Saturday, May 10, 2008

from 9:00AM to 3:57PM: 21 miles

I broke the 20-mile barrier today while walking unencumbered: 21 miles, if I'm not mistaken. I walked up to the beginning of Old Town Alexandria, stood above Route 95 for a minute, then turned around and trekked on home.

Aspirin has pretty much become part of my diet now. While I'm not in any serious pain, my muscles stiffen up quickly after each long walk, and the result is a sizable ache. I do stretch down, but I think a lot of the problem is a simple lack of conditioning-- something I expect to change as the walk proceeds. Today, breaking the 20-mile barrier seems like something special, but six months from now, I imagine such a walk will be a mere routine.

Watch for an update once I have the exact measurement for today's walk. I'm Google Earth-ing it now.

UPDATE: The distance is 10.68 miles! So I did 21.36 miles in 6 hours and 57 minutes, which means I averaged 3.07mph. Again-- unencumbered. My speed goes down drastically when I start adding weight.


Friday, May 9, 2008

takin' a break

I was hoping to walk 21 miles without encumbrance today, but after listening to my parents' 6:30AM misgivings about the heavy rain, I stayed in bed.

And now I feel guilty. It's not raining as I write this.

But today might be a good day to catch up on other matters; we'll try the 21 miles tomorrow.

To answer two questions from commenters:

1. Why carry 70 pounds? Why not 40-45 pounds?

Because it's good practice (I'm not there yet, of course; I've done only up to 32 pounds), and I suspect there may be regions through which it'll be necessary for me to carry a lot of water. I agree that, realistically speaking, I probably won't be carrying more than 50 pounds, but I still think that feeling 70 pounds will make bearing the lesser weight easier.

2. Why pack your backpack with dumbbells and sacks of flour? Wouldn't you have more realistic weight distribution by packing in items you'll actually be carrying?

On my current hikes, I've been using a smallish Eddie Bauer backpack that's supposed to function more as a bookbag than as something to take on a day hike. The bag has only two straps; it's not big enough to have a hip belt and lumbar support, so no matter what materials I stick in the pack, it'll always hang directly off my shoulders. I already arrange that weight symmetrically, and I'd do the same with the full-scale pack, so balance isn't really an issue here. Had I stuffed the pack with 30 pounds' worth of realistic trip items, I'd have felt the same painful pressure on my left shoulder.

Today or tomorrow, I'm very likely to go buy a mess of supplies, including a gorgeous Gregory pack I saw at REI* when I was there with my brother David. Once I have that backpack, I'll definitely be hiking the GW Parkway bike path with it. I pass by Park Service dudes every day when walking past the tourists' entrance of Mount Vernon Estate, and they've seen me with increasingly heavier loads on my back. The new backpack ought to make an interesting impression.

*The pack costs $350, and it's not part of the REI anniversary sale. Ouch. (By the way, yes, I'm comparison shopping.)


mad cow madness in South Korea

I really hope some of my Current Events English students take a look at this article about South Korean hysteria re: American beef. The main reason for this hysteria is, in my opinion, a strong current of anti-FTA sentiment in the general population as certain Korean producers fear market penetration by foreign competition. Competition would, of course, reduce prices (why are peaches over $3 apiece in Korea?) and allow the average consumer a better menu of options.

Deeper than the anti-FTA sentiment, however, is an entrenched ambivalence about America itself-- its power and its influence. Many Koreans resent the omnipresence of American culture in their country (even while embracing Coke, jeans, and hip-hop), and the sight of US troops on Korean soil is, nowadays, a bitter reminder that South Korea isn't free of its past. Personally, I agree with Korean resentment at the presence of foreign troops: how would I feel if French soldiers were patrolling the streets of DC? But some Korean negativity is based on irrational thinking, and the Korean press (along with the Netizenry) often takes advantage of irrationality to spread the sort of hysteria we're currently seeing.*

A little more calm and objectivity would be nice. Imagine if Americans began boycotting Korean products en masse (electronics, cars, food, etc.) for flimsy, ad hoc political reasons. How would this look from the Korean perspective? Ridiculously immature? Of course it would.

