Monday, April 28, 2008

WWFD? (What Would Frodo Do?)

I'm outing myself here as somewhat of a geek, but I love The Lord of the Rings. I've probably read the whole series, cover to cover, about ten times. For those of you who haven't read it or watched the movies, this is the basic plot of LOTR:

Frodo walks to Mordor to toss a ring into a pit of fire.

Some other stuff happens as well, but that's pretty much the main plot. And yes, on occasion, Frodo gets to ride on a horse/pony/eagle/whatever, but much of the time, he's walking.

On Saturday, as I was walking a mile and a half to my local library, I became curious. Just how far does Frodo walk? Luckily, there are people on the internets way more geeky than I, who had not only PONDERED this question, but figured it out. According to these directions, it's 1,841.8 miles from the Shire to Mordor! Sheesh, Frodo! Maybe next time you're traveling to Mordor, consider a Greyhound bus!

Clearly, I don't think that people should consider walking as an alternative form of transportation next time they decide to travel 2,000 miles, but I think it is worth rethinking what is walkable and what isn't. Walkability means different things for different people, but the culture of a city can also affect what is considered walkable.

For example, when I went to college, I lived in a university town. I walked 1.7 miles from my apartment to the theatre building where most of my classes were located, and I made that round trip walk at least once a day, sometimes several times a day, in the sunshine, in the rain, and in the icy wind and snow.

I did it because I had no other choice. I didn't have a car with me in college. But, to be perfectly fair, I also did it because it was normal. Had everyone driven, I would have probably bought a car, or driven my car out from California. Because most of my friends walked everywhere, I walked as well.

And then I moved to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a peculiar city. You see, we are blessed with some of the best weather on the planet, and yet we choose to spend the majority of our days in our little (or sometimes very large) vehicles. Even though I had always walked several miles a day, even in the snow, once I moved to LA , walking became unthinkable.

I started to drive everywhere. A mile, a half mile, two blocks. It's a cliche, and it's not entirely true that "nobody walks in LA," but it's true that the attitude towards walking is vastly different in LA than in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. In LA, if the only parking spot is three blocks away, it means you should probably just valet.

I don't mean to take anyone's cars away from them. Personally, I still love my car even though I use her a little less frequently than I used to. And there is nothing more magical than driving on an LA freeway at 2:00 am. Part of the reason I am so vocal about electric cars is because I have hope that to a certain extent, Angelenos will one day be able to have their cake and eat it too: that is, I dream of a day when we are able to drive cars powered by that beautiful Southern California sunshine.

But at the same time, I think we can do a better job of assessing whether we really need to drive to every little errand. In the past month, I've walked to the metro, to Honda's house, to the bulk food store, to Trader Joe's, to the video rental, to restaurants, and more.

And you know what I've found?

That LA is freaking beautiful. While walking, I can fully appreciate the dazzling array of flowers, the palm trees that litter every block, the aroma of jasmine in the morning. I've also had time to admire some of the man-made beauty in LA: Craftsman houses, Tudors, mission style homes, we've got it all.

You know what else I've found?

That I look better and feel better.

My muscles are more toned, I have no problem running a couple flights of stairs anymore, and, dude, I'm tan! Okay, I'm Indian so I'm always tan, but seriously. I'm tann-er!

Now some of my fellow Angelenos may think, That's great Arduous, but isn't walking everywhere really inconvenient? Or, I could never walk TWO miles to the Metro. That's insane! I just don't have time for that.

And you know what? Maybe you don't have time for that. But let's do the math, shall we?

I walk for about 70 minutes every day. The rest of my commute (via subway and bus) takes about half an hour each way, just five minutes longer than my drive would be.

It does make for a somewhat long commute. But you know what I don't do? I don't drive twenty minutes to a gym that charges me $80 a month so that I can WALK on a machine that seems more suited to HAMSTERS THAN HUMANS! And THEN, I don't pay more money to have some people spray some stuff on me so that it looks like I've been in the sun!

So, the next time you are about to jump in your car on an errand, take a moment to think to yourself, What Would Frodo Do?

The answer is, he'd probably walk. And you should too.


Susannah said...

Hi Arduous! I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and thought it was time to say how much I enjoy it. It took WWFD to push me out of my safe lurk mode cuz you just can't read LOTR too many times, now can you? 1,800 plus miles - wow! Go little hairy hobbit feet go. I live in northern Vermont - a very very long way from L.A. - but I 'm happy to be on the same path as you. thanks for such good writing. It makes my day.

Going Crunchy said...

