I love the mountains but I don’t live near them. That means I can’t make it into the hills every other day to prepare for my attempt to climb all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers this summer. My knees can’t hold up to the pounding of regular running any more, the water’s too cold for swimming (I’d sink like a sleeping manatee anyway) and I’m too absent-minded to be trusted on a bicycle in traffic.
That leaves one option. The gym.
Problem is, I hate “exercise.” Not sports, or unstructured outdoor stuff. I’m talking about the inside, three sets of 10 reps, 30 minutes at 145 beats per minute, stare straight ahead in an iPod coma type of exercise. Who wants to flail away mindlessly on machines while trying not to listen to the angry rants of the drill sergeant/Spinning instructor in the studio next door?
Well, for the last few months, I’ve been doing just that. Three or four times a week (OK, three), I force myself out of bed, guzzle a couple of giant, novelty-size mugs of coffee and shamble my way in to the gym before work.
It’s no substitute for hiking, but I’m making progress. I’ve also made a new enemy: The step machine (formal name: The StairMaster StepMill 7000PT Stair Climber).
The good news is that the machine comes closest to mimicking the motion of uphill climbing.
The bad news is everything else:
— For some reason, this machine makes me sweat like a lawn sprinkler. My face turns really red, too. When I’m on the StepMill, people look at me with concern — for my health or their own dryness.
— There’s no appropriate speed. At one level, it’s a slow plod. With one flick of the controls, however, things are moving so fast you can cue the Benny Hill music, as seen here:
Sorry: Kittens are blog traffic gold, I’m told. Back to the StepMill.
— It’s boring, boring, boring. Imagine walking up a down escalator for thirty minutes. Even the most monotonous trails have a view, even if it’s just a flower or mushroom on the side of the path. With the StepMill, all you can do is stare straight ahead.
Our gym has a TV on every machine as well as big screens on every wall. I turn my set off, but you can’t escape it — it’s like working out in the electronics section of Best Buy.
For whatever reason, I always seem to get the StepMill with the set that won’t turn off or has broken controls. For the past week, I’ve been forced to watch the Today Show and its odd mix of faux gravitas and aggressive insipidness. The Al Roker experience is not mitigated by the mute function, let me tell you.
— While it’s boring, you can expect moments of sheer terror when your mind wanders and you miss a step or trip over the top of the machine. You’re one clenched handrail away from a fall — and a starring role in a scene from a bad sitcom (don’t they all have a gym mishap episode? I’m looking at you, According to Jim).
— The worst news of all, though is this: It works. I’ve had an easier time grinding through the tough stretches of hikes the past few weeks. That means I have to keep at it, even if it makes me think of this:
Next installment: Fat Man vs. squats