*I'm not saying all Koreans are irrational. On the contrary, many are more rational than Americans! But Koreans have a reputation, somewhat justified, as a passionate, emotional people who don't always view situations with sang froid.


Thursday, May 8, 2008


I'm all for nanotech and can't understand people who have religious objections to it. Instapundit just linked to this KurzweilAI article about nanoworms, a new approach to treating cancer. I hope this is vigorously pursued.

Come to think of it, a nanotech solution to city and suburban plumbing problems would be nice. Imagine the ultimate Liquid Plumr! It'd operate on many of the same principles as the cancer-fighting nanoworms, I think, but instead of traveling through blood vessels, the vermiform nanobots would be crawling through pipes.


from 7:23AM to 1:29PM: 16 miles, 32 pounds

Not a good day today in terms of speed. Thankfully, it was rainy, which made the experience less hellish. My poor backpack, purchased only a few days ago, is already strained to the limit: I stuck 32 pounds in it today. One object was a 20-pound dumbbell; I also had two 5-pound sacks of flour, plus my 32-ounce water bottle.

Aerobically speaking, the sixteen-mile walk hasn't been a problem, especially on relatively level ground (despite a few small hills, this path is mostly level). My knees are still fine, and because I switched to a different pair of Spandex pants today, my crotch uttered a sigh of relief. But the backpack's left strap continued to bite into my shoulder (I think the problem is more with my shoulder than with the strap), so I loosened the strap and thrust my forearm back through the loop so as to remove a bit of the pressure from the shoulder. I looked as though my arm was in a splint, and after a while, the forearm began to go numb, but these were small prices to pay for the relief my shoulder experienced. (My hands are still almost comically swollen as I type this, by the way.)

I'll be purchasing my monster backpack soon (there's a sale going on until the 11th at the local REIs), and will have to take this shoulder strap problem into consideration. I expect a decent hip belt to alleviate most of the pressure, and a connecting chest strap will help tug the shoulder straps toward each other across my chest, but I'd rather that this 3000-plus-mile trek be as pain-free as possible. I might have to look into extra padding of some sort. The foam rubber rolls that are unrolled as rectangles and slipped under sleeping bags would be, I think, exactly what I need.

I took my first break today; it happened at Fort Hunt Park on the way back home. The park lies at about the 2.75-mile mark on the trail from Mount Vernon, which means I stopped after hiking about 11.25 miles (8 miles to the halfway point, then 3.25 miles to the park's entrance). It was raining, so I tromped into the park and went under the main pavilion for fifteen minutes. A few cars were parked here and there in the parking lots along the perimeter road, but the pavilion itself was empty except for yours truly. One end of the pavilion features a huge concrete stage; the open area in front of the pavilion throngs with typical picnic-style trestle tables, hunched and gray, and all of slightly different heights, as seems always to be the case at parks. The center of the pavilion features a huge brick fireplace.

Pain kept me from enjoying the rainy scenery too much, and I was still gripped by the fear of what would happen if I rested too long. My main worry has always been that my muscles will seize up if I sit too long; I therefore spent my fifteen minutes standing and walking around, gulping half of my water bottle's contents (I suppose I was, technically, still carrying that water; I didn't sweat much out). Then it was time to go; I painfully returned my pack to my shoulders, slipped my left arm back into its "sling" position, and made my way home, feet and armpits singing their arias of pain.*

Only one baby-pusher on the trail today; the other young mothers had apparently thought better of exposing their children to this morning's and afternoon's rain and wind. The Potomac river was roiling in two shades of brown this morning; it's never been a beautiful river, but it gets points for its age and stateliness. The first two miles of the trail, I saw almost no one, but as the hours crept on, bikers, dog-walkers, and runners eventually made their appearance.

