Saturday, February 18, 2006


INTERESTED BYSTANDERS: Was that you we saw walking out on Route 9 the other day?

MARTIN ZENDER: I suppose it was. Unless it was Admiral Peary.

IB: Were those ski goggles or WWI aviator glasses?

MZ: Ski goggles. They really keep the wind out. I don’t care what I look like.

IB: You needn’t have said that. We thought you might be an Eskimo at first, but we couldn’t fathom why an Eskimo would be out on Route 9. Besides, an Eskimo would have been wearing fur mukluks and not New Balance 763’s. We do credit you for that. How cold was it?

MZ: Twenty-five degrees, but the wind was the problem. It’s really bad on Route 9, especially at the top of the hill on the curve before Base Line Road. There’s no wind block. The wind was at least twenty-five miles per hour that day. The wind chill felt like a hundred below. It’s like an open tundra out there.

IB: ‘Open tundra.’ Isn’t that a redundancy?

MZ: If you’re riding in a car, I suppose it would be.

IB: There now. Are you disparaging our means of transport?

MZ: Not overtly. Cars are a necessary evil. If you can stand to drive one, go ahead. I just hope you get some sort of exercise. I mean, not that you need it.

IB: You are exercising our patience. Does that count?

MZ: The exercising of the patience burns only 35 calories an hour. At that rate, it would take you three months to lose a pound. I’m afraid you’d have to do better than that.

IB: Yes, well—How many miles do you walk a day?

MZ: Eight.

IB: Honestly now.

MZ: I’m walking eight miles a day right now, Monday through Thursday.

IB: How long does that take you?

MZ: About two hours, give or take five minutes. It depends on how many times I stop to tap the bladder.

IB: Tap the bladder! Don’t tell us you are able to manage such a feat in that Eskimo suit of yours.

MZ: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I carry a liter of Gatorade on my back, is the problem. Plus I drink about nine glasses of water a day. So there are issues.

IB: We have heard quite enough, thank you. So when you are not despoiling the countryside, you average about fifteen minutes a mile.

MZ: That’s right.

IB: So what do you do on Fridays? Collapse?

MZ: Not at all. I do three and a quarter miles of speedwork.

IB: You mean you actually drive your car?

MZ: No. I walk fast. Last week, I averaged 10.78 minutes a mile.

IB: People don’t walk that fast from a fire. At that pace, you may as well be running.

MZ: I used to run—all the time.

IB: I suppose we’re going to hear about it.

MZ: I started running in 1972. I remember watching the great miler Jim Ryun in a track and field event on television. I got inspired and did ten laps around my house when the next commercial came on. It was pitch dark out, about ten o’clock at night. I was probably wearing high-top Converses. My parents thought I was crazy.

IB: Your parents were wise.

MZ: I did my first marathon in 1980. I would end up doing four more. My best time for the 26.2 miles was a 3:06. But I decided I needed to do longer distances.

IB: All right now, hold on. Excuse us for asking this nonsense question, but—twenty-six miles was not long enough for you?

MZ: No. I wanted to do journey runs. I wanted to run over the curvature of the earth.

IB: Why?

MZ: Because it was there. I’m always striving to whittle life down; I want basics; I want essences. I want to live fit and simply. Lots of things conspire against that in this world, but running seemed so pure to me; pure travel, just the human body and the earth. And maybe a box of Granola bars. So I wanted to do more of it. I wanted to experience where such simple motion could take me.

IB: And so you put this madness to the test?

MZ: You bet. I did forty miles around my city, in one day. Then I did a two-day, seventy-five mile run. Then I did a one-day, fifty-four miler. Then I did a sixty-three mile run/walk from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, across the state of New Jersey. That was in 1982.

IB: Sixty-three miles in one day?

MZ: That’s the farthest I’ve ever gone on foot in a day. But I’d discovered the secret of mixing walking with running. I would run fifteen minutes, walk five, run fifteen minutes, walk five. I just kept doing that from four a.m. until nine-thirty at night.

IB: Isn’t walking cheating?

MZ: Not if they’re aren’t any rules.

