I was an active child spending as many waking hours out of doors as I could. I played with my brother, I played with my friends, I played with kids I didn’t even know. “Chip up” football and baseball games on the field next to our house on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield where they eventually built the Big N were regular fare along with ice-skating on the frozen swamp and sledding down the hill from the railroad tracks and at Clapp Park during the cold New England winters.
I upped it a notch or two when I entered high school and met legendary track coach Rudy Benedetti. I worked hard but really didn’t know what hard, physical work was until I headed west to the Air Force Academy in 1967 for basic cadet training. There, I grew as a person and as an athlete and graduated four years later, a soccer All American and soon to be fighter pilot. It is there that I learned to rise early and to cherish a physical regimen without complaint.
When I left the Academy, I was driven to push my body in physical activity. The feeling of physical exhaustion was and remains invigorating. I played competitive soccer, tennis, and basketball into my forties and then gradually turned to more solitary physical activity like hiking and bicycling.
As I entered my sixties, my parents continued to warn me, “You’ll wear your body out.” I responded with a smile and raised eyebrows thinking all the time, ‘Isn’t that the objective? To wear my body out?’
The year I turned 60 – 2009 – I started bicycling ‘for real’ and continue today even though the Wisconsin winters and icy roads limit the activity from December through March. As a young man in Arizona, I set my annual goal at 4,000 miles. Since moving to Wisconsin in 2016, 2,000 miles is more realistic. Regardless, in recent years, I’ve often said that bicycling is the best physical activity I have ever engaged in. For certain, it has had an extremely positive effect in ‘balancing’ my body after two hip replacements, one left in 2003, one right in 2014.
Since moving north in 2016, I’ve added three satisfying physical activities to my list: fly fishing; kayaking; snowshoeing. I greatly enjoy all three.
I snowshoed on a pair of traditional bear claws on our farm in Upstate New York back in the mid-70s, but that was a long time ago. In November 2018, Mrs. tVM and I purchased snowshoes, but the lack of appreciable snow and the polar vortex were not conducive to the sport early this winter. That changed in February, which is now the snowiest February on record (40+ inches) and fourth snowiest month ever in this neck of the woods. We snowshoed a minimum of 60 minutes, 10 times in February. The highlight was undoubtedly last Wednesday, February 27, 2019.
We woke up to another 4 inches. Every morning at sunrise, Clarence and I walk a mile in the woods at the UWRF horse farm where he diligently does his duty. It was difficult in the deep snow, so I returned to the farm at 9 am with my snowshoes and created a mile track of packed down snow. Mrs. tVM went back to the farm with Clarence and me at 10:30 am. She did the circuit again on her snowshoes to make the path firmer while Clarence and I followed. At 1 pm Mrs. tVM and I headed up the street and into the woods on our snowshoes to make another path closer to home where Clarence could walk to from the house. We did another 1.6 miles. At 4 pm, Clarence and I went up on the new path for our final walk in the snow for the day, sans snowshoes – I cannot wear snowshoes when I walk Clarence because I cannot walk fast enough for him in snowshoes. In all, we covered 7 miles on Wednesday – three on snowshoes and four more trudging through the snow with Clarence. That, my friends, is good exercise.
Most often, I snowshoe with Mrs. tVM. It is always quiet and serene and contemplative. I often find myself deep in Taizé prayer, particularly when I snowshoe solo. I immerse myself in the solitude of the cold outdoors and take great pleasure in the feel of stepping into 10 inches of fresh snow. I believe it is as close as one can get to the feeling that angels experience when they trod upon clouds.
Looking back through the years, I take great satisfaction in the many and varied physical activities I have experienced just for the sake of doing it. I enjoy each for different reasons and I know that each contributes to my physical, mental and spiritual health in the same measure but in different ways. If I’ve worn my body out, then I’ve lived a more complete life.