Wednesday, November 30, 2005

11/27/2005 - A pause before Athol

I have a relatively gloomy post in me about Athol, but first I have an exhilerating post on how I got there. After spending an enjoyable few hours with my cousins in Newton, and discovering that JR is an excellent family historian, I opted to walk home, from Newton to Cambridge. There was something amusing to me about taking part of my grand hike in grand hike format.

According to Mapquest, the trip should have been about 5.25 miles, but I'm afraid that I missed my first turn off. In an earlier post I claimed that my difficulty following directions was restricted to automotive travel. I have my first piece of contrary evidence.

Despite the missed turn, I probably didn't walk for more than about 5.5 miles and I am proud to say that I managed it in a little under 80 minutes. I was little sore that night, but generally the experience was encouraging enough that I hope to try it again this weekend.

The walk netted me far fewer steps than I had hoped (assuming 2000 per mile, I was expecting to see more than 10,000!) I guess that I take bigger strides when I am walking quickly -- not an entirely unlikely conclusion.

Still, thanks to a full day, 23,400 steps! Cheers,

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

11/26/2005 - Almost at Athol, among other places

It amuses me to think that I am virtually in the 3 places, through this project. If you are reading this posting, you are probably aware that I am outside of Athol. The astute reader will notice that I am a few days behind in my posts, which means that there is a sense in which I am past Athol and on my way to Greenfield (Penultimate stop in MA!).

The final place relates to the plotting of my route. At lunch today, I plotted my way across South Dakota, from Sioux Falls to Mt. Rushmore. From there, I have a rough sense that I will head Northwest through Helena, Seattle and Juneau before heading straight North to ANWR. However, I still need to identify the cities I shall pass on my way.

13,000 steps today. Cheers,

Monday, November 28, 2005

11/25/2005 - Route 2 to Athol - Thinking about Leominster Soldier

Between 1860 and 1865 Charles Brown, a soldier in the Union army, and his wife Sara, exchanged around 140 letters. I would love to tell you of their fascinating perspectives on the huge issues of the day, or of the poignant love story between them, but I cannot, as I am only a virtual tourist, and could find none of the actual writing on line. However, if you happen to find yourself in Leominster, you might consider stopping by the historical society to see if you can catch a glimpse of this exchange.

Although I am very interested in American history and have read quite a bit about the revolutionary period, I have never really gotten into the Civil War period, despite having an ancestor who fought on the Northern side.

Perhaps, one day, I will dive into it. But not, alas, as I pass through Leominster.

14,500 steps today. Cheers,

Sunday, November 27, 2005

11/24/2005 - Back on Route 2, thinking of Leominster

While I have never actually set foot in Leominster before, I have driven past it once -- not a fond memory. I was taking my son to a birthday party and following a route I had downloaded off of mapquest. There was nothing wrong with mapquest, I just can't follow directions.

Under normal circumstances, my wife navigates and I drive. On this occasion, she was home and I was on the road with my eldest. It made no difference to him that we arrived 1 hour late (ain't 3-year olds grand?) but I grew increasingly frustrated.

I often wonder at incongruence of imagining myself following a map across the country while in real life I could do no such thing. I can think of this in one of two ways. Either

1) My problem is that I can't follow maps while driving. Given more opportunity to look around and consider my surroundings, I should have no problem.

2) I actually take plenty of steps that my pedometer doesn't register (e.g. waking up and walking to get my pedometer). Perhaps these steps represent my backtracking as I get lost hither, thither and yon across this great country of ours.


11/23/2005 - Leominster, MA

The coolest thing I saw in Leominster was a collection of letters between a Union soldier and his wife. I need to collect my thoughts on those, so perhaps I will post on it in the next few days. In the meantime, I will talk about something else of interest to me -- the Leominster Annual Budget, which I found in .pdf form on their website (I am, after all, a virtual tourist).

This past November, I voted in our elections even though the only candidates were running for Cambridge City Council (about which I know precious little) or Cambridge School Council (about which I know even less). I voted to the best of my ability, and vowed to learn more about my local politics. Being the financial sort of person that I am, the first thing I tried to do was find our cities budget document. I still haven't found it.

I think it is with kudos that Leominster puts their budget up on the web. It suggests that folks in the city want to know that they spend $360,000 on keeping the street lit at night or close to $900,000 on their libraries. Health insurance has ballooned from just under $8m in 2004 to over $10m in 2006 (a worrying story playing out in cities across the U.S.). These are facts upon which politicians can campaign and constituents can vote.

