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Adventures in Working Out—Around the World

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Running on Easter Island; Photograph by Sarah Seiff, My Shot

While much of my travel involves adventure and plenty of activity, even the most adventurous of us find ourselves traveling for other reasons. Like business. The modern traveler faces a situation that did not plague the traveler of the far past—we aren’t carrying hundreds of pounds of stuff, nor fixing wagon wheels, wrestling stubborn camels, or fighting bandits in our gallivanting across the globe. No, we’re sitting for sometimes 16 hours straight eating and drinking with no more motion than to readjust ear buds and perhaps, if we’re not completely dehydrated, walking a whole 20 meters to the airplane toilet from our seats … AND BACK!

So we have a challenge in order to stay in shape for that upcoming climb or paddle—we have to work out on the road. I’ve found that trying to stay fit while staying in hotels falls into a couple of categories:

• Modern hotels that have a great gym. (Maybe 10 percent of the time)
• Modern hotels that have a microscopic gym jammed into a closet apparently next to the boiler room. (Approximately 30 percent)
• Hotels that have scoured the globe for the worst designed, bizarre equipment that hasn’t been fixed or oiled in decades. (Feels like 90 percent, but is probably 20 percent)

And then the majority of hotels I stay at have nothing for the fattening traveler which leaves other options:

• Room Workouts
There are sit-ups and pushups which are pretty gross when considering hotel carpets. There are curls, bench presses, etc. with a fully packed suitcase. Dips between bed and chair, and I suppose if you have the blacksmith grip of a climber, you could do finger pull-ups on a doorway. However, somehow working out in your own hotel room is just—the worst. It’s non-motivating, slightly depressing, a bit weird and just basically unpleasant. Then there’s the moment when you’re listening to music on your mobile device and don’t hear the knock of room service. When they open the door and cause “workout-us interruptus,” a horrified look and a quickly shut door ensue.

• Running in Strange Places
Or, rather, looking strange while running. In my experience traveling internationally there are a whole scale of reactions received, which I like to put on a scale, called the Local Reaction Scale or LRS. On one end is zero reaction—where running is accepted, normal, and many of the locals run. On the other end of the scale is ten. Ten is where people stop in place, stare, run away, look concerned or dumbfounded to see someone running (what the fritz is that psycho-tourist doing? Is he escaping a crime scene?). Here are a few of the places I’ve run and where they land on the LRS:

New York – 0
Denver – 0
Rural China – 6
Greenland – N/A (no one to see you run)
Norway – 2
Bhutan – 9 (what IS that guy up to?)
Brazil, urban – 0
Brazil, rural – 4
San Francisco – 0 (doesn’t EVERYONE run?)
Kurdistan, Iraq – 10 “You are CIA. Yes, I know you are. No, there’s no way you’re a tourist. You’re CIA.”
China – Gobi Desert- N/A (Are you insane? No one runs here)
Monroe, Washington, where I live – 7. It should be a zero, but we occasionally get heckled by toothless rifle-rackers in jacked up trucks adorned with No Fear stickers. Heckled. For running.

The solution that works nearly everywhere is “The Long Walk.” This is the best “workout” that can be done everywhere. I do long walks wherever I can and whenever. Barring dangerous locations (walking at night in certain urban areas obviously not the greatest, although it can then turn into running!), the long walk is a great remedy for overfeeding and for the mind. Note: Lake Naivasha, Kenya—do not walk at night as you’re basically guaranteed a hippo attack.

Some of my favorite road workouts include: Running on the beach in Mexico; running on  a treadmill at night on a hotel rooftop in Sao Paulo; mountain biking through a Jordanian desert that included seeing ancient Nabatean pipeworks and pottery in the sand and also stopping for tea and a smoke (lung clearing) at a Bedouin tent; hiking on the Great Wall of China where there were almost no tourists, night walks in full sunlight in summery Norway. Most recently I walked with a colleague in Bhutan for an hour at night and it was almost impossible to see anything as there was no light pollution whatsoever. No car noise, no machinery, no planes, nothing but wind, quiet, occasional dogs and night sounds.

And isn’t this what travel is about? Slowing down, connecting with oneself and fellow travelers, really feeling the destination and coming away more enriched, humbled and thankful? I am thankful for the opportunity to travel and to keep healthier by seeing a place by feet.

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
― W.H. Davies


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