(TL;DR: I completed my 2021 walking challenge, saw some things, learned some things, and got a bunch of questions about it.)
I did it.
I walked every single day this year for at least 30 minutes.
It all started about this time last year.
We were knee-deep in a global pandemic. Things were dark, sad, and depressing. Thanksgiving and Christmas had come and gone bringing a little joy but a lot of worry. And a whole new year of uncertainty and apprehension stretched out before us.
I’d been working from home since March 13, 2020. One day it occurred to me it had been a while since I’d left my condo building. Days and days would pass where I didn’t even go down to the lobby. Heck, I rarely even went down the hall.
And that just wasn’t good — physically or mentally.
So I got this idea. I’d give myself a reason to leave the house. A challenge, if you will.
Now I didn’t come up with this plan all on my own. I was inspired by my friend and founder of See Jane Write, Javacia Harris Bowser. You see, back at the beginning of 2020, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And through it all — surgeries, chemo, radiation — Javacia managed to get outside and walk for at least 30 minutes every day.
I figured if she could keep going through all that, I had no excuse not to get my shit together and drag my reasonably healthy ass out of the house.
So I did!
But first I gave myself a few parameters. Each day I would walk outside, if at all possible, for at least 30 minutes. I would track every walk on the Map My Ride app. If it’s not on the app, it didn’t happen. Other physical activities, like riding my bike, would not preclude me from walking. I would not listen to music or podcasts while I walked in order to be present in the moment as well as aware of my surroundings. And I would declare my intention and post regularly on social media to keep me honest.
On January 1, 2021, I walked my first 1.5 miles in 31 minutes and 24 seconds. It was really just a stroll through the neighborhood. No big deal.
But I kept going the next day. And the next. And the next. And the next…
Before I knew it, a month had passed. Then two. Then six.
I was halfway there! Of course I couldn’t stop then so I kept on walking. Eight, nine, ten months. Then I started counting down rather than up! Sixty days left. Thirty! Ten! Five! One!
And here we are 365 days later.
And I’m a little shocked! And a little proud. But mainly shocked! I didn’t necessarily think I wouldn’t make it, but I wasn’t so sure I would, either. At least at the beginning. I’ve never really been one to make resolutions or set goals or participate in challenges, so this was new territory for me.
But I did it. Even in the cold, even in the rain, before daylight, after dark, even on vacation, even on crutches, even after going back to work — every day I walked.
It’s been an interesting experiment and a learning experience. Here are a few observations.
You see a lot of weird things when you walk every day. And y’all really seemed to like seeing them on Instagram! For instance, odd socks are everywhere and I don’t understand why. Do people just randomly think “I can’t stand this damn sock another minute!” and cast it off in mid stride? I really thought I’d see more panties, but I’ve only seen a couple of those. But that’s just run-of-the-mill weirdness. One of my neighbors has a decent-sized pet pig that they let graze outside, which is a bit weird for someone who lives in a small city apartment. On two different days in the same place I saw a piece of Canadian bacon that looked like it had been flung out of an Egg McMuffin. I thought that was kind of weird too. But I also saw a dead groundhog that had been placed in a circle of sticks with some red berries at it’s head. Now that’s some Grade A weirdness.
You learn a lot about your neighborhood. I’ve walked every street and alley in my neighborhood this past year. I had no idea there were so many alleys around here. You have to shake up your path somewhat so you don’t get bored, so instead of walking in front of all the houses and apartments, I walked behind them. Biggest takeaway? A lot of folks who have impeccably manicured yards in front of their big, fine historic homes, have some junky old, overgrown backyards. Appearances, I guess.
You learn a lot about your neighbors. When you walk every day, you inevitably see other people — the walkers, the runners, the dog owners, the gardeners, the eccentrics. Slowly you get to know each other just by virtue of regularity. Looking down as you pass sometimes turns into a glance, then a nod, then maybe a little wave or a polite “good morning,” then maybe a short chat. Sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s okay too. Sometimes you see a person a lot, then you never see them again. I wonder what happened to them. Did they just move? Did they die?
You learn a lot about yourself. Early on, I had to resign myself to the fact that Tragedy, my beloved husband, would not be able to or want to walk with me every single day, that I’d have to walk alone most of the time. Now all y’all who know me know that as an extrovert’s extrovert, I’m not my best self when I’m by myself. But that was a year ago. Now I enjoy this time to think thoughts and have ideas, to reflect and, dare I say it, recharge.
