Walk carefully, and carry a big stick

Walking for exercise? sure, it sounds easy:  just put one foot in front of the other and repeat. Yet for the unwary walker, complications lurk,  like … um … well … like lurky complicated things. (Note to self: work on similes.)

Complications, lurking

My neighborhood is pedestrian-friendly, but sometimes, to paraphrase the Beach Boys, I get bugged walking up and down the same old strip; I’ve gotta find a new place to get the fat off my hips.

Which leads me to the country. If you haven’t been there, it’s a place that has few buildings but lots of trees and/or bushes, unless it’s the desert or the coast, in which case it has sand. You can tell the coast from the desert because there will be a large body of water making waves in the vicinity.

I’ve done most of my walking in California and Britain. Let me give you some advice about both, starting with the Golden State.

“Sorry if we hurt your field, mister”

Your first challenge will be finding a place to walk in the Californian countryside. Unlike Britain, we don’t have public foothpaths, so you have to drive around wasting gas until you locate a park – local, state, national – where you might have to pay a fee to get in. That’s if the park hasn’t closed because we can’t afford to pay rangers to collect the fees and empty the chemical toilets.

Anyway, let’s assume that you’ve found some land that isn’t bristling with signs like KEEP OUT! and PRIVATE PROPERTY! and YES, THAT MEANS YOU IN THE  I ♥ CATS T-SHIRT! and TRESPASSERS WILL BE FED TO WEASELS! Are you too tired to walk now? No? Okay, good.

Snake, rattle and roll

Before you set off, let me warn you about a few things that you might encounter in the California countryside. We have rattlesnakes. They tend to skulk under rocks, so don’t pick up rocks, and they usually rattle at you before they bite, so take those iPod buds out of your ears and pay attention.

Also, tuck your trousers into your socks, because we have ticks that carry Lyme disease, and believe me, you want to get that even less than you want to be bitten by a rattlesnake.

What’s that? You’re wearing shorts? What are you, suicidal?

Nature is red in tooth, claw, and shrubbery

Noli me tangere

Don’t step off the trail! That shrub you almost strayed into is poison oak, which will give you a rash that itches so badly you’ll want to rip your legs off. Here is a handy rhyme that you should memorize: “Leaflets three, let them be.” Although in winter, poison oak will be leafless, but it will still give you the rash.

Now, where’s your stout stick? You’ll need that in case you meet a mountain lion. The trick is to make yourself look as tall as possible by holding the stick over your head. If you come across a very clever mountain lion that figures out, “Ha ha, it’s a slab of meat holding a stick over its head,” you can try poking it with the stick, but I don’t fancy your chances.

Worst-case scenario: it’s winter, you meet the clever mountain lion, so you grab a stick that turns out to be poison oak, only the lion isn’t fazed, so you pick up a rock and get bitten by a rattlesnake. Let’s hope you have comprehensive medical insurance.


Surf’s up!

I know what you’re thinking: how about the beach? There can’t be rattlesnakes at the beach! And you’re right, but we do have sleeper waves. There you’ll be, idling along and thinking about how to kill off the licentious lawyer in chapter 3, or whatever it is that non-mystery-writers think about, when SPLAT! A huge wave wallops down and sweeps you out to sea, and you can’t swim back because of the drop-off and the undertow.

A wide-awake sleeper wave

Don’t forget your SPF 45. We don’t call it “sunny California” for nothing.

Finally, we have earthquakes. On the plus side, balancing on shaky ground is an excellent toner for the thighs.

Next time: advice about walking for exercise in Britain. (Advance tip: raincoats will be involved.)

Images from Wikimedia Commons, all in the public domain. Wave by Hokusai. Don’t recognize the “Sorry if we hurt your field, Mister” quotation? Well, it’s been a hard day’s night.

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