IB: Were you alone on these adventures?

MZ: Yes.

IB: Ah. We thought so. So we are correct in surmising that you are some radical, ascetic, monk-in-motion.

MZ: Hm. Well…yes, I guess. Thank you. It’s not altogether true, but it would make a great bumper sticker.

IB: If you had a car!

MZ: You got me on that one.

IB: Back to your mad schedule of present. On Saturdays you…

MZ: Rest.

IB: God be praised! Amazing! You actually sit down! Oh, hallelujah. You are a Sabbath keeper, then.

MZ: Well, no. Saturday just happens to be the first day of the weekend when everyone is home. We just hang around because the kids are home from school, and Melody is off from work. She’s a secretary at the school.

IB: A secretary. Thank the Lord there is at least one normal person in your family. Tell us about Sundays. On Sundays you go to church, obviously, since we hear from so many that you are a man of God.

MZ: Well, no. I walk nine miles on Sunday. But I’m trying to build up to eighteen.

IB: The devil you are! Ignoring for the moment that you are an apostate of some strange and singular variety, may we ask why you—or anyone—would want to build up to eighteen miles of walking on the Christian Holy Day of Obligation?

MZ: I’m sort of training for a walk to Pittsburgh.

IB: Oh. Of course. Well, why didn’t we think of it? We should have know it, from all you have said. Pardon our inexcusable daftness on this. It is a most natural course for you, to walk to Pittsburgh. We are tempted to ask—why Pittsburgh? But please do not say. Because of course we know that the answer will be…

MZ: Because it’s there. Plus, it’ll be a five to six day journey, depending on whether I want to do twenty-five or thirty miles a day. I’ve never done more than a two-day trip on foot, so I’m excited at the prospect of this.

IB: Oh, yes, well, who wouldn’t be? But why don’t you just run to Pittsburgh? You were so crazy about running. You disobeyed your parents because of it, and brought them grief. We think you owe it to them to run to Pittsburgh.

MZ: I don’t run anymore.

IB: What? Are you out of Granola bars? Gatorade? Some other foul product? Do tell.

MZ: Actually, I just got tired of it. It got to be too hard. Walking is more relaxing. It’s easier.

IB: Easier! Why, that should be enough to damn it for a person such as yourself. Are you turning over a new leaf?

MZ: My body’s telling me to walk. Besides, it’s even more basic than running. It used to be the main mode of transport in this world. The car is a Johnny-come-lately, you know. I’ve discovered that a Biblical day’s journey was between twenty and twenty-five miles a day.

IB: So?

MZ: So, people used to regularly walk distances like that. It was an ordinary thing back then to be able to walk twenty miles a day. When grandma said she’d be walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, nobody thought anything of it. It was no big deal. They said, “See ya, Grandma!” It was a common state of fitness, to be able to do that. These days, people don’t even want to park on the outskirts of a Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s too far. They’ll drive forty laps around the lot in their cars, just to get fifty yards closer. It’s pathetic.

IB: Oh, have some sympathy. People are old, you know.

MZ: Well, they wouldn’t get old if they’d get out and exercise. Ever hear of a guy named Edward Payson Weston? He was a famous pedestrian of the late 1800’s, and he walked across the United States at the age of seventy-one. Seventy-one. And he averaged forty miles a day!

IB: Another radical, ascetic, monk-in-motion, no doubt.

MZ: Not really. Just a man who valued exercise and fresh air. In fact, the more I think about it, this radical, ascetic, monk-in-motion label no longer describes me. Maybe I used to be that way, but I’m not anymore. I just want to be normal.

IB: Glory be. You call walking to Pittsburgh normal?

MZ: It would have been normal a hundred and fifty years ago. Nowadays, normal is weird and weird is normal. If you ask me, it’s weird to drive around a Wal-Mart parking lot for fifteen minutes looking for a spot next to the handicapped space.

IB: Hm. Well…perhaps you’ve made your first point of the day. But—say, where are you off to in such a hurry?

MZ: Excuse me, but I’ve got to use the restroom.

© 2006 by Martin Zender