You get to see a lot of places you probably wouldn’t otherwise. Remember how I talked about walking the alleys so I wouldn’t get bored? Well, ultimately, I got bored with that so I struck out to some places I don’t normally go like Red Mountain Park and Ruffner Mountain. I spent more time at some old favorites like Oak Mountain State Park and Railroad Park. I explored UAB’s campus, which is where I work but was surprisingly unfamiliar with. I walked around downtown Birmingham and downtown Anniston. When I got to go see Sonny Boy graduate from college, I circled Chicago’s Lincoln Park every day I was there. We spent a long weekend at a cabin in Pigeon Forge and I walked up and down a mountain road while Tragedy kept a lookout for bears. But the place I probably spent the most time walking outside of my neighborhood or UAB’s campus was the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. It’s contained yet wild. It’s flat and hilly. It’s not too far away but not too close. It’s always the same yet ever-changing. If your knees are iffy like mine are, you can “hike” alone and not feel like you’d be stranded if you fell. And it’s got two species of turtle, two kinds of hawks, and honeybee hives. Oh, and nice bathrooms. Bathrooms are always a plus.
When you walk a lot, you start paying attention to the time. For instance, it takes me seven minutes to walk to the coffee shop, 15 to the Presbyterian church, and 45 to the office. Then you’ll make little challenges for yourself. Can I get there in 43 minutes? What if I take a different route? I actually found out that the route I was taking to work because I thought it was shorter is almost exactly the same distance as the route I thought would be a lot longer. Go figure.
You don’t need a lot of special equipment to walk, but you do need some. My cute, fashionable “raincoats?” Turns out they are mostly “water resistant” although they did little to even weakly resist a persistent rain. Basically, they just gave up the ghost after a few drops and I was soaked to the skin. Get you a good waterproof coat. And while you’re at it, get a really warm coat. In Alabama, where you only have to be in the cold long enough to get from your car to the door, we don’t (or at least I don’t) worry about having a super warm coat as long as I have a cute coat. Well, let’s just say, I realized the error of my fashionable but frozen ways and bought a really good winter coat. Shoes? Probably best to have solid walking shoes (I have some heavy duty Salomons that I like for cold and wet days and some lightweight Brooks for regular days). But I’ve walked in everything from Vans (my pandemic everyday sneaker) to Fluevog brogans to Dr. Marten’s to ballet flats (love me some Birdies). They just have to have moderate support and be comfortable. Sandals and flip flops really don’t cut it.
And y’all asked me a lot of questions and made a lot of comments about my walking so here are some answers.
C’mon…every single day? Yep! Every day. I did have a knee issue that had me on crutches for a few days, but I crutched around my condo for 30 minutes one day and I crutched around our pool deck for 30 minutes the next (about 10 laps makes a mile). Then I limped around the pool deck for another day or two before I felt good about going out on the sidewalk by myself. And late one night I was just about to get in bed when I realized I hadn’t walked, so I walked 30 minutes in circles around the condo. And yes, my husband thought I was as crazy as you do right now.
And I mainly walked outside. Aside from the aforementioned knee problem, the only things that sent me to the treadmill (probably fewer than ten or fifteen times all year) were lightning and extreme heat. I thought the cold would do me in, but that was really no big deal. And rain is no problem if you have a good raincoat and/or an umbrella. But this Alabama heat and humidity…it’s just too much sometimes. Treadmill and AC — that’s the only way to go when it’s 100 degrees in the shade at 8 o’clock at night.
Seriously? Every day? Yep. But I’m not gonna lie to you. Every day wasn’t a magical dance down Highland Avenue. Some days it was a flat out trudge. But even when it was all I could do to drag out and even if it was 30 minutes and one second, I always always felt better afterward and was glad I went.
I sure wish I could do that… Newsflash: YOU CAN! You just have to make the time to do it. If you can scroll social media for 30 minutes, watch another Office rerun, or sit around listening to a podcast, you can make time to walk. And I guarantee you that once you get started, you won’t want to stop.
Did you lose a lot of weight? Nope. Actually, I gained a few pounds, but I attribute that to going back to work this past May 10. When I was working from home, I was much more active and rode my bike a lot in addition to walking. And at home I was able to cook my breakfast and lunch so I could eat more healthy foods. It’s just not the same in an office even if you take walking breaks and pack your food. But overall, I do feel stronger and I’m probably a little bit more toned.
You’re an inspiration. I really appreciate your sweet and kind words. I really really do. But I was basically just depressed and lethargic and had to do something to make myself feel better a la “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” or, as Mama would say, I just had to buck up. So I did.
And as much as I’m not one for challenges, I’m really not one for statistics, data, and numbers. But I did figure out a few things about this past year that are interesting.
- In 2020, I averaged 3,053 steps per day. In 2021, my average was 7,399 steps per day. That’s more than double!
- In 2020, I averaged 1.3 miles per day. In 2021, the average was 3.2 miles per day. Again, more than double!
- Based on that average, I’ve walked at least 1,168 miles or all the way to my hometown of Citronelle, Ala. 5.5 times.
So what does 2022 hold?
I’m going to keep right on walking! Thirty minutes. Every day. Rain or shine.
And I hope you’ll start walking too and let me know your progress! Follow me on Instagram at @comedylovestragedy and tag me in your walking posts with #walkingwithaudrey2022. I plan to try to be more active there this year and do more walking posts. Or you just send me a good old-fashioned email!
Here’s to a happy, healthy 2022 full of lots of steps and lots of laughter and lots of weird and wonderful finds!