The Spanish-speaking Park Service crews were out in force despite the wetness, piloting mammoth lawn mowers and trimming foliage with a variety of gas-powered and manual tools. I nod to these guys as I pass them every day; some nod back while others either ignore me or stare. Having been mistaken for Hispanic on several occasions while in DC, I keep expecting one of these guys to open up on me with full-speed Spanish. I took a single semester of Spanish at a local community college back in 1991, but the course didn't even get us to the past tense (I liked the teacher and course design, though). It wasn't an intensive course, so I didn't really expect it to take us far. Spanish isn't hard to learn if you've already studied another Romance language; my French stood me in good stead and I ended up with an easy "A" in the class. Sometimes I think it'd be neat to go back and learn Spanish in earnest, but my poor brain is already shrinking, so I fear I won't be able to retain whatever I learn (read Malcolm's interesting post on memory for one possible solution to my retention problem).

Later today, if I have time, I hope to upload the most recent photos I have-- pics from the final week in Korea, plus a long series of photos that show you the first few miles of my daily walk. I also hope to comment further on the William Lane Craig video (Charles has already left an excellent reaction). Ah, yes: today's speed, if we include my 15-minute break, was a measly 2.62mph. I shudder to think how slowly I'll be going on inclines and with 70 pounds on my back. Someone needs to pave me a path that leads straight from Vancouver to DC and always tends downhill. So what if I end up underground by the time I hit DC? I'll visit Dick Cheney in his bunker.

*The feet aren't too bad; they definitely ache, but there are no sharp pains.


do all religions teach the same thing?

I found two interesting YouTube videos on this question, here and here. What are your thoughts on this issue?

(Psst! If you're interested in my own response to this question, think about buying my book! You can read an older version of the essay that made it into my book here.)


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

some possible paths for the walk

Here's an animated look at what I hope the walk will be like, as well as what I fear the walk might be like:

You saw, in the above animation, a route labelled "possible, but circuitous." Taking that route during the winter might not be a bad thing, and traveling along the West Coast would allow me to hit more than a few Buddhist temples along with all the other houses of worship, but what worries me about a U-shaped path is that it promises to take a long time.

I'd rather not spend more than two years on this walk; in fact, I'd like to have it done before I turn 40, which will be on August 31, 2009. That gives me fifteen months to cross the US. As discussed long ago (see FAQ, Question 8), it's theoretically possible to cross the country in 150-200 days if I average 20 miles a day, travel every single day, and follow a route that's about 3000-4000 miles in length. But realistically speaking, I can expect the walk to last longer than a year. Is fifteen months also too short? When we include the possibility of injury, fatigue, discussions that last more than a single day, etc., the timetable for the walk begins to stretch like Einsteinian taffy. I hope that I can, in fact, make it back home before my 40th birthday, but life doesn't come with guarantees, now, does it?

Perhaps it's enough just to come home in one piece, eh?


10 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes

Today was an "exactly 3mph" day, as I did only ten miles from 8:42AM to 12:02PM, i.e., 200 minutes. You'll recall that I wanted to ease off after yesterday's 16-mile trek; today, I had 22 pounds in my backpack (yesterday's load plus a 3-pound dumbbell and the single-volume edition of Bill Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy-- the first book of which is titled The Golden Compass here in the States and Northern Lights elsewhere*). I'm pretty sure this extra weight helped slow me down. As I stare at my thick waistline, Mother Nature's lesson on the relationship between body weight and mobility is not lost on me.

The heavier backpack has, alas, introduced a new problem: the left strap seems to put too much pressure on the front of my left shoulder, which makes it painful for me to rotate my left hand and to lift that arm (e.g., to scratch my head). I think this nuisance will be easy to rectify: I just need a bit of tough foam padding to slip under the strap; this will both relieve the direct pressure and redistribute it over a wider area.