As impressed as I am with Leominster's push for democracy, I would humbly recommend one addition to the information they provide -- something about income. In Cambridge, where property tax rates are about as low as one can imagine, we still see politicians out every year, pressing to lower tax rates further. Some basic information on the income would be most appreciated.

14,000 steps today. Cheers,

Saturday, November 26, 2005

11/22/2005 -- On route 2, but thinking about ANWR

According to the University of North Carolina, the land that was eventually to be known as ANWR was originally demarkated in 1923, whereupon it was christened "Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4." In 1952, some scientists recognized the potential for this area as a Wildlife Reserve and the Feds devided Reserve #4 into two; one area for oil and gas production, the other for wildlife. It seems that oil production in the non-wildlife half exceeded expectations. This led some to suspect that ANWR held more than expected as well. Since before 1980, folks have been trying to open up ANWR to drilling.

How much oil might there be in ANWR? The reserve's own website, I find that there might be anywhere from 4.8b barrels (600m recoverable) to 29.4b barrels (9.2b recoverable). To put that in context, in 2000, the US used close to 7b barrels of oil. Since oil consumption grows each year, it may be the case that we now have abour 3 years' worth of oil in ANWR, 1 year's worth of which is easily accessable.

That's a fair amount, but hardly makes the difference between sustainable and unsustainable for our current direction of oil consumption. It sure seems to me that if folks were keeping the longer outlook in mind, they would spend more time weening this country off oil and less time debating about 1 year's worth of crude.

That being said, the other part of the argument is hard to make, too. I am sure that the world needs wildlfe. I love my blue hills and would be sad if they disappeared. But ANWR is rather in the middle of nowhere and is surrounded by... other Wildlife Reserves. Exactly how much of Alaska needs to be cordoned off ? Kanuti, for example, is about the size of Delaware. The "Gates of the Arctic" are about 8 million acres, or larger than 9 states. I couldn't find a website to make it easy, but I imagine that if you were to add up all of the reserves in Alaska, the conglomerate would be larger than most states.

I am sure that ANWR has wildlife that is unique, but I imagine that Boston would also, were we to allow nature to reclaim it. To argue that we need to leave ANWR as ANWR is no slam dunk.

Still, I mightily look forward to seeing ANWR with my own virtual eyes. Given that the issue has been well debated for more than 25 years, I am reasonably optimistic that I will get to ANWR before the Exxon.

11,800 steps today. Cheers,

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

11/21/2005 -- Still on Route 2

At the risk of sounding idiotic, all of this walking is making me tired. I'm not sure how much I was walking before I bought my pedometer, but the answer must be "less." I'm feeling sore in good spots (leg muscles) and bad (heels). I quickly learned not to try to log too many steps in bare feet on my wooden floors. Even slippers drastically improve how I feel at the end of the day.

I am quite pleased with my little tricks for logging additional steps. Sometimes I take actual walks for the sake of walking, but most often, my method is pure inefficiency. I'll park at the wrong end of a parking lot. Or go the wrong way round a building. Why make one trip to the car when you can do it in 3? The steps add up and I'm on my way.

13,000 steps today; still a few days' journey to Leominster.

11/20/2005 -- Really on Route 2, this time.

Now that I look at a map, I realize that I had been traveling along Route 2a to get from Cambridge to Lexington and I am now really on route 2, so my witty story about my friends being kicked off the highway should go here. My apologies, JT and TC.

Having already used up my Route 2 reminiscence, I might as well talk about Bill Bryson. I recently read “A walk in the woods,” Bryson’s travel journal of his hiking of the Appalachian Trail. It imbued me with a desire to hike in much the same way that reading “Walden” imbued me with a desire to build a house.

(Side note – I mentioned this to my wife who suggested that I try building a garden box before moving on to houses. The garden box was tough enough to stick me back in reality…)

An interesting fact of “A walk in the woods” is the hundreds of gory ways in which one can die while hiking, the lovingly careful way in which Bryson describes each one of them. I think he put that in there to keep idiots from buying it on the trail after being inspired by his book. It sure worked here.

Still, what the book really gave me was a desire to appreciate the magnitude of the Earth; to get to love its life giving soil, step by laborious step. Well, I won’t. But I am finding this journal to be a wonderful substitute. In the near future, I hope to do a little more hiking, but I doubt that I will ever have the gumption to actually hike the AT.

