Somewhere in the middle of duck season, I had a revelation.
OK, it wasn't exactly a revelation. The thought had occurred to me before. But this time, instead of denying it, I listened and accepted the truth: Fitness hurts.
Being fit doesn't hurt. Being fit rocks. But getting and staying fit the conventional way - elliptical machines, running, even walking - leaves me pretty much wracked with pain.
What's this got to do with duck season, you ask? This: I had a pretty good fitness regimen going this fall, but when duck season began to heat up, the routine fell apart. In very short order the only exercise I was getting was duck hunting.
The way I'm hunting ducks these days, it's actually a pretty good workout. I hunt in an area where you literally race through the water - in waders, not in a boat - to get a good spot before someone else gets to it. And because I hunt without a dog, I charge out through the water to get every duck I shoot (and the non-dead variety can lead you on quite a chase).
After a few weeks of no more running/walking/weights, but lots of duck hunting, I had to admit something: I didn't hurt all the time anymore. No tight hamstrings. No rock-hard IT band. No knots in the glutes. Even my lower back felt better for the first time in a few years. All those pains had become a permanent state of being for me when I was fit, no matter how much stretching I did, no matter how much I forked out for regular massages.
Lesson learned: Repetitive motion = bad. Natural range of motion = good. Something about moving in unpredictable directions seems to work my muscles more thoroughly, and prevent the build-up of scar tissue that leads to that intractable tightness.
So I decided: That's it. I'm done. No more conventional cardio. Period. I'm done with the torture.
The only question now was how could I possibly get a nice natural range of motion into my routine once duck season ended and school started up again? Gym? Nothing but repetitive machines. Playground equipment at the neighborhood park? No, someone would probably think I was a pedophile. Maybe the rock climbing wall at the new gym at school? Another bill to pay...
Ultimately, I found the solution in a Rocky movie, of all places. Rocky IV, to be specific.
Hank and I were watching the movie a couple weeks ago, reliving all those great Cold War memories, and when we got to the part where Rocky Balboa goes to the Soviet Union to train. Nemesis Ivan Drago trains on state-of-the-art equipment (and steroids), and Rocky trains au naturel. No, not naked - he just goes running, mountain climbing, log splitting, lifting horse-carts full of people, etc.
That's it! I thought. I can go to Siberia!
OK, not really. But I did realize there's actually some mildly rugged terrain in a state recreation area surrounding a small lake that's about five minutes from my house. If I follow deer trails up and down the hillsides instead of the bike trail around the lake, I could get a hell of a good workout. I could even simulate a pig hunt with Phillip, which typically includes long walks on uneven terrain, steep climbs and descents, and occasional sprints.
Oooh, bonus points: I could get prepared for spring pig hunting too!
So that's what I've been doing the past two weekends: I head to the lake, climb up a hill and see where the deer trails take me.
It takes me through cool oak woods, blanketed with a lush carpet of chickweed and miner's lettuce, which I pick and eat as I go. On the steep hillside underneath the expensive homes, I spot dozens of golf balls surrounded only by deer tracks - apparently the balls are the sole emissaries of civilization above. I see a great winged thing take off from high in the oak's branches above me. Then it returns, and I see it is an owl ... with a hawk not far behind it. I cross a creek timidly, edging out on a fallen tree branch carefully until I hear the snap and make the leap without thinking - laughing at myself. A squirrel chatters at my intrusion. A feral cat lounging in the shade slinks off at my approach.
The only other people I see are children. I freeze at the sight of them, wondering if they'll notice me.
And that's when I make the connection: This feels a lot like childhood.
When my sisters and I were kids, we'd visit our grandparents at Lake Isabella, and because our families gave us a lot of independence, we could just wander off and explore: We'd charge up and down hills, cross creeks and stop whenever we felt like it to examine interesting bugs or fish or pieces of glass. If we played our cards right - which we invariably did - we'd pop out into civilization right next to a convenience store where we could stock up on candy for the walk back home. When we got back to our grandparents' house, we were exhausted and happy.
Later, when I'd grown up and become a newspaper reporter, I was working on an article about urban creeks when the woman I was interviewing made an interesting point: Urban creeks are largely hidden, but if you want to know where they are, just ask the kids. Adults drive by without seeing them; kids know them intimately. Kids glom onto nature, and they embrace that aimless wandering through it.
Since I started hunting, I've often looked back on that kind of childhood play in wonder. I never knew it then, but it seems so obvious now how much of it was preparation for hunting: hiking, observing, hiding. Especially hiding.
Now that my favorite hunting season is over, and hunts will be few and far between for the next seven months, it seems incredibly comforting to return to this kind of play. It just feels right.
At the end of these jaunts, I know I've worked hard. But instead of feeling sore and tight, I feel renewed, physically and mentally.
I guess this was the probably the best kind of "fitness" routine all along.
It's called living.
© Holly A. Heyser 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Somewhere in the middle of duck season, I had a revelation.
Posted at 9:42 PM