counted how many of my steps it took to cover one lap. It was 480.

So, whenever I counted my steps along the trail and reached 480, I had covered pretty darn close to a quarter mile. By adding a few steps for uphill trail sections when my stride was shorter and eliminating a few on moderate downhill sections when it was slightly longer, I could calculate the distance I had hiked and how far I had yet to travel to a particular destination.

Lately, my calculations have been off. I was coming up short. At 960 steps I was not covering a half mile. At 1920 steps I was well short of a mile.

I immediately realized the cause of my dilemma. I chalked it up to getting older, the muscles not as stretchy and tendons a little stiffer. I figured that since the last time I counted my steps, a few knee surgeries and an ongoing bout with tendonitis had likely shortened my stride.

So, I went down to the track tonight to count my steps again. I started counting after one warmup lap and averaged together three of the five total laps walked after the warmup lap. I averaged only those three because they were close to what I now know is my new count for a quarter mile – 490 – an increase of 10 steps. My stride for a quarter mile has shortened by that much.

The reason why I didn’t average the other two laps is because one was 510 steps and the other was 460. There is no way that either of those numbers could have been right while covering them at the same pace and stride as the other three laps. I must have miscounted.

My conclusion is this. There is no way that 10 steps could throw off my calculations by as much as I had experienced. After all, 40 steps over one mile is not that much distance. No, my problem with the calculations is not physical but mental. I can’t count anymore! Sixty-five, sixty-six, sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, ninety, ninety-one, ninety-two . . . . It happens way too easy these days while focused on trying not to trip over a rock or stick on the trail.