Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Steps Milestone

By Drew Hanson

Last spring, I decided to up my pedestrian game. I set a goal of getting a minimum of 10,000 steps each day. I missed a day here and there for the first few months but not again since July 5th. That means I have been able to get over 10k steps for 187 consecutive days—every day for over six months. That’s not an average. It’s a minimum that equates to at least four miles per day.

My neighborhood rail-trail
Some days I drive to a trailhead for a hike. Some days I add a walk to a driving errand. Other days my work in outdoor recreation gets me steps. About half of days, though, my steps come from within my home neighborhood. Having a rail-trail nearby is helpful and is one of the reasons I chose our house.

In spite of’s surprisingly low walk score of 45 for my home, in various directions within a comfortable 0.7 mile walk of my home are a grade school, middle school, hardware store, public library, parks, playgrounds, and a few restaurants. My family and I frequently walk to these and other destinations. (I first wrote about walk scores in 2014 in Move Reveals Walk Score Flaws.)

Attaining at least #10kStepsPerDay satisfies something I was seeking for a decade. I wrote about it in 2012 in A Daily Walk. Goal accomplished!

The #10kStepsPerDay routine has me feeling more energized, more positive, and I lost a few pounds. Give it a try and follow #10kStepsPerDay.

How long can I can keep this streak going?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Lost Hike

By Drew Hanson

The Badger State has little-understood but impressive hiking foundations. Few states can claim a share of the legacies of John Muir, Gaylord Nelson and other giants, as Wisconsin can. Plus, we have important groups with noble histories like the Wisconsin Go Hiking Club, founded in 1924, Izaak Walton League, which took critical steps in the 1930s-1950s to support hiking, and the Ice Age Trail Alliance, founded in 1958.

As much as there is here to celebrate, there are also mistakes from which to learn. In this installment of Pedestrian View, let’s look at a classic Wisconsin hike that was lost to short-sightedness.

On October 15, 1922 a group of Milwaukeeans took a hike in neighboring Waukesha County. Their story was captured for posterity a few days later in the weekly newsletter of the Milwaukee City Club. Records saved by the Wisconsin Historical Society and other online resources show it being a typical outing of its day.

The group called themselves, “the Outdoor Lifers,” and included Jerry Sweet, Henry Hase and William Foster—an enthusiastic bunch, no doubt.

Creation of the Kettle Moraine State Forest was still 15 years in the future so the Outdoor Lifers hiked across private land in an era before ubiquitous “No Trespassing” signs. It’s what everyone did who hiked in those days. It was a normal 1920’s outing.

The story of their day begins, “Sunday was a day to set the blood a-racing—blue sky, stretches of sear fields, and woods bursting with autumn color—and when the Outdoor Lifers stepped off the train at Nagawicka, Hase bounded to the top of the ski jump to vent his spirits. The hikers struck across to Government Hill and South Wales. Foster was growing prodigiously hungry and became fearful whether he had instructed Sweet to bring enough food. (The rest of the Outdoor Lifers were groaning under the weight of their provision packs.) Powerful thing, imagination! Bryn Mawr, Welsh for ‘Big Hill,’ was reached at noon.”

After a lengthy scenic hilltop lunch, the crew continued their saunter. They “reached North Prairie by dark and stopped at a billiard hall a half block from the station to wait for the train. No sooner had Jerry Sweet remarked that he never knew a Milwaukee Road train to be on time than it came tearing in. There was a mad scramble for the station.”

It sounds exhilarating, like the kind of thing many of us would enjoy today—actually, do enjoy when visiting other places in the U.S. and Europe. These days, we must struggle to find all-day hikes in southern Wisconsin. Indeed, a few weeks ago a friend emailed me about his daughter and her friends’ interest in a 3-day hike within an easy drive of Madison as a transition from summer break to college. I informed the friend that the only meaningful 3-day hikes, or even all-day one-way hikes, in southern Wisconsin are in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Compounding the problem is that backpacking in the Kettle Moraine is so popular that it requires reservations at rustic shelters that are booked months in advance. The Black River State Forest might technically fit the bill but its preponderance of motor vehicles is enough to keep away those who enjoy hearing predominantly sounds of nature.

It was not supposed to be this way. The State of Wisconsin had a plan, including a project boundary approved by the legislature, to acquire the lands needed to protect this classic hike and others. Approved in 1937 the plan was rescinded in 1965. The about-face was one big step backward not just for hiking but also for land and water conservation. What followed was the slow conversion of most of the lands we today call the Mid Kettle Moraine from large family farms to cookie-cutter subdivisions. The result: Waukesha is running out of clean water and a classic hike between Nagawicka and North Prairie is gone.

Instead of sticking with its 1937 plan to conserve the Kettle Moraine, the State of Wisconsin has acquired over a million acres of public access lands elsewhere. How many public places in southern Wisconsin today allow a person to take an all-day hike without walking in circles? You can count the number on your fingers.

