Urban Ranger [ An Everyday Systems site ]

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Song of the Urban Ranger

I am an urban ranger,
I walk, it's what I do.
The city is my wilderness,
Sky scrapers are my trees.
I hang my thoughts on lamp posts,
And park my dreams in metered spots.
I populate the empty lots
With my good ghosts,
And invest the pavement
with diamond recollections.
Exertions are my exercise,
My labors for effect.
I walk to go and go to walk.
I walk to work and work that I might walk.
I walk to dream up orders
For my servile sitting self.
No stagnant sedentary thoughts
Shall rule this life.
But who knows what's for what.
I sure walk a hell of a lot.

Don't waste my time, what is this?

Urban Ranger is an extended metaphor to convince people (starting with myself) to make a habit of purposeful, sustained walking.

Man, you are a bad poet

And you should be doing your job. Gimme a break. This is the internet.

Exertion vs. Exercise

It's idiotic. We've invented one class of machine to spare us physical exertion, and another class of machine to inflict it back on us again, but in an infinitely more boring, painful, and useless manner. We view it as the triumph of our age that work no longer means labor, that we can burn fossil fuel instead of living muscle. And yet we berate ourselves that we do not labor in our leisure time, that we do not spend our freed hours in the gym, that torture chamber that is only possible because the automobile and the escalator have saved us so much labor that the surfeit is killing us.

It's offensive. Work, dammit, and you won't have to play work later. No, you probably can't kill a caribou for dinner, or plow a field, or do most of the useful work that your ancestors did for thousands of generations. But you can still walk. And believe it or not, walking is enough (more on that below).

Let me guess: you don't go to the gym, or strap yourself to the bike machine, or grind the cartilage off your joints jogging around the track, as often as you think you should, if at all. Maybe you go for six months, plateau, get bored, quit for a year, get disgusted, and start up again. Maybe you haven't exercised in ages. You suspect that your problem is a deficiency of willpower. Well, you're off. Your problem is you are squandering willpower on a hopeless task: exercise divorced from purpose. The solution: purposeful exertion; in particular, walking.

Walking is still useful. It is interesting and pleasant. You can think and observe while you walk. You get somewhere. You don't need any special equipment or outfits. It provides great health returns on very little investment, without the risk associated with high impact activities. And you can do it for the rest of your life.

Nurture your Nature

Human beings are lousy runners, compared with other mammals. We are lousy at just about every kind of physical locomotion -- with one conspicuous exception: we are good walkers. We are good at moving slowly over great distances. We do it efficiently, we can do for extended durations, and we do it without messing our joints up. We can do it from nursery school to nursing home. Nature is giving us a clue: do what you're good at.

How good is it: the evidence

I prefer to leave this to the experts.

But here are some highlights:

boring details pending...

When to walk

To and from work. Errands. Anywhere you need to go that you can walk to in (say) under an hour. During your lunch hour (I eat at my desk in five minutes, and walk for 55. No you don't have to be quite this crazy, I put it out there just to get your creative juices flowing). When you've got cell phone calls to make. When you're in a funk. To listen to an audiobook. When you don't know what to do next. It's a great antidepressant.

The question should be "when shouldn't I walk?" Walking is the default activity. It's everything else that needs a justification.

That's the pep-thought, at least. Do what you can do. The ratio of something over nothing is infinitely greater than the ratio of everything over something (or something like that). I walk a little over an hour and a half a workday (20-60-20). Weekends are more erratic, but on average, about the same.

Don't talk to me about treadmills. That's the dark side. If you live somewhere where it isn't safe/nice to walk, move. If you can't afford to move from your hellhole, well then you probably can't afford a treadmill either.

How to walk

Don't worry about this part. Just walk. For the sake of your own dignity and the beauty of the world, please don't put on any silly outfits and pump your arms like a maniac. Just dress and walk normally. That 5% extra health benefit or whatever that you supposedly get from pumping your arms won't mean a thing when you stop after 3 months because you are tired of looking like a bozo. Also, you'll unconsciously get faster as you do it a lot. So relax.

Orders for your Servile Sitting Self

This isn't just bad poetry, I bring a microcasette recorder along to capture my brilliant ideas, paranoid rants against my "friends" and coworkers, to-do lists, and diaryesque inanities. Once a week or so I transcribe it to my computer. Now all I have to do is something great and my biographers will be all set.

"A sedentary life is the real sin against the Holy Spirit. Only those
thoughts that come by walking have any value." -- Nietzsche

More on the Metaphor

In case it isn't obvious, the metaphor is: you may not live in the wilderness, like your ancestors, but you can still walk as if you did. It's one of the very few things you can still do as they did. Besides all the health stuff, think of it as a kind of a communion. It'll sustain you walking, and it's a benefit in itself.

But it's for Wusses...

Well, maybe. If you put on bright blue sweatpants and pump your arms a lot, going nowhere with a big goofy grin on your face, sure, I'll grant you that, it's for wusses. But that's not the kind of walking I'm talking about.

Remember Strider, in Lord of the Rings? They didn't call him Sneaker or Sprinter or Sworder, though he possessed these skills in abundance. His distinctive quality, the important, even lethal skill, for which he was named, was that of walking rapidly and mindfully over great distances. Not only could he thus outpace his enemies, but he came to outknow them.

A lethal skill? Well, you say, that's fantasy. OK, skeptic, how did the army of Alexander the Great get to India? They walked. How about the Grande Armee of Napoleon, how did they get all the way from Paris to Moscow? Not on the concorde. For thousands of years winning a war was largely a matter of being there before your enemy. Forced marches routinely left a great deal more than every tenth man dead from exhaustion. So get the aqua sweatpants out of your mind, this is man stuff!

Inter Urban Rangers

Urban rangers are springing up all over the place, including Romania. Have your own urban ranger site? Let me know, and I'll link to it here.

I recently came across a New Yorker article about a man who walked every street in Manhattan. Now that's a methodical urban ranger (librarian, too!). See also his website (check out the maps in particular).

Need more than a metaphor to motivate?

Sign on the our bulletin board for amateur, semi-anonymous guilt tripping, random pretentious observations and more.

I've also started a weekly everyday systems podcast (internet radio show). Episode 6 specifically deals with urban ranger (you can hear me recite the Song!!!!).

For the truly bored, there is also an archive of older posts from the previous bulletin board system.


By Reinhard Engels

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