My David Sedaris Challenge | The Awkward Pose

David Sedaris is a well-known humorist; a go-to guy for wholesome satire with a touch of irony. He often writes about the joy and discovery of walking. In a recent article, he boasted of logging 40,000 steps and dreamed, one day, of clocking 100,000. I’m unaware of David Sedaris’ fitness-guru credentials. But that didn’t stop me from taking up his challenge.

“I could do 100,000 steps in a day,” rang in my head. “I already do 10,000. What’s another zero?”

I have a shallow gait. Walking 10,000 steps measures somewhere over four miles. Thus, a hundred thousand would require the far side of forty miles. My boyfriend Dave lives 44 miles away. Perfect! Some day, instead of cycling home from Dave’s, I’ll walk instead!

Wait a sec. I don’t walk fast. In fact, I walk slower than most anyyone I know. My daily 10,000 takes at least an hour and a half. Do the math. That’s fifteen hours of walking.

No problem, I decide. I’ll just leave early and walk late.

But…just…maybe…walking from Holden to Cambridge is a lousy route. All those hills. Few sidewalks. Better to plan a flat course with paved paths.

My David Sedaris Challenge The Awkward Pose
Proposed Walking Route

Eureka! I will circle the Charles River! Dedicated footpaths. Few intersections. A full loop from Charlestown to Waltham and back is about 40 miles. Besides, in the (highly) unlikely case that I can’t complete the journey, I’ll never be more than a mile from a train or bus to carry me home.

I don’t tell anyone of my plan. Probably because I know there’s a bit of crazy embedded in the idea, and I’m disinclined to confront reason.

A few weeks after the Sedaris Challenge germinates, the perfect day arrives: Monday May 13. Fair-weather forecast; no commitments. The night before I make a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and stuck them in the fridge along with some leftover egg casserole and a serious hunk of chocolate cake. I lay out a pair of shorts, shirts that layer, extra socks, and a windbreaker. Set the alarm for 5 a.m., and go to sleep.

A few hours solid sleep later, I snap up, bolt awake. Excited! Further rest is futile. I give in, get up, dress, load the backpack, throw in a couple of bananas, and am out the door at 3:18 a.m. Crazy, right? Just wait.

The streets of Cambridge are near empty. When I come upon a lone woman along Brattle Street, I hack a cough of friendly warning. She crosses to the other side. I arrive at the river at 4 a.m. 5,000 steps done. Only 95,000 to go!

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4:45 a.m. Boston Skyline

My early departure enables serendipitous timing. The sky outline glows the skyline at 4:45. The sun illuminates the Longfellow Bridge arches at 5:07. Boats glimmer in Charlestown marina at 6:08.

At 6:16 I stride to the eastern-most point of my route, where the Mystic River flows into Boston Harbor. 20,000 steps down: making great time! At y turnaround, a man is enjoying the sunrise; an amputee in a wheelchair outside of Spaulding Rehab Hospital. A gregarious guy, ebullient as the new day. We chat a bit; I don’t reveal the scope of my journey. T’would be a cruel taunt to a legless man.

I eat my sandwiches in motion, but my stomach hankers for more, and so I take a break at harbor’s edge and chow down on chocolate cake. Never eaten anything so decadent so early in the day. If I wasn’t so committed to walking, I could run, or maybe even fly. So much chocolate courses through me.

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6:08 a.m. Charlestown Marina

Back at the Museum of Science I shift to the Boston side of the river and head west. Again, perfect timing. The morning is cool, the breeze light, the flowers glorious. The Esplanade is full of eye-candy runners doing their before-work bridge circuits. How envious they would be to know that I’m undertaking the longest bridge circuit of all! The passing scene’s so fascinating I don’t feel a trace of fatigue until well past the BU Bridge.

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7:40 a.m. Charles River Basin

The narrowest, ugliest portion of ambulating the Charles is from BU to Harvard. The sidewalk’s a mere four feet wide. Cars whiz by on Soldier’s Field Road. The Mass Pike looms overhead. I will away all distraction by singing Mary Chapin Carpenter. “What If We Went to Italy?” Definitely preferable to Allston.