I'm so jealous.

It's 38 degrees and raining here.

Jasmine, free exercise....

You also didn't calculate how much you will save on medical bills by being in shape and having a healthier life through walking. Priceless.

Sadly I do pay for a gym. Shannon

Joyce said...

You are soooo right! I was in the best shape ever when I was in college and walking every where. Well, okay, I also was 20 and did't have a four-baby body.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the journey is what is important not the destination. I walked 1600 miles in 1994between Georgia and New Hampshire. Skipped a bunch of Virginia, but did 2/3rds of the Appalachian Trail. It was one of the best things I ever did! Wish I were in good enough shape to finish it. Maybe if I walked more like you do....
Cindy in FL

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I always smile at the people who drive to the gym and then walk on the treadmills. Especially when the weather's nice.

On LOTR - think how many lives would have been saved if Frodo had been able to just helicopter in! Or even drive a Hummer! Public transit wouldn't have been advisable though, the route goes through some pretty sketchy neighbourhoods.

On LA - I've obviously been to the wrong parts! A lot of people have told me that it's a much nicer place to live in than to visit, and my two experiences in downtown LA would seem to support that hypothesis... Mind you there are parts of Vancouver that are just as bad, but they don't tend to host major international conferences!

Mouse said...

Folks really don't know how gorgeous so many parts of LA.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I agree that it really depends on the culture of a place.

My walking limit to get someplace is about 40 min, which I guess is about 2.5 miles? However, it depends on where we're going (can we wear comfortable walking shoes? will we be drunk walking home? is it safe to walk at night if we'll be coming home late?). Also, I'll walk farther if driving is a problem (no parking, I'll be drinking).

We often go for walks on weekends and summer evenings that are much longer, but we're not trying to get anywhere with those.

Mad Hatter said...

The low temperature here today is 34 degrees. That's just above freezing. So unfair.

Love the LOTR connection. I gotta say, though, that if Aragorn (as played by Viggo Mortensen, of course) were to be my traveling companion, I'd walk everywhere too! :-)

ruchi said...

Sorry guys, it's 90 degrees in LA. In fact this weekend was almost unbearably hot walking around. Luckily I didn't get burnt!

Susannah, always good to have a new reader. Thanks for the compliment!

Shannon, no judgement, I feel like a gym is pretty allowable in Illinois where it's freaking FREEZING! But in LA, it's beautiful year-round. ((And for the record, yes, I used to belong to a gym for about 6 years. I totally don't care if people belong to gyms, I just think it's a shame that so many Angelenos aren't getting out and enjoying the weather.)

Joyce, funnily I was actually in terrible shape in college. I mean, I walked a lot, but I also ate my weight in cheese. :)

Cindy, ZOMG! You walked 1600 miles?!! Step down Frodo, I think we have a new walking hero!!

Cae, yes it's true Frodo would have gotten to Mordor faster in a Hummer or helicopter, but it would have been hard for him to sneak past Sauron. And yeah, downtown is not necessarily LA at its finest, though even downtown has been reviving in the past couple years. But as Mouse says, most people don't realize how beautiful LA is. I know I didn't really appreciate it until I'd lived here a couple years.

EGF, I would guess 2-2.5 miles would be my upper limit as well. I'm no Frodo!

Mad Hatter, yes it's true. If Aragorn were my walking companion, I think I could walk at least 10 miles! Then, I'd probably still get tired. ;)

Anonymous said...

Cheers for walking! Here is my story for walking with a 5 year old, a 3 year old and a dog. On Sunday morning we decided to walk to our local bagel shop, the one that gives me discounts for using my own mug :) It was about 0.5 mile away. I had a leash and my coffee mug in my left hand, and my 3 year old's hand in my right hand. My 5 year old was leading the way. It was all good and cool until we had to cross a major street. My 3 year old decided to throw a fit and sit down in the middle of the street (because she did not get to press the walk button) and my dog decided to wrap the leash around us a couple of times. At that point, my 5 year old was in a panic and attached herself to me. And I started sweating from sheer embarrassment. So here we all were in the middle of the street, causing a big scene and stopping traffic. Fortunately the drivers were all in top form and waited patiently for us to stop the fit and unwind ourselves from the leash. Ummm, it took a couple of seemingly endless minutes. But eventually we got to the bagel shop and had my discount. Yay!

Never will I walk with my kids and dog again! Kidding, kidding. Embarrassment aside, I actually thought it was quite comical. If we drove to the shop, how could we have possible put on a show for those bored drivers in their cars?

