Sunday, June 17, 2007

10.5 Miles  

As a child I heard someone say an Apache warrior that needed to travel a great distance in a very short time would kill his horse, because while the horse could run faster the warrior could run farther. I've never been able to track down that specific quote, but did find in legend that Apache warriors were said to be able to run 50 miles and outrun mounted cavalry.

The story fascinated me, so I began to wonder: how far could you walk in a day? Average human walking speed is about 3 to 5 miles an hour, which isn't that fast but factoring in human determination one could imagine someone briskly walking 50 miles in a day over level terrain with plentiful sources of food and water along the way.

The actual distances that people do travel are somewhat less. Trail hikers can make somewhere between 17 miles and 30 miles in one day depending on your fitness and the terrain. Horses, in contrast, can go 50 to 60 miles per day when pushed hard, and Pony Express riders (switching horses) could ride up to 75 miles per day. While no doubt individuals have probably gone farther in a day, this gives a rough idea of what humans and horses are roughly capable of.

BUT before I had done any of the above research in detail I got the bright idea of actually testing the hypothesis myself, by walking out my front door and heading north until I stopped. My wife readily agreed, and we talked about heading north, finding a nice place for lunch, then further north, finding a place for dinner, spending the night in some hotel, and then walking the rest of the way up to San Francisco.

This bright idea failed because I had forgotten to take into account two things: first, how punishingly far south of San Francisco we lived in the "Bay Area" (as the crow flies, Santa Teresa is as close to Santa Cruz on the coast as it is to the base of San Francisco Bay, much less San Francisco itself) and second, the pollution and noise you'd find walking north on a major thoroughfare. SO instead of walking straight towards San Francisco to find out how far we could go, we decided to walk north on the scenic route and find out how much fun we could have - probably a better plan in any event.

I discussed it with a friend, and he suggested that given when we tended to get up (both my wife and I are extreme night owls) we'd probably make ten to fifteen miles. That would take us to Los Gatos or Campbell, but I had this feeling we should not punish our bodies on the first try at this, so we picked Almaden Lake Park as our destination.

We packed a backpack with water, apples, a pair of spare glasses, sunscreen, and a couple of notebooks to draw in, and headed out of the house right at noon. First we tooled over to Santa Teresa County Park, a short walk from our house; we didn't bother to stop, just noting that it was actually closer than we had thought. We followed Curie Drive past Century Oaks Park, presumably missing the first entrance of the long and narrow park because we could only go a few feet before the paths all started to backtrack. At Snell Road we turned north to Santa Teresa and had a Mojo Burger for a late lunch, which was scrumptious and charming after two hours walking.

We resumed our trek, passing Coyote Alamitos Canal Park and (what Google Maps claims is) Foothill Park before ending up surprisingly early at Almaden Lake Park, an overcrowded but fun park. We were over an hour ahead of schedule, so we walked around, played on swings, and eventually found a shaded bench overlooking the lake where we watched birds and paddleboaters and discussed the meaning of life and the future of human civilization until the nearby fisherman got too jiggy with casting his line and we decided it was time to move.

I hadn't mapped anything beyond this point, so we walked by the nearby Almaden Station to verify how late the light rail was running, and then walked on to the Westfield Oakridge Mall, one of my favorite places in the South Bay Area, where we hit Target to buy some warmer clothes, then chilled out with some ice cream and saw Surf's Up. Sandi's previously broken foot was hurting by this point, and so rather than have her walk on it for two blocks to the Ohlone/Chynoweth line which could at best take us to the Santa Teresa station and another 30 minutes walk back to our house, we instead called for a cab using a number Id preprogrammed into my Treo and had a quick ride home.

The whole experience really made me appreciate cars - it took us a day to go visit destinations that we normally could visit in fifteen minutes - but also appreciate how far we could have gotten had our goal been to travel and not to dawdle. After fiddling around with Google Maps, I computed we'd traveled at least 10.5 miles - actually probably a mile or two farther, as we frequently did things like detour into parks, along side streets, and tossed in a couple loops around the lake. We left home at noon and arrived at the mall shortly after six, which, subtracting park bench time and lunch meant that we were traveling at least two and a half miles an hour - slow for walking but pretty good for dawdling. And other than a little foot pain, we felt great - and the next day, no ill effects.

So next time we'll go farther - Los Gatos, or Campbell, or simply hit some regular hiking in the hills. And hopefully next year, when we head down to visit our friends in Arizona, we'll be ready for a longer ride - the 16 mile hike up and down the wall of the Grand Canyon.

No, we're not Apache warriors, not by a long shot. But we sure are having fun.

-The Centaur



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