Just after nine. I turn left on North Harvard Street; pick up bananas and chocolate at Trader Joes. 36,000 steps: already a personal best. I return to the river and continue west. The landscape opens up, but the number of passersby dwindles. My thighs are sore. My shins are taut. My feet begin to complain. Buckle up! I command my body parts. I croon Paul Simon against my irritations all the way to Watertown Square.

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9:52 a.m. A Pastoral Stretch of River

A stretch of river side I’ve never walked. The foot path is lush and shady. The day turns warm. I’m down to shirtsleeves. Early on, I’d pegged the McDonald’s on California Street in Nonantum as a place to caffeine-up. A short detour off the path. I order my Diet Coke, sit down, and check the pedometer: 50,031 steps at 11:23 a.m. What a roll!

When I stand up to get a refill I feel stiff. I sit some more. I get up again. Stiffer yet. I disregard my body’s signals and reason that I’ll loosen up on the trail. I return to the river and continue west.

Suddenly, there’s lots of folks along the path. All old. All speaking Russian. Their faces come at me:  half-funny; half frightening. I press on.

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12:07 p.m. Natural Path in Newton

The landscape becomes more natural. Asphalt devolves into dirt. Some stretches are so quiet I can’t hear any cars. The day turns hot; I’m thankful for shade. I reach Waltham Center at 60,000 steps. Ignore any distress my lower body proclaims. I plow on.

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12:50 p.m. Waltham Waterfall

Beyond Waltham, the river path turns spotty. There are intermittent stretches of city street. I find an overlook bench, eat a few bananas, tell myself everything is fine. But take note that my pace is slowing. A lot.

I rise, stiff. I put one foot in front of the other. My feet rub in my shoes. I consider changing into my fresh socks. But I don’t. I’m not hungry or thirsty or dizzy. But I am feverish. And I keep losing the river. It’s a lot of effort to just keep walking. One foot, then another. My steps are so short, I’m hardly going anywhere. I check the time and realize, I’m not making any. Suddenly I’m back in Newton, in an industrial area, no less. I have lost the river. Nothing is recognizable. I am afraid to stop and rest; I might lack the will to get going again. I stand in the mid-day sun. Dazed. I admit to myself, “You have hit the wall.”

There’s a busy road ahead. Moody Street, leading back to Waltham Center. My spirit wants to ignore it. To turn away. To keep walking. To find the river. I can be foolish, but I am no fool. It’s time to quit. So I trundle back to Waltham Center in search of a bus or a train.

Lucky me. The commuter rail banner announces a train in two minutes. I hobble aboard and roll to Waverly, where I switch to the 73 bus, which deposits me a few blocks from my house. I baby step my tender feet, and arrive home at 3:18. Exactly twelve hours after I left.

When I tell my housemate what I’ve been up to, he rolls his eyes. For good reason. “It’s the first time you’ve tried it. Maybe, if you practice…”

“No way! I’m never doing this again.” Lactic acid throbs my legs. Blisters spear my every step. I crawl upstairs. Force myself into the tub to soak my feet. Lie flat on my bed for an hour.

Final pedometer reading: 30.6 miles; 67,096 steps.

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4:06 p.m. Pedometer Reading

My mind filters back to college, when I completed the 20-mile Walk for Hunger in under five hours, then sauntered home afterward. Today, I feel like a loser. Thirty miles annihilated me. I know, intellectually, that its foolish to compare my 21- and 69-year-old selves. Still, physical decline is an ugly thing.

Next day I am sooo stiff and sooo sore. But I manage. Wednesday’s a bit better. By Thursday, the legs are fine; my blisters shrink. As my body regains confidence, the pain of my final 17,000 steps dissipates, and the joy of the first 50,000 lift my spirits. I stop feeling bad about only reaching 2/3 of my ludicrous goal. Instead, I celebrate that I walked twice as far, twice as many steps, as any single day in my pedometer era.

If David Sedaris ever follows his dream and walks 100,000 steps in a single day, I’m sure it will make for a humorous essay. As for me: I’m never trying to do that again.

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Actual Route: Waking in Red, Public Transit in Green


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