Autumn, delightful as it is in so many ways, is the source of one bit of frustration: the quickly receding number of daylight hours. Traveling west, the morning becomes more and more difficult to work with if you’re trying to be active outdoors. Sure, you can strap on all manner of lighting to make you more visible and to offer a tunnel of light to walk through. But you lose something in all that battery-powered brightness–a feeling of connectedness with the land around you. And isn’t that the point of going outside to walk in the first place?
Just yesterday I was walking on a warm and humid day on Cape Cod. This morning, I found myself next to an old favorite, the Erie Canal at Bushnell’s Basin. The canal trail here is mostly stone dust, with a few paved places along the way. Familiarity is helpful when you’re walking in the dark, and so is choosing to walk in the early morning. Morning offers hope for improving conditions, something an evening walk would be short of. In a safe area like Pittsford there aren’t a lot of concerns about getting mugged, but in a sketchier area most of the thugs eventually go to sleep, leaving the morning generally safer for wannabee fitness models.
Still, there’s something about seeing that offers comfort. Even on a walk I’ve done a dozen times or so, when you run out of ambient light you’ve got to make choices in life. Press ahead into the dark or return to the ambient light? What are the risks? Walking into a branch? A skunk? The Erie Canal? Getting run over by a random cyclist not using a headlamp? None of those sound particularly appealing to start a work day. So I turned back to the light.
Here’s the trick, you don’t walk all the way back to the brightest parts of your walk. You walk just far enough that your eyes can still see in the dim early morning light, then turn around and see how far you can go the next time. Does walking back and forth on a 1000 meter section of cinder path sound fun? You know what? It actually was. Just me and the ducks and some vehicle traffic on the other side of the canal. Back and forth, a bit further each time, until the scales tipped at 6 AM and suddenly you could see everything clear as… well, almost clear as day.
It might seem ridiculous, this walking in the dark business, but I managed four miles before coffee, and sort of saw the Erie Canal from a different perspective than I’m used to. There’s a lot to be said for checking a few boxes before breakfast–exercise, reading, and writing this blog. The only thing that might have made it better would have been an epic sunrise. Perhaps tomorrow, when I plan to be out there again.