Functional Efficiency

For planning purposes, it is useful to consider the average consumption of food needed to cover a distance, such as a pound of dry food for 10 miles. Obviously allowances must be made for mountain miles or flat miles.

Some people insist that the same amount of calories are burned, whether you walk or run the same distance. While this statement makes sense as a general rule, there must be exceptions. You do not expect bicycles to be made with a single gear or cars to get the same mileage in the city as on the highway.

As a person a) warms up, b) becomes more skillful, and c) improves physical conditioning, the heart rate gets lower. This improvement in performance, signifying better efficiency, is routinely proven by marathoners and heart patients alike on treadmill tests.

Functional efficiencies permit you to complete a given distance on fewer calories. This advantage allows you to arrive at a destination with greater energy in reserve, or to go farther on one meal.


Continual Effort

Easy walking provides aerobic exercise, which means the whole body becomes oxygenated. Aerobic exercise counters diseases that thrive in the absence of oxygen, and it promotes the body’s fat-burning metabolism. Soft aerobic exercise can be continued almost perpetually.

On the flip side, strenuous activity calls for frequent rest breaks. Fast uphill climbing, with bursts of effort and heavy breathing, represents anaerobic exercise. Lacking oxygen, the body triggers its sugar-burning metabolism. Too much anaerobic training wears you down.

While the body burns both fat and sugar all the time, you can train in the aerobic state, getting both stronger and healthier in the process. Thus, advanced training coordinates bursts of effort with continual effort.


6. Reflections on the Circle

Everyone travels a unique path. My four distance hikes over five years took 180 days in total, the last day ending with a 50-mile walk. Although these figures were not planned, they coincide with the midpoint of my life and evoke the experience of coming full circle. Their synchronicity seems fitting to me.

The idea of circularity must be native to the mind, if not the pulse of life itself. Whether the cave dweller views the passage of the seasons as one thing, or the scientist views the earth spinning around the sun as another, the basic concept of a cycle remains the same. A single line returns to its starting point at a later time. If you graph the cycle in time, it becomes a wave, just like the ripples of a pond, elevations of a trail, or rays of light.

In reaching back to the origins of my hike in family life, I see childhood influences persisting today. Our dog Stella, who introduces and closes the journal, must be one of the happiest examples. Her coaching drove much of my accomplishment in hiking. Tricia hardly expected Stella’s training to propel me the length of the east coast!

Maintaining continuity in “real life” challenges me. How do you attain success in business, remain happily married, and retain the respect of your children? How do you attain the health to accomplish lifetime goals?

Maybe the “idea” is to develop soft power, the basic energy found in a daily walk.