Monday, May 02, 2005

Namsan at twilight

My powers continue to increase. The walk up the side of Namsan, starting from my residence, was accomplished in 44 minutes. I'm wondering if, in the coming weeks, I can slice that time down to under 40 minutes, but I don't know if that'll be possible without actually jogging. I already walk the route pretty quickly, and I'm hitting the stairs much faster than the average tourist, though not nearly as fast as a mediocre athlete.

My walk started at 6:55PM this evening. The weather was fantastic, and there weren't many people ascending the stairs. The near-darkness covered my sweatiness. An older, plump adjumma who'd set up shop on the Namsan steps was awfully drunk tonight, dancing to the music blaring out of a small radio. This same lady, when she's sober, tries to offer me makkoli, a Korean potable. I assume she drank a good bit of her stash this evening.

I'm recovering faster from the exertion of stair-climbing. The stairway seems to be getting shorter, and I'm generally less out-of-breath when I hit the top. After five minutes of rest and a quick guzzle of PowerAde, I was fairly leaping back down the stairs tonight, hopping them two at a time in places. My body's starting to remember some of the freedom it felt when I lived, studied, and hiked in Switzerland.

Two Switzerland memories in particular come to mind. The first is the moment I realized I'd lost a bunch of weight. I was walking uphill from Fribourg to Bourguillon, having crossed the lower bridge but not having reached the second, taller bridge that spans the Götteron Gorge, which shields the river Sarine.

It was afternoon. I reached down to scratch my side... and there was nothing there.

Years of fat-conditioning had led my fingertips to expect a lump or bulge where my spare tire was normally located. That day, however, I encountered... zilch. It was a strange moment. I actually stopped walking and felt my side. Smooth.

Holy shit.

Over the course of six months of daily hiking from Bourguillon to Fribourg and back, I'd lost about thirty pounds (a little more than two stone if you're British, or about 13.6kg). That's when I knew I was on to something big. My refusal to take the local buses had paid off in unexpected ways, and the beauty of it was that there had been no conscious decision to lose weight: it simply happened as a consequence of my love of hiking.

My second memory is related to the first. I'd been in Switzerland about ten months at that point, and had begun jogging again-- something I hadn't done regularly since high school. Switzerland is shot through with beautiful trails (Wanderwege), many of which contain a contoured course called a Parcours Vita-- a brand name, I think. On one particular day, while jogging a parcourse close to where I was living, I decided to break into a full sprint at the end. The last stretch of the trail was straight, and with great surprise and delight I fairly shot out of the woods and onto the road near my Swiss host family's house on the Chemin de la Fenettaz. As I was sprinting, it almost felt as if I were floating-- an astonishing sensation of awakened power and fleetness, something I'd never really felt before.

Tonight, as I half-ran down the Namsan steps, marvelling at how uncharacteristically coordinated my feet were, I remembered that sprint out of the Bourguillon woods.

I guess what I'm saying is that my hikes up Namsan have reawakened old memories stored not so much in my mind as in my body, and I find I'm impatient to be running again. It's going to be long months before I reach a point where that's plausible, and there's still the chance I might backslide (as I did when I left Switzerland and returned to the States for my senior year of college). But right now, the horizon seems to be widening as my lung capacity continues to increase.

Unfortunately, there is one hitch. I'll blog about that shortly.


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