A problem not mentioned yesterday-- cover your eyes, ladies-- is crotch-related. I'm wearing Spandex biker pants inside my sweatpants to keep my inner thighs from chafing. This strategy has been largely successful: the thighs suffer not, and I don't need to pay extra for magical ointments and poultices. Unfortunately, the Spandex pants introduce a different set of problems: the seams, which roughly follow the fold of the hip, are thickly sewn and produce chafing of their own where the inner thigh joins the, uh, rest of the body.

I may need to find a pair of Spandex or Lycra pants that aren't woven the way biker pants are-- I may need Spandex walker's pants. This is one of those issues that has to be taken care of quickly: walking anywhere from 15 to 30 miles per day will mean taking almost 30,000 steps per day, which is 30,000 opportunities to experience crotch-related pain. I need to allow the current problem to heal a bit so I can begin the walk without fear of unnecessary bloodiness.

Write in with ideas if you have them.

*This was done with the first book of the Harry Potter series as well: JK Rowling's original title for the first book, the one seen in UK stores (and in Korea, too-- Korea sells both US and UK versions of the Harry Potter series), was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Why this was changed from Philosopher's Stone to Sorceror's Stone (the US title) is beyond me. Do the Brits think we have no idea what a philosopher's stone is? Or is it something more insidious: do American publishers think we have no idea what a philosopher's stone is? Politically speaking, it wouldn't be the first time that one sector of the American public arrogantly thought another sector was stupid.

Even more confusing is the change in the Pullman book's title. What was wrong with the phrase "Northern Lights"?


ow, aigo, aïe

Still achy this morning, so today's workout might be significantly less strenuous than yesterday's. Allergies are back, too, so it looks as though aspirin and Claritin are my new best friends.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

one of those strange observations

When I was at church this past Sunday, two people wondered why I was starting in Canada. They seemed unable to process the notion that a walk across America (as in the United States of America, not the more generic North America) might start outside the country. I'm guessing they didn't check their church newsletter from a month or so back, wherein this blog's address was advertised. Had they visited the blog and viewed the FAQ, they'd have seen that this walk is indeed a walk across the United States: I start just across the border in Canada because a Canadian friend of mine invited me there, but once I cross the US/Canada border, I'm heading to the Pacific, touching the water, then striking generally east and south until I hit the Atlantic-- all while within the borders of the mainland United States.

I hope this clears things up. This is in good sooth a walk across America in the sense most people understand it. Consider the short Canadian leg a prelude, if you will; that's how my Canuck buddy views it.


thoughts on "Iron Man"

My buddy Charles writes an insightful review of the new Robert Downey vehicle.


from 7:19AM to 12:36PM: 16 miles

Today I broke the 15-mile mark and started wearing a backpack. Sixteen miles-- up to the 6-mile marker and back, which finally takes me across the stone bridge that is a distinctive feature of the stretch of the GW Parkway running south from Old Town Alexandria to the Mount Vernon estate.* Today's encumbrance: 17 pounds, not including the pack itself. My dad found two 5-pound sacks of flour and a 5-pound sack of sugar to stuff in the pack (I bought the pack from Target last night); I added a 32-ounce bottle of water, which I didn't drink (plenty of water fountains up and down the trail, most of which I visited on the return trip). The flour, sugar, and water turned out to be more than enough to begin with.

This was the first day I truly felt that I'd been working out. The weather's a bit warmer now, and the added encumbrance, which wasn't significant during the first half of the walk, made itself felt during the return trip. My feet were hurting by the time I got home (I didn't rest during the walk except to stop briefly for water at several water fountains); the extra weight got my heart rate up and I had to puff a bit up some of the hills-- nothing to compare with a Namsan hike in Seoul (itself not very difficult compared to, say, a day hike up Bukhan-san or Gwanak-san), but I could feel the incline this time around. This doesn't bode well: I need to be able to hike 30 miles with a 70-pound encumbrance, and while today's speed was still respectable (16 miles in 05:17:00, or 3.03mph), I worry about how slow I'm going to be-- and how much my feet are going to hurt-- by the time I hit 30 miles and 70 pounds on my training calendar. I already know, thanks to all this, that I'm highly unlikely to attempt a walk longer than 30 miles in a single day. Ten leagues is enough, ja?

