Diversions: Restoring Faith

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    What is your diversion? Mine is walking. Not just the get up from your chair and stretch your legs type. More the strap everything you need for a couple of days on your back and get out of Dodge type. Get outside — into the woods, preferably — and walk. Just walk. And think — about walking. After about 30 minutes of hiking with a pack on your back, that is pretty much your only job. Walk, look, listen… and walk some more. Sounds easy. Could be. Might be. Depends on if you bite off more than you can chew or take tiny bites.

     I’m the bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew kind. Many years ago, I decided to rollerblade 13 miles along the local lake to get my car. My wife was out, no friends were in sight, so just go for it — big bite! Grab a backpack to carry sneakers, a snack or two, way too little water, and head out. Lot of hills in that 13 miles. Some downhill — awesome! — too many uphill. Ever try to rollerblade uphill, with traffic? Doesn’t work. Five hours later I arrived at my car, soaked with sweat, dehydrated, and thoroughly exhausted. This was great!

     Three years later I decided that rolling-walking-rolling-resting-rolling-cursing-then rolling along the lake wasn’t enough. Wouldn’t it be cool to walk around the entire lake? Grab a pack, some snacks, some water, and go!

     In a symbol of blind faith, true love, and undying support (or maybe just to get rid of me for a week), my wife said, “Go for it” — so I did. I spent the winter planning the trip: more than 100 miles, mostly on paved roads and highways since no (legal) foot trails exist around the lake. I bought gear and watched hiking videos on YouTube. I planned my meals, my stops, and my starts for each day. I mapped out the routes on Google Earth, then drove them to check for places to rest, camp, and restock food and water. In true Survivor man spirit, I had my plans A, B, and C (and a stocked first aid kit). I even carried pepper spray to fend off the many wild animals trolling for prey along the state highways. I trained by walking 3 miles, then 5 miles, then 10 miles at a time, adding more and more weight to my pack each trek.

    On a sunny May morning, I strapped on my pack — all 50 pounds of it — and headed north. Blue skies, a slight breeze, and 80 degrees. Perfect — for a day on the beach, not for a hike on bare pavement. To all you highway engineers reading this article, I say thanks (sarcastically)! I never quite appreciated the subtle slope of a highway shoulder. But when pavement temperatures reach well over 125 degrees, that tiniest of pitch is just enough to shred your feet — Blister City. 

    Wait — I’m a relatively intelligent guy — switch sides of the road to even out the weight distribution. Zig, then zag — brilliant! Not so much. Blister City, now on both feet.

    I lasted less than two days. I ended up laying in a roadside ditch, both feet swollen beyond recognition, dehydrated, exhausted, and demoralized. Before calling it quits, I looked up to see a road sign that summed up my day: Dead End. I knew what roadkill felt like, so I called in the cavalry — my wife and son and a minivan. 

    “How awful of an experience,” you might be saying. “Poor guy,” you might offer up. “What an idiot,” you might instinctively blurt out.

    But as I lay in that ditch waiting to die… I mean for my ride… I suddenly remembered the people I had met along the way — total strangers who had no reason to acknowledge me. No reason to include me at all in their lives. No reason to care about this sweaty, smelly, seemingly homeless individual. 

    But they did.

    There was Bob, who let me rest in the shade of his maple tree and take an environmental break behind his barn.

    There was that guy in the pickup truck who warned me not to pitch my tent at that intersection due to the lengthy accident history.

    There was Tom, who lived across the road from where I took my first roadside nap (OK, I passed out). He offered me water, a mental evaluation, and a ride to the campground.

    There were the endless motorcyclists and cyclists who — in some consistent show of solidarity — always waved or honked as they passed by.

    Then there was that other guy, in that other pickup truck, who saw me in my final resting place, told me I would have made a lousy confederate soldier, then offered to buy me a pizza.

    The moral of the story here is that despite all the really, really, really bad news we are exposed to every day, there are really, really, really good people out there. We just need to get out there, create our own diversions, and take a walk. It may just restore our faith in humanity.

    Andy Sciarabba, P.E., is a principal with T.G. Miller, P.C., Engineers and Surveyors in Ithaca, N.Y. T.G. Miller, P.C. (www.tgmillerpc.com) is a consulting civil engineering and surveying firm that serves municipal, commercial, institutional, and private clients throughout central New York. He can be contacted at ajs@tgmillerpc.com.