Made my first trip to a gym yesterday.
Signed in six weeks ago at the urging of more than one friend. Knowing that my admission and membership would be fully covered by my insurance, I had run out of excuses not to.
Still, New England’s fairly tolerable weather through December and into January kept me walking in the wildlife sanctuary just outside my door on most days. On others, windchills turned me around after barely half a mile, at times at the end of my driveway where I achieved nothing more than retrieving my mail.
Yesterday was raw, rainy, so in I went. I thought about leaving as soon as I stepped into the locker room. Not because of guys walking around wrapped in towels, or having to change in front of others–I’ve been a Renaissance faire performer for 22 years for God’s sake. No, it was the pounding disco or hip-hop or whatever the mindless thump-thump we hear out of speakers everywhere is called these days. Off those tiles it was so loud, I still wonder if its purpose is to prevent loitering.
Instead, I changed quickly and was in the vast gym looking for a basic treadmill. In retrospect, I was too quick, forgetting my water bottle in my “gym bag,” actually a touristy canvas tote-bag my mother used back in the 90s with names of California and Nevada cities and towns all over it, a motel chain it appears.
Before long I stepped onto a treadmill and asked the first person who happened by to show me how it started. He set it at 1.5 mph and showed me how to increase and decrease the speed. Presto! I was off. What I realized right away was that by leaning on those two handles in front of me, I was taking a fair chunk of weight off my feet, and I liked how it felt. I gradually notched up the speed and had it at 3.0 mph for the last 20 minutes.
My mistake was not bringing the water bottle, and I feared that I would not return if I took a break for water–as I do on the bench in the reserve where I have no choice but to walk back, save for a few days when I couldn’t resist the offer of a ride. So I plowed on until I reached 2.1 miles (about the round-trip distance of my walks on Plum Island) in 47 minutes, and had worked up a sweat that doesn’t happen in the reserve at this time of year.
Machine said 188 calories, and when I mentioned this to a couple guys in the locker room, I could tell that they both resisted laughing. Instead, they assured me with wide smiles that it’ll go up when I keep at it. Yes, they said “when” not “if.” One said it was likely wrong and that I must have burned more. Both said that the only important thing was that I got there and did it. That’s what those friends wrote in response to the bragging emails I sent them last night. A variation on the old Woody Allen line, just showing up is victory.
None of them mentioned the “no criticism” or “judgement free zone” of which Planet Fitness and other gyms boast to encourage new members no matter how out of shape we may be. Both phrases are all over the walls, but neither mattered much to me, as I enjoy self-deprecating humor. When anyone moves to the side of an isle of the supermarket or anywhere else as I approach, I can’t resist: “Oh, I’m wide, but I’m not that wide.” Yesterday, I made a point of wearing the t-shirt I just bought at the New Bedford Whaling Museum with a white whale on it, as if I was inviting ridicule.
That was my second trip to the annual marathon reading of Moby-Dick. Before the first one three years ago, the Newburyport Daily News interviewed me for a story, and when asked about my interest, I didn’t hesitate: “Call me Ishmael! Everything about him is true of me.” That was then. Now, I’d be more accurately cast in the title role.
Never an athletic specimen, I was always in fair shape thanks to busking and the Renaissance faire, always on my feet keeping a beat, sometimes dancing. Then I quit cigarettes in January, 2007, and by April of that year, I had gained 35 pounds I never shed. Three years ago the pandemic shut me down, and I indulged my appetites. Potato pancakes with sour cream every morning; hamburgers laced with molasses every evening with India Pale Ale to wash them down. Before long it was another 35 pounds, and only now am I intent on bringing those numbers down.
So it makes sense to have numbers in front of me–and numbers that I want to go up.
Today I made sure to have the water bottle with me. Those machines have cup holders on both sides of a screen with all kinds of controls that I’ll ignore for at least a month. There are also machines that do other things, such as de-escalators that people climb. No thank you. And a weight room. No way. Television monitors showing all kinds of stations line a wall in front of rows of various machines. I think of stories to fit the pictures; weather maps I imagine as military campaigns–which, thanks to climate change, they often may as well be. The brainless thump-thump is broadcast, but the place is so huge that the sound dissolves long before it bangs your eardrum.
Today’s numbers were 2.45 miles, 51 minutes, 206 calories, and I had the speed up to 3.0 mph within five minutes of starting and kept it there. As of today, I have set two goals: 1) to have all three numbers at least match the previous workout; 2) to shower and get dressed in noticeably less time than I workout. The first seems relatively easy, but the second? Even the obnoxious thump-thump has failed to hasten my departure.
That’s why this is strictly a winter habit, though it will also serve as a rainy-day option year-round. When the weather is tolerable, I’ll be back on the Refuge Road. I’ll miss the handles to lean on and numbers to increase, but I’ll take the sights and sounds of the marsh over so many indoor distractions, no matter how enticing some of them may be.
More than anything, I’ll welcome once again ending my workouts right here at home where I can fall on a bed for as long as I want before having to shower and get dressed.
All in blissful silence.