0 Steps and Starting Over

It’s official: I failed.

My earliest recorded data point for Walking to Fuji was on Sunday, September 21st, 2008. I walked six miles on the treadmill that day. I wasn’t using a pedometer yet so I don’t know how many steps I took. My last recorded entry was on Thursday, June 2, 2011. Between those two dates I should have walked just under 2,700 miles.

I logged a total of 633.

While the numbers make my failure clear, there’s a lot hidden between those two points. Were you to draw a straight line from one end to the other, you’d find a slope that suggests I walked only about two-thirds of a mile per day. That’s way off. Having worn a pedometer for a few years now, I know I walk more than that in a typical day at the office. It also belies all those evenings I spent out in my garage plodding away on my treadmill.

So what happened?

Things went reasonably well at first. I wasn’t hitting every weekly goal—I was dangerously out of shape, after all—but I never fell more than a few miles short. After only two months I found I could walk six or seven miles at a stretch. That might not sound like much if you’re moderately healthy, but it was more than I had ever accomplished. I lost weight, I felt great. It was like finding out I had super powers.

Then, in November of 2008, things changed. My son was diagnosed with a serious, incurable, and potentially painful chronic illness. My pride inclines me to say “I didn’t handle it well”, but that would be a gross understatement. I suffered a mixture of depression, anxiety, and fatigue that lasted nearly two years. We all have our vulnerabilities. I found mine the hard way.

During my worst period I suffered a strange variety of physical symptoms. Mild exertion made me dizzy. Short walks left my muscles trembling with fatigue. Some part of me was always in spasm, twitching and flinching involuntarily. I spent most of my lunch hours napping in any quiet, private spot I could find. I couldn’t help but think something was seriously wrong with me, and that constant suspicion only compounded my problems.

Somewhere in the midst of all this I lost track of my walk. My treadmill sat idle. The step count on my pedometer rolled back to zero every night, the daily totals unrecorded. Eventually I stopped carrying a pedometer altogether. Of the 633 miles I logged, the first hundred or so were the result of focused effort. The rest were logged inconsistently.

Over time, things changed for the better. My son’s health improved about a year after his initial diagnosis (thank God). Another year passed before I was convinced there was any hope of a good life beyond chronic illness. By mid-2011 I was working in downtown Portland, OR, and walking several times a week. I took short strolls on my way into the office and longer, exploratory jaunts on my lunch breaks. I still suffered the occasional bout of fatigue, but I pressed on, slowly and carefully, and gradually my energy and stamina returned.

By September of 2011 I was walking regularly again. Having demonstrated to myself that I was in reasonably good health, I figured it was time to make a decision: restart, reset, or forget it. I already knew I wouldn’t stop, so it came down to whether or I’d claim what few miles I’d gathered thus far, or declare abject failure and start all over again.

The answer was obvious: I cleared the slate, erased all 600+ miles from the log, and set out for Mt. Fuji. Five years, five thousand miles, starting October 1, 2011.

It’s been a long road. I’ve had my confidence shaken hard, my comforts removed, and I’ve managed to keep walking. I’ve learned to look forward to the road ahead, whatever it might bring. Maybe, hard as it’s been, that’s just what I needed.

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