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

I LOVE the synopsis. And watching your change in attitude about walking, priceless!

Anonymous said...

I just rewatched the LOTR (sorry could never get through the books) and I realized there is this real environmental theme in them. The bad guys cut down the trees and destroy the land. We usually paint villians as loving metal, technology and being all anti-nature. Funny that we would do that as its a reflection of how many of us are.

ScienceMama said...

This is funny because whenever I'm at home pondering my choices I always think "What would Arduous do?"

ScienceMama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pink dogwood said...

I share your passion for walking - and I know exactly about getting tanned - I trained all summers two summers ago to walk a marathon - I got so dark that you couldn't tell where my face was until I smiled and the teeth gave it away.

I absolutely loved this post.

ruchi said...

Cindy, that does sound embarassing! But luckily you have new material to embarass her with when she is a teenager!

Equa Yona, darn, I was hoping no one would notice! ;) It's true, my attitude toward walking has shifted dramatically in the last month.

Gsgranola, yes I remember reading someone who had written a paper on how LOTR was an environmentalist parable. I don't think that's exactly what Tolkien intended, but that's the beauty of art. Everyone get's to read into it what they will. :)

Sciencemama, aw, you're sweet.

Pink Dogwood, I'm impressed that you're going to walk a marathon! As much as I'm slowly getting to enjoy walking I think a marathon is probably beyond me! Good for you!

ScienceMama said...

Also, suck it for having 90 degree weather. We were so stoked that it got into the 60s on Saturday that we had a picnic in the park. It rained all day on Sunday to spite us.

Also, it snowed here last week.

So again I repeat: suck it dear friend, suck it.

Sam said...

Hmm...I am not a fantasy fan so I don't find Frodo particularly um....inspiring. I am more inspired by the Peace Pilgrim who walked more than 25,000 miles. I'd rather spread peace than walking around with some cursed ring.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

My walking limit used to be about 2 miles, 4 if it was a really good party. Since I started cycling on a regular basis (~1998) I find walking just too slow if I'm going somewhere more than a mile away!

But yes, if I got to hang out with Aragorn, I'd be prepared to go at that slower pace...

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

My walking limit used to be about 2 miles, 4 if it was a really good party. Since I started cycling on a regular basis (~1998) I find walking just too slow if I'm going somewhere more than a mile away!

But yes, if I got to hang out with Aragorn, I'd be prepared to go at that slower pace...

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

oops sorry.

Grad Green said...

Cindy -
I have had the same thing happen. More than once. I love to walk or bike places with the kids, but find that I have to bring an entire backpack full of snacks and negotiate the walk button before we get to it. (J will press it this time, then N...) Sometimes they are ok as long as they all get to press it. Pulling the bell in the bus can also lead to fits. Sigh....

Funny thing is -- they really prefer the other modes of transportation over driving. It's more fun.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I too, have literally thought to myself, "what would arduous do?" Usually the answer is "not buy it!"

You're influential. neat. :)

ruchi said...

ScienceMama, who asked you to leave California? Huh, beeyotch?

Beany, 25,000 miles!!! That's insane. Though to be fair, Frodo DID walk all those miles in an attempt to achieve peace. :)

Cae, I think I walk because I'm not too comfortable on a bike. I learnt to bike in suburbia, and the thought of biking on these city streets freak me out. Otherwise, I think I agree biking is just much more time efficient.

Grad Green, I have to admit that my walk to the metro involves quite a bit of planning and supplies (water, work shoes, walk shoes, etc.) I can't imagine the planning necessary to go on a walk with the kids!

Ecogeofemme, glad to be influential.

Chile said...

Thank you, Arduous, for encouraging us to break out of our limited thinking. Keep on trekkin', girl!

Anonymous said...

I was hoping I would never ever have to think about this mom and I used to battle over how I was going to get to high school LESS THAN A MILE AWAY. The only way to walk there from my house was the same way the cars went - I really couldn't let anyone see me doing that. After graduating, I used to drive to the grocery store and bagel shop one. block. away. Now that I live in NYC, I love the freedom of my own feet in comfy shoes - you really feel like you can achieve anything!
Keep it up - Megan

Leisa Dreps said...

Oh Arduous, you are so right about this whole thing. You know, having a car gives great convenience when you need to go to places miles away from your home. But walking to the grocery store, gym, or park is way better 'coz not only we save gas, but we also save our lives by exercising. Hehe! Besides, cars need some maintenance too, right? So let's not forget to let our cars rest for a while in our garage after cleaning them.

Your writing is really good, btw.