Determined to Walk

Posted on April 9, 2012 by

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There are 12 kilometers between my house in Tskaltubo and my school in Kutaisi. These 12 kilometers are generally covered in about 15 minutes by either car (in the morning) or marshutka (afternoon). There are four turns between my house and my school but the majority of these 12 kilometers are along the straightaway of a two lane highway, surrounded on each side by vast open spaces, grazing pastures and scattered trees. As a very active, outdoorsy and independent person from Colorado, searching for the optimal exercise option, I’ve spent every commute for the last two months staring at these open spaces, wondering whether it would be feasible to walk home from school.

Although I have mostly adjusted to my new life in Georgia, I am still struggling to find a good exercising option. I exercise to maintain both my health and my sanity but prefer workouts that fit into my life nicely. In college, when I lived within walking distance of the Lincoln Memorial, I took up running and spent evenings weaving through tourists and monuments before returning to my apartment for dinner and a shower. After college, when I lived just outside of Washington DC, I relied on a bike for both exercise and transportation, riding at least 15 miles a day while playing a real-life game of Frogger with the taxis, cars, tourists and high-maintenance locals that comprise the Nation’s Capital. And last year, while living in South Korea, an afternoon work schedule and frigid winters pushed me to learn how to swim laps.

Without a bike or access to a pool, I assumed running would be my best option. I’ve tried running in Georgia but have run into a few complications. One, I am in horrific running shape. Two, my schedule is too inconsistent to get back into running shape. Three, the weather has been less than conducive to any outdoor activities, particularly running consistently. Four, running requires a shower, which is a precious commodity in Georgia. So, still searching for the ideal exercise outlet, I began to wonder whether those 12 kilometers between my house and my school would be the solution to my problem. I was determined to test this theory at the first hint of spring.

When I awoke last Tuesday to clear, blue skies and a bright sun, I knew spring had arrived. I eagerly hopped out of bed and quickly packed my walking clothes: running shoes, soccer shorts and a white t-shirt. After school, I booked it one kilometer to the nearest McDonalds (home of the cleanest bathroom within walking distance of my school), changed into my shorts and t-shirt, put on my jacket, placed my sunglasses on my head, put in my headphones and slotted my cell phone into a pouch on the strap of my backpack. Despite my excitement, I felt glaringly out of place in my navy blue Adidas shorts as I began my trek from the Kutaisi McDonalds to my home in Tskaltubo.

As I turned onto the straightaway out of Kutaisi, I paused momentarily to take off my jacket, at which point I moved my cell phone quietly fell out of its pouch and onto the sidewalk. Thinking nothing of it, I picked it up, returned it to the pouch and continued on my way. I walked along the sidewalk until it gave way to a minimal shoulder, and after breathing in far too much diesel exhaust, I headed off the road and into the woods.

Much to my delight, I quickly discovered that I would have to make my own trail through the woods – a trail that involved jumping over puddles, ducking under branches and zig-zagging my way through the trees. Around 2:22pm, unnavigable land sent me back to the road and I pulled out my phone to call a friend. When she didn’t answer, I returned the phone to its pocket on my backpack strap, scrambled up a muddy wall and returned to charting my own trail through the woods.

In shorts for the first time this year, the sun’s rays keeping me warm, and my ipod for company, I was happier than I’d been in months. As I quietly sang along to my ipod, I hopped and weaved my way through a complicated maze of puddles, thorn bushes and trees until, at 2:35pm, I realized my trusty phone pouch was empty. And my phone was no-where to be found.

Slightly panicked, I froze, turned off my music and looked behind me. I was in a clearing and had just navigated my way through multiple puddles. Beyond the puddles were scores of aspens, bushes, and marshes, creating an unrecognizable maze that I knew contained my tiny, black Nokia phone. I sighed and slowly began re-tracing my previous route; hoping, desperately that fate would intervene and someone would call my phone just as I happened to be walking by. I had no such luck. Finally, I found the muddy bank I had climbed and attempted to ease my way back down to the road, desperately hoping that my phone was by the road. Instead, I missed a step, lost my footing, slid down the muddy wall and sliced the palm of my hand on a thorn bush. Annoyed, slightly humbled and very muddy, I cursed the hill, and then returned to my phone search; this time, ignoring my increasingly swollen and painful hand.

After an hour of searching, I returned to the clearing, flip the on switch on my ipod and continued onward. The freedom of my route and beauty of the day quickly made me forget about my phone. And I giddily resumed jumping puddles, stepping over thorn bushes and using the trees like slalom gates. After a while, I was about to veer towards the right, further away from the highway when I saw a white police car pull over on the highway, about 50 yards in front of me. There were no others cars around and I had a sneaking suspicion I was their target.

As I neared the car, the passenger door opened and two policeman came to the edge of the road. I greeted them in Georgian, thereby exhausting a significant portion of my Georgian vocabulary. In very broken Georgian (the police spoke no English), I tried to say that I was going from Kutaisi to Tskaltubo, did not want to ride in the car but wanted to walk. When they turned back towards their car, I assumed they were satisfied and immediately returned to my hike, this time selecting a path that was further from the road. About five minutes later, the police car pulled over ahead of me again, so I returned to the road, only to be handed a cell phone by the policeman. It was the police captain. He spoke English. He asked what I was doing, where I was teaching and where I was living. When I told him the name of my host grandfather, a very memorable man, he exclaimed “Ah! Soso! Okay.” And then ended the call and the policemen went on their way. Relieved, amused and slightly baffled, I continued onward.

I had now been walking for over two hours, which was longer than I expected the entire hike to take. Eager to quicken my pace, I tried walking along the shoulder of the road. But this only invited numerous motorists to pull over and ask in either Georgian or Russian whether I wanted a ride. Determined to walk, I veered back into the woods and continued on my personalized hiking trail. As I got tired, I also grew lazy – I started underestimating the size of puddles and walking through bushes instead of over them.

When I finally made it home, about three hours after I left McDonalds, my feet were drenched in muddy marsh water. My running shoes, which had been white, were now brown. The back of my shorts had a big muddy spot, left over from my fall. My legs were thoroughly scratched from the thorn bushes. My palm was too swollen to flatten completely. And my family had chosen the first day of spring for their spring cleaning. The apartment was nearly spotless. My dirty clothes and limbs were not a welcomed sight. I was quickly instructed to scrub the dirt off of all of my shoes, especially my completely muddy running shoes. But, as I sat in the bathroom scrubbing off that day’s dirt, I reflected on the day. My phone could easily be replaced. The police had just been looking after the random foreigner. My cuts would heal and my clothes could be cleaned. But I knew that walking those 12 kilometers from my school to my house was the perfect exercise option for my new life in Georgia.

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