Uphill both ways
Sometimes a walk in the park is no walk in the park.
Fri, May 01, 2009 at 02:59 PM
Illustration: Felix Stockwell
As the mother of a small child, I decided to give up my car in favor of a more economical and ecologically sound mode of transportation. Saving a few bucks and my son’s future environment by walking seemed like a reasonable decision. However, I didn’t anticipate that the perfect preschool for my son would be more than four miles from our home.
Between parking fees and rising gas prices, it occurred to me it would cost an extra hundred dollars a month just for the school trip. In a year, this could pay for one of those island-vacation packages from the newspaper’s travel section. So with no more investment than a decent pair of running shoes and a stroller, both of which could be put to good use in general, I thought I’d defy physics and walk myself to the Bahamas.
My city had constructed a 16-mile recreation path, allowing a myriad of bicycles, rollerbladers, and jogging strollers to get from one place to another. Using my trusty online map, I found the path that ran right in front of our house and also came within a half of a mile of the school.
It looked lovely, running along the river and passing through four different parks. Fresh air and exercise on an enjoyable, scenic walk? My plan was perfect. What the map did not show was that in our otherwise flat town, there was one giant hill that the path went up and over in order to reach the other side.
The first time my son and I came to the hill, I was sorely tempted to take the five bucks we’d saved on the car trip and bribe a passing cyclist to tow us up. I had to lean at such an angle to inch the stroller forward that I worried I would end up flat on my face. The vision of the stroller running over my prone body as it bounced back down the incline was chilling as I stared at the rough asphalt a mere foot from my nose.
I believe at one point I panicked and yelled for my son to toss anything overboard that weighed us down. Sippy cups, crayons, and die-cast metal cars flew past in my peripheral vision and littered the path behind us. It was tragic, but the sacrifice had to be made.
The downhill trip was no easier. The smell of burning rubber wafted up as I skidded down, wearing the soles of my tennis shoes to nothing from the friction. While terrifying to me as the pusher (or rather, the desperate hanger-on) of the stroller, it did save the price of admission to the local theme park’s roller coaster for my son, who laughed his head off and stuck both chubby arms straight up in the air the whole way down. He was even more delighted when he thought my subsequent huffing and puffing was a rendition of the Three Little Pigs.
The rest of the trip was a dream. It was warm and balmy; the ducks and geese swam past, followed by little lines of their babies; and my son’s never-ending questions about things we passed led easily to discussions about nature. We talked about the rivers flowing to the ocean, covered a rudimentary lesson on plants versus people in regard to carbon dioxide and oxygen production, and discussed the fact that, no, if he were to cut mommy in half, he could not tell how old I was by counting my rings.
The stroller was equipped with an integrated speaker system, but I didn’t need it for entertainment. My son played his own version of car bingo, keeping score of track-suited grandpas and bikers in spandex. I decided the trail of Cheerios we passed on the ground must be some other kid’s Hansel and Gretel–style insurance that his mom wouldn’t lose her way home—and designed a stroller with GPS and a solar-powered fan in my head. I’d make millions.
In short, the experiment was a success and took only a bit over an hour. And the time difference between vehicle ride and walk could have been reduced, had my son not needed to stop in the schoolyard to run around and breathe life-giving carbon dioxide on every tree. I had to stop him when he started crawling around trying to feed the grass as well, for fear he would hyperventilate.
So, giant hill notwithstanding, we are now converted and official pedestrian commuters. Of course, as we live in the far North, the real test will come next winter. Not only will our daily trip to school mean we have to walk four miles, uphill both ways…it will be in the snow.
Story by Sascha Zuger. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2007.