(Tangentially, considering the public transit used for the classic 1922 hike, how many all-day hikes in southern Wisconsin are today served by public transit? Zero. A 1916 railroad map of southeast Wisconsin showing the extensive public transit options available to anyone planning a hike in 1922 is available from the Wisconsin Historical Society here.)

In spite of Wisconsin’s impressive hiking foundations, both major and insidious mistakes were made in the decades since 1960 that have severely limited hiking opportunities in southern Wisconsin. Sad. Short-sighted. But don’t lose hope. The future still holds opportunities.

Under Governor Tommy Thompson, in 1990 for the first time State funds were earmarked for the purchase of Ice Age Trail lands and in 1999 the longest segment of Ice Age Trail in history was protected in a single acquisition. Under Governor James Doyle, between 2003-2010, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources made Ice Age Trail land acquisition a priority and solid progress was made. With political will, momentum could be regained.

In 2009, Congress gave the National Park Service the authority to acquire land for the Ice Age Trail from willing sellers. But to date, NPS has not used this ability to purchase even a single parcel. With political will, this too could change.

Where the land can be acquired for the public, the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s Mobile Skills Crew has shown it can build the highest quality hiking trail.

The 2018 Wisconsin Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) shows hiking/walking/running on trails to be the most popular outdoor recreation activity in Wisconsin, with 68% of state residents participating at least once in the last 12 months. Will that significant majority lose or gain hikes in the future?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

IAT Gems

By Drew Hanson

A common question asked of me is, “What is your favorite part of the Ice Age Trail?” Wanting to remain as unbiased as possible, my response is often, “The next segment opened to the public.” It’s hard to beat a hike on any trail segments built by the Ice Age Trail Alliance's Mobile Skills Crew. With a half-dozen MSC projects each year, there are regularly new segments to enjoy.

But what about landscapes? What are some of the most special (and vulnerable) landscapes along the thousand-mile IAT? This is essentially the question the Ice Age Trail Alliance (then called the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation) attempted to answer in the early-mid 1990s. What they came up with were a list of what they called gems. Although there are biases and omissions in the list, it does provide a partial index of exceptional natural resources of statewide and national significance along the IAT.

Here are the gems identified by IATA in 1994, listed from west to east:

* Dalles of the St. Croix
* Straight Lake
* Chippewa Moraine
* Old Baldy
* Wood Lake
* Grandfather Falls
* Harrison Hills
* Highland Lakes
* Eau Claire Dells
* New Hope Meltwater Channel
* Waupaca-Farmington Drumlins
* Lower Narrows
* Gibraltar Rock
* Lodi Marsh
* Table Bluff
* Cross Plains
* Verona Moraine
* Oconomowoc River
* Polk Kames

Obvious places like Devils Lake, Northern Kettle Moraine and Southern Kettle Moraine were left off presumably because they already had large blocks of public land, making them unthreatened by land use changes. Other places I would add to the list include the Keweenawan Hills, John Muir’s boyhood stomping grounds, Walla Hi and others.

It is a useful list to help answer the question of favorite places. More urgently, many of these resources remain vulnerable and it is hoped their mention here will refocus attention on their importance.

What are some of your favorites?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Enjoy Each Step

By Drew Hanson

Mindfulness is not something that comes easy to me. But it is something to which I am learning to strive, or stride, as I build an awareness of my breath and steps.

In his essay Walking Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking—walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk. The purpose is to be in the present moment and, aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step. Therefore, we have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment.” Increasingly, this is how I try to walk (but rarely succeed).

While I am deeply grateful to Hanh for Peace Is Every Step, he argues that walking must be slow. When he states that running is a way to “print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth,” I think he is pointing a finger in the wrong direction. I agree that running through an airport is not meditative, but I also believe any form of walking, especially when done in nature, can be wonderful and beneficial. When it is done with intention and an awareness of one's breath and steps, regardless of pace, any form of walking can be meditative. As Hanh writes later in the same essay, “If you feel happy, peaceful, and joyful while you are walking, you are practicing correctly.”

Simply enjoy each step.

And breathe.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Sidewalks are for People

A major courier delivery services company wants to use wheeled robots instead of people to deliver packages. Groovy sci fi imagery aside, this is a really bad idea.

Sidewalks are for people. Will the wheeled robot step aside for a grandmother in a wheelchair or neighbor with MS who needs the full width of sidewalk? What will the robot wagon do when it tips over?

People have legal rights to sidewalks. Wheeled robots do not and should not. As urban landscapes continue to grow, sidewalks are one of the last refuges for millions of people to engage in humanity's oldest form of locomotion.

Instead of pouring gobs of money into robots, marketing and lobbying, a good company would do the right thing that is leaving sidewalks for people.