Nature’s Treadmill

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Cross posted from GCimages. Originally published on June 16, 2011.

Not really about cycling, but it’s about being outside and hiking a historical trail in Sandy Spring, Md.

I was at Woodlawn Manor Park in Sandy Spring, Md. this past Saturday, June 11, to cover an event hosted by a wellness program called Health Freedom. The premise of the program is to free ourselves from a modern concept of slavery: bad habits, sedentary lifestyles, drugs, etc. The founder of theprogram said we were slaves to our bad habits, and just the simplest activity as walking has the power to help us improve our health.

A group of volunteers and participants gather around the check-in table at Woodlawn Manor.

When I woke up that morning to get to the park by 8 a.m., the weather didn’t seem promising. It was overcast with some dark clouds and the air had that wet feeling you get before the rain starts. The temperature wasn’t uncomfortable, until that is, you started walking through the woods. It still wasn’t all that hot, but with the humidity it might as well have been a clear day with 100-degree plus temperatures. But I guess that’s part of the experience, walking in single file on the 3-mile trail, following the trail guides to key points of interest on the part of the Underground Railroad located in Sandy Spring.

Walking in the woods was fun, for me, even though I was there as a reporter for the local paper. I like to walk (especially when I’m not feeling particularly lazy about it), and I participated in the event not only for the benefit of my story but for my own well-being also. The 3-mile trail was awesome, and despite the gross humidity, I felt really good after coming out of the woods where the breeze wasn’t restricted in its movement across the open field.

The clearing - a farm field between the wooded area and the spring. Following the edge of the field was the eeriest feeling I have ever felt, like someone was watching me from some place, hunting me even...

It was really satisfying for me to have that opportunity to walk on the trail and take it all in.

At the beginning of the guided hike, the two volunteer guides sort of set the scene for the group – the 1850s, and asked us to try and imagine ourselves as slaves escaping to freedom. Running away from the farm in Woodlawn Manor to freedom in neighboring Sandy Spring, which was settled mostly by Quakers. The guides also shared some historical tidbit and played some games with us, telling us to keep a lookout for “possible places to hide” or things that could be eaten for food.

What struck me during the first half of the hike was other people’s attitude about. Sure, the guides were a bit corny with their pathetic attempts at a joke here and there, but in general, I couldn’t help but wonder if these people were actually enjoying themselves or even appreciating the space they were occupying at the time.

My take: probably not.

There were bugs everywhere. It was hot, humid and sticky. One woman even fainted within the first 15 minutes of the hike, after which point we lost about eight people from the group. The further in to the woods we went, toward the spring, the smaller our group became. People were complaining, a lot. The heat this, bugs that, tired all over.

The community of Sandy Spring gets its name from this spring, found on this part of the Underground Railroad. Sandy Spring was founded by Quakers in the early 18th century.

I admire Health Freedom for what it’s trying to do, but healthy living, in my opinion, is dependent on attitude. From what I saw, despite the

circumstances (being in humid woods), these people didn’t have the positive attitude required to actually change anything about themselves. Sure, they can participate in weekly meetings learning about diet and nutrition and go to the gym with the program buddies, but when it comes down to actually working toward a healthier lifestyle, they won’t have any of it. If it requires subjecting themselves to bug bites, poison ivy, scrapes and bruises – forget it.

Is there a difference between getting sweaty and grimy in the comforts of an air-conditioned gym, and getting sweaty and grimy out in nature?

I understand that the gym isn’t for everyone, and that nature isn’t for everyone. I personally don’t like being in a gym. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t feel the satisfaction of physical activity that I would get when I’m outside, swatting away at flies and pushing aside overgrown branches. From a psychological point of view, of which I have no expertise in mind you, I would think that the physical and mental exertion required of an out-in-nature activity is more satisfying and more intense than one that’s required of an in-the-gym activity.

The burn and throbbing all feel good after a good workout, but the stinging and the scrapes are like symbols, added appraisals to your great efforts in creating a better you. Being active, eating better and having a better lifestyle overall is great in improving ourselves, but what is it without the attitude? I think there needs to be a component in cultivating a particular attitude and outlook about ourselves in addition to all the other parts that go into promoting healthier individuals.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

-Thomas Jefferson

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