Red Winged Black Bird on a fence post in a field.

Winter Walk January 1 2009


Category: General

Since I live in an apartment, there isn't much shoveling for me to do. I miss it a little, but not enough to rush back into a house that costs a fortune to heat. To get out and get exercise, there are two options. On really cold days, I go to the mall and meander around with the old people. When the weather is more cooperative, I head out to the state parks.

Today was a relatively nice day. The temperatures were in the mid-thirties (Fahrenheit) and the winds were light and out of the south. Recent warmth cleared most of the roads of their winter hazards, so it was a great day to head to the park.

Naturally, I took the scenic route. I started on the Interstate highway just to warm up the car. Then I turned off onto county roads. The path took me through Alburnett, along E-16, and through Central City. Where E-16 met with X-28, I turned south toward Anamosa. Oh what a winding and beautiful road that is.

These county roads provide a wondrous view of the Iowan countryside: the rolling hills, the farmsteads, the fields and livestock. There are also the odors, of course. Because I am a native of rural Iowa, the odors don't bother me too much. I actually enjoy the scent of silage, though it is just slightly rotted vegetation.

The route took me to Wapsipinicon State Park. They close parts of the park to automobiles during winter. After all, the park is a park because it is even more winding and hilly than the rest of the countryside. The road along the river is open all the way to the Upside-Down Bridge over/under Dutch Creek.

I parked at the barricade and put on all my cold weather gear. Even if the temperatures are in the mid-thirties, I'm in my early forties and don't generate body heat as well as I did when I was a kid. Following the instructions of my cardiologist, I kept my cell phone with me, just in case.

A large snow bank hid the clear path, but I found my way to the foot bridge over Dutch Creek. The foot bridge arcs gracefully over the stream just a few meters up from the Upside-Down Bridge. Ice covered most of Dutch Creek right up to the Upside-Down Bridge. There, the rushing water broke through and ran across the pavement to the other side. Rushing water, within its banks, is almost always pretty.

The snow on the other side of the foot bridge provided treacherous footing. Previous pedestrians put pock marks in the snow in the form of footprints. The recent warming turned those footprints into ice pockets. If not careful, a person could easily twist an ankle there. I was out to get exercise, so I trudged along.

As I got further away from the parking area, the footprints diminished. That made for safer footing. Every step crunched through the ice-covered snow. A rustling sound drew my attention to the ice along the creek. My crunching startled a beaver and the poor thing scrambled across the rime to find safety.

The fork in the road brought a decision. The paved road, though covered with snow and ice, made for a level walking surface. The footprints showed that others had made that choice. The path through the trees is uneven and poorly defined in good weather.

I took the path. That's when something else took me. Every so often, the part of my brain that reminds me that I'm not young any more decides to take a nap at an inopportune time. When that happens, youthful impulses occasionally go unchecked. Oh the suffering this can cause.

As fast as I could, I ran uphill along the path, across the frozen, uneven path. The cold, dry air burned through my lungs. My heart beat frantically, trying to keep up with the stupidity of me running uphill in the middle of winter.

At the half-way point, the trail leveled off. I stopped there. My throat and lungs screamed out with every breath. They got together with my heart and threatened to unionize. For long minutes, I stood there and gasped for air.

That became a decision moment. Winter brings about many decisions involving the difference between uncomfortable and harmful. I had to decide whether the activity so far had been harmful or just uncomfortable. If I decided to go on with my walk, would that become harmful? Even passing out in the middle of the woods in winter would probably be fatal. Someone walking their dog on the trail would find my frozen body later.

I thought back to the early days of my heart treatment. One of the reasons I got better was because I pushed myself just a little harder than I should. As my breath came back, I realized that I could do that again. This was no time to wimp out, though I may not do any more running for the day.

Sure that my lungs were still working and that my heart had slowed to just fast, I turned to face the rest of the hill. One foot in front of the other, I went up to the crest.

The walk back to the car didn't seem to take very long, probably because it went down hill and the wind blew against my back. I sat in the car and warmed a moment. The entire walk took only half an hour, but it seemed longer. Time crawls when it's frozen to a tree.

State Highway 1 intersects County Home Road at Fairview. I took that route past the care center and the land fill and turned south just past the soccer fields. Even with the heat turned down in my apartment, it felt plenty warm when I got in. These winter walks are good not just for my body, but for my mind and soul as well. It's nice to know that I can still survive a walk through the snow.

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