Still, it was good to get the pack on and get my shoulder and armpit skin ready for the megachafing to come. I've been wanting to train with a pack on so I can anticipate possible problems en route; today's sortie gave me some small idea of what to expect, and my tender pit skin is on alert that it's only downhill from here. I foresee chapping, blistering, and peeling skin in my future. I'd offer you photos of the current redness, but I'm not eager to scare readers away, and I also worry that some uptight soul might look at a closeup of my armpits and think I was displaying porn.

A lot of young mothers were out today, jogging with their kids in those huge, exaggerated strollers (is "pram" too pretentious a term for these monsters?). I probably shouldn't say this, but I couldn't help noticing that those ladies were lookin' mighty fine.

Having had this walking routine for eight days now, I've begun to recognize certain regulars on the trail, and we've started to say hello more cordially than before. I haven't tried sitting down and resting during the daily walks because I'm afraid I'll cramp up and find it impossible to continue comfortably; this dooms me to slog onward without opening my pack for water (the 32-ounce bottle in my backpack remained unopened today). I expect this situation to correct itself as I get used to heavier loads and longer distances.

Right now, I'm tired as hell and desperately need a shower-- something I hope to do every day during the actual walk across America before I sit down and talk religion with the folks I meet. I'd hate to pow-wow while stanky.

And that's the progress report for today. If you're following the chart I laid out, you'll have noticed that I'm well ahead of schedule in terms of time/distance, and slightly ahead of schedule in terms of encumbrance. By this Saturday, I need to have the weight up to 30 pounds. Ouch.

Your spiritual exercise for today: what metaphor comes to mind when you think of religious pluralism? E.g., a mountain with many paths leading to a single summit? If so, what do the paths represent? How important is it that the paths be the same or different? What does the summit represent? Why not envision more than one summit? Do some of the paths on this mountain lead either nowhere, or back into the valley? Why? Is your personal metaphor even pluralistic? When you think about religious diversity, do you imagine a single true path and many erroneous ones? Do you imagine many paths, all of which eventually funnel into your path? Are you an atheist who sees all the paths as wrong (e.g., the mountain's summit is a volcanic crater into which the misguided fall)? Comments welcome.

*A double-decker bus crash there, many years back, prompted the installation of large yellow-and-black signs announcing the bridge arch's height at two points: the arch's center, and the arch's height over the right lane, both southbound and northbound.


Monday, May 5, 2008

from 7:34AM to 12:08PM: 14 miles

I did my first 14-mile walk in a long time today (3.07mph). The last time I walked such a distance was probably 1991, when I and my brother David did the perimeter of the Brienzersee, a lake to the east of the aptly named Interlaken, Switzerland.* At that time, David and I did a two-day hike which took us up into the mountains before we actually began following the lake's perimeter; we did about 13-15 miles the first day of the hike.

Today's hike featured my very first "Hey! Fuck you!" yelled out the window of a car by a high schooler, right around 7:40AM, the beginning of the hike. I feel weirdly blessed, almost as though I'd been crapped on by a bird (aren't bird droppings jokingly referred to as blessings from above?).

I've met a few interesting characters during my daily walks; one gentleman, walking with his wife, sported a cowboy hat and was puffing on a cigar (no joke), all while dressed in athletic clothes. Now that's how you work out! I also crossed paths with a very lanky older gentleman, a jogger, who wheezed past me in a way that reminded me a bit of General Grievous. I've also met one friendly lady who likes talking to her dog, which appears to be a collie that's gone through some sort of shrinking process. What's the proper term for a pygmy collie?

