Walking isn't for the birds; they know better

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Scientists tell us that it took ages for our ancestors to learn to walk upright. Only then did they start looking for hiking trails.

Actually, for much of human existence, walking has been the main form of transportation. Even in many Third World countries today, people depend on their own two legs to get them from place to place.

But in America, we rebelled against walking decades ago.

From the beginning, we've had a love affair with the car. At one time, we even watched movies from inside our cars. Fast-food restaurants still appeal to our stay-in-the-car mentality.

I mention all this because a few months ago, spurred on by a bad back, I took up walking.

I never was an athlete. I preferred to be a couch potato. I didn't have to worry about working up a sweat.

But with back pain as a motivator, it didn't take me long to hit the pavement, walking on Cape Girardeau's asphalt trail as it winds along side Cape LaCroix Creek.

This clearly isn't an asphalt jungle, although one section of it does wind through the woods.

I'm convinced every bird in Cape Girardeau hangs out along the trail. They're constantly chirping and chatting with each other.

I started this walking thing in May when temperatures were still mild. June wasn't too bad either.

But then came July which turned the trail into an oven. In this month's sweltering heat, the trail seems misspelled. It's more like a trial by heat exhaustion.

Of course, you can still find plenty of in-shape people who jog merrily along the trail, seemingly oblivious to the killer heat. You wonder if they're real or maybe alien creatures from Mars.

At any rate, they're out there. So too are the bikers, pedaling along the path. Some people even roller skate on the trail.

They zoom past me as I make my way down the trail. At least, they provide a brief breeze.

Walking on the trail makes you appreciate trees. The part of the trail that winds through the woods provides a green canopy overhead that shelters joggers, walkers and bikers from the blazing sun. Unfortunately much of the trail isn't shaded.

With steamy August still ahead, I'm beginning to think that modern man wasn't meant for all this walking, at least not outdoors.

There's a reason why we have shopping malls. We wanted a place to walk that's air conditioned. Besides, the advantage of shopping malls is that you can always stop to buy something, which clearly helps the economy.

Walking outdoors in the heat and humidity doesn't do anything to boost the economy unless it's the fact that you'd be willing to spend your life's savings for a cold bottle of water.

Being Americans, we don't just want to walk to get somewhere. We want to walk on a nature trail, a tread mill or in a gym. We want to walk for exercise.

We wouldn't think of walking to the store or across town to see friends. We depend on our cars and vans to get us there. Besides, they're air conditioned which is a real plus in the sizzling summer heat.

As trails go, the city path isn't too bad. It goes right by a miniature golf course and driving range. You can see all the people baking in the sun there too, only they have to pay for it.

There's no charge to use the city trail, which is a good thing. Most people wouldn't pay for the right to wear out their feet and get drenched in sweat.

At any rate, I console myself with the thought that all this walking is supposed to be good for my health as long as it doesn't give me a stroke.

If I keep this up, I may be able one day to tackle the Southeast Missouri State University campus without a shuttle. But I'm not holding my breath. I'm too busy trying to catch it.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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