20,000 steps today. Sheesh. How did I manage 20,000 steps? It was a Sunday so I played in the park with my kids in the morning. In the afternoon I took my eldest to a birthday party and ran around after him the whole time. In the evening my youngest got sick, so I must have put the last couple thousand of steps pacing about the house. He’s better now.


11/19/2005 -- Passing through Lexington, MA

Well, here I am in the beautiful town of Lexington. This is one of the few cities I intend to pass through in which I will have actually set foot. If I were a real tourist, I would by gazing at the Lexington Battle Green or the Old Belfry. Or at the very least, I might talk about my fascination with our Revolutionary Period (favorite founding father: Alexander Hamilton). However, what I would really like to talk about is the Tour de Scoops.

The Tour de Scoops is one of the most prestigious bike races in the Metro Boston area. Lance Armstrong has been invited to this race, but he has generally demurred. It’s not the 25 mile length of the race that puts Lance off. Nor is it the steep yet gentle rolling hills around Massachusetts. It’s not even the thousands of pedestrians with whom we share the track. No, it’s the ice cream. Anyone can get out there and ride over one thousand miles across France, but how many people can ride and eat ice cream at the same time?

The Tour de Scoops was conceptualized back in the late 90s, when one brilliant actuary (now with the Evil Empire as we competitors like to call it) noticed that there are many ice cream parlors around the Minute Man trail that runs from Somerville to Bedford. The Tour de Scoops stops in at 5 of these and most folks wind up with a pretty fair stomach ache by the end. This has to be one of the few sporting events I know of in which you end up with more grams of fat than when you started.

As far as I know, this tradition has fallen out of existence over the past couple of years which is truly disappointing, but I assure you that I think of it every time I have ice cream in the midst of a major sporting competition.

14,500 steps today. Alas, no ice cream.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

11/18/2005 -- Meandering along Route 2

As I meander, I'd like to reflect on my dad, who inspired this trip. He inspired it on at least 2 levels. The first is that he recently lost a lot of weight by walking (and, of course, eating right, which I pretty much can't seem to do). Impressed and desirous of shedding 10 pounds, I sought to follow suit. Being a quantitative sort of fellow, I went out and bought a pedometer to track my walking. More on that in a minute.

Once I started to track my steps, I remembered that my dad had done something similar some time back. Using AAA maps, he had plotted a walk, maybe to Florida, and counted his miles. I used Mapquest, which is pretty much the same thing and had a lot of fun plotting my route (I'm actually still plotting some of the details).

I really think that the pedometer has increased the amount of walking that I do (in real life, that is). Whenever you get measured by some metric, you tend to increase it. When salesfolk are measured purely on volume, sales increase, even sales of products that are unprofitable. Oops. So I am measuring myself on total steps and I seem to be walking more. Cool. I'll wait until I see some results...

11,400 steps today. Cheers,

11/17/2005 -- Leaving Cambridge, MA

I don't know that I will ever complete this typically over-ambitious project, but hey, it will be fun for awhile. Suffice it to say that, for inspiration, I can thank:

  • My dad
  • Bill Bryson
  • The Republican Party
  • Aaron Sorkin, or whoever produces The West Wing

For various reasons which may eventually become clear, I have decided to walk from Cambridge Massachusetts ("Most liberals per square foot") to the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve ("Most nothing per square foot").

Well, not really. Really what I did was to buy a pedometer and start keeping track of how many steps I take per day. Counting my steps somehow evolved into walking to ANWR. Fine. More on that in some later post.

In the meantime, all you have to know is that, in my virtual little head, I headed out of my cozy little place near Central square, hiked along Route 2 towards Lexington, Massachusetts.

Today I took about 10,500 steps, which I reckon to be around 4.5 miles, which is plenty to get me out onto the highway. For those of you who know Route 2, it ain't a great highway to walk along, but I figure it will be typical of my routes, so might as well learn to love it. Some friends of mine once tried to bike down Route 2, which is kind of like saying that some friends of mine once tried to surf in an olympic pool. It's not that you can't do it, it's just that folks don't appreciate it when you do. A kindly policemen pulled along side them and told them to get the hell off of the highway. So far, nobody has bothered me, for obvious reasons.

I shall hunker down here tonight, with one final apology. I am sorry if my early posts don't quite match the date on which they are posted. It took me almost a week to pull this project together and I didn't feel like foregoing my happy success walking. I hope stay more or less current for as long as possible.