One thing I've had to re-learn since coming back from South Korea is that, contrary to the Korean stereotype, not all Americans will say hello to you on the bike path. Most will, it's true, and perhaps that's enough for the stereotype to exist ("Americans say hello to people they don't know!"). But over the past seven days of walking, I've encountered a healthy minority of people who won't acknowledge my presence. Not that I'm much of a greeter myself: I normally just nod, and if my interlocutor offers a spoken greeting-- a "Good morning!" or "Beautiful day!", for example-- my reply is generally a terse, "Morning."

My daily walk is also a meditation on impermanence: every day, I wade through piles of the dead-- dead tent caterpillars, that is. These are usually bad news for local trees, and I think many people on the trail are aware of this: when I pass through a dense patch of woods, I see piles of little corpses, often dried, all flattened as if by bike tires or footwear. Here's a pic of the little critters I found online (I'll be putting up my own pics of these guys later on):

Writer Khalil Gibran, writing in the 1800s, wrote of children:

Your children are not your children:
they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.

This is no less true of the beasties that populate our world: they, too, represent life's urge to continue itself. Tent caterpillars are no less children of ultimate reality than we are. Alas, we all compete for the same space, which means death necessarily enters the picture: birds eat the caterpillars, people squash them, heat cooks them on the bike path. That's life. Reality is always moving, always making room for something else. We live in the Great Churning, if I may wax Hindu for a moment.

Such are the thoughts I think as I lumber along the bike path.

And now it's time for lunch, for the Kevin must eat. That's right: more death.

*Interlaken, as its name implies, sits between two lakes: Lac Thun (or the Thunersee) to the west, and Lac Brienz (or the Brienzersee) to the east. I've hiked the Brienzersee's perimeter twice and have never attempted the larger Lac Thun.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

happy birthday, Mom!

Today is my mother's birthday. I'm supposed to be prepping a rather complicated dinner for her, but she's decided to forgo a late-afternoon concert with Dad in favor of staying home... which means she's helping with the prep (in fact, she's doing the work right now while I blog this).

I went to church for the first time in ages today (I tended to favor Zen temples while in Korea-- long story) and told the congregation that today was Mom's 29th birthday. Apparently the joke was lost on some folks who, instead of focusing on the actual joke (i.e., once you're beyond 30, you're always 29), remarked that if Mom was 29, then she'd be younger than I am. Well, duh. Or maybe that was their way of protracting the joke. You know-- the way Tom Green beats a joke to death. All the same, it was good to see the congregation again. Many familiar faces, plus a few new ones. I also had the chance, very briefly, to meet our new pastor, who seems like a stand-up fellow.

Tonight's birthday meal is an appetizer of escargot-stuffed mushrooms, a main course of linguini with marinara (stuffed with frutti di mare), a fresh garden salad (well, not from our garden), and a dessert that is... to be announced.

UPDATE: Success! A slight change in plan with the appetizer: instead of stuffing the mushrooms, I minced them, mixed them with bread crumbs, onion, basil, and escargot butter, then baked the entire mess in a cupcake tin with the escargot, yielding twelve cups, and compliments from the parents. The pasta marinara went over even better, despite how ugly the sauce looked with shredded crab flecked all through it.


back from the morning walk

I actually started a bit early this morning-- 6:52AM was my takeoff time. Over at Riverside Park, the first major park I encounter on the path, there was a race in progress, which forced me onto the dewy grass. I have no idea whether the race was for a particular cause, but it was cool to see all those runners out there, huffing and puffing away.

I've been lucky so far: the weather for my walks has been pleasant. At some point, I hope we get some rain because I need to start prepping for inclement weather. I obviously can't prep for winter walking, but I need to do what I can.

Come to think of it, I should be taking a closer look at weather in the Vancouver/Seattle area.

More later (and thanks to recent commenters for the travel wisdom they been dispensing).