Monday, September 18, 2023

What the Ruck?

 Scrolling through the teasers on my Google feed, I paused over the CNN headline, "Rucking is an easy way to fitness." I knew what I would find, but I had to see for myself.

Rucking is, as the name implies, the practice of walking for fitness with a pack on your back, containing an appropriate amount of weight for your current physical level and your training goals. The first expert cited in the article was at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, which lit warm fires of recollection because of how much time I spent propelling myself around that city under my own power. 

Annapolis at the end of the 1970s was a perfect car-free town. Two bike racing buddies and I lived and worked there without the expense and encumbrance of motor vehicles for several years. One guy was a naval architect, earning engineer money. His rental was the nicest, though still modest. The other guy was working as a painter, but moved over into carpentry before starting his own contracting business. Both of them gave up transportation cycling for the sake of financial success, but their time as non-motorized workers helped both of them to amass more money than they could hope to have done if they had been feeding and housing cars as well as paying Annapolis's exorbitant rents.

When we weren't riding to get around, we were walking. Even if we had been carousing on a weekend, we never drank and drove, because we never drove. I mean, we did drive, if we needed to bum a car to go to a race or use a company vehicle, but the rest of the time it was pedals or plain old shoes. And if you needed to carry something, it went in a pack.

See where I'm going here? A walkable community would make "rucking" a daily experience. If I couldn't ride my bike to work on a given day, I would walk, and I still needed to carry some things. A day pack was part of the ensemble no matter what. Because my bike distance was short for the first few years, I would ride in street clothes and carry items in a day pack. Only when the daily bike distance pushed solidly beyond 10 miles did I start wearing riding clothes and putting more of the gear onto the bike itself. Those distances also eliminated walking as an efficient mode, but I still walked by preference when operating within a compact area.

America is gradually "discovering" walkability as a means of addressing multiple issues that some of us started paying attention to decades ago, when the problems would have been much easier to head off. So now we move at a panicked crawl in the general direction of community design and redesign that support simpler and lower impact means of transportation.

I have to wonder how many people load their fitness pack with some sort of neutral weight and drive to a pleasant venue in which to ruck, while doing nothing to improve the infrastructure and societal norms to help walkers and riders use their exertions as part of their daily life, folding it into the necessary trips they would be making anyway. It does require more conscious planning and preparation to walk or ride to work. It takes more time and exposes the commuter to the weather, cold or hot, wet or desiccatingly dry, whereas an optional fitness activity can be skipped, squeezed out of the schedule. The article talks about people throwing canned food or dumbbells in their pack and suggests using "specially made fitness sandbags" instead. Ooh, and you can get packs specifically designed for rucking, rather than a readily available multi-use hiking pack. You're rucking kidding me...

The Navy rucking coach is dealing with a student population with very scheduled lives, a dress code, and rules of conduct when they're out and about. Their options are limited for free-range urban hiking. This illustrates that the people who defend freedom are some of the least free, and explains why so many of them lean conservative. They color inside the g-dd-mn lines, why can't you?

Some people might not feel safe walking in their neighborhoods, or venturing from their safe zones far enough to get all of their errands done. Annapolis from 1979 to 1987 was safe and compact, so that a single person could obtain anything they needed without making a major trip to a shopping destination. I don't know if it's still true. Development has pretty well mutilated the area outside of downtown. No one I know lives car-free there, and most have occupations that require motor vehicle use.

Ironically, living in a rural area where I am surrounded by hiking opportunities, I can't do a lot of walking for transportation. I could, but the motorized majority drives to suit themselves on roads with no accommodation for anyone on foot. Only a few people walk except in villages and towns. Outside of that, they're mostly on roads where they have at least a slim chance to stay off to the side. The choice in that slot is to stick an elbow into the lane or wade into the tick-infested grasses.

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