Iron Horse

Yesterday was my second hike of the year. I took advantage of a glorious blue skied day here and met up with two friends to explore a new trail. Well, new to me. The Iron Horse Trail is a fairly flat path that used to be a railroad track, it runs east-west across Washington and used to be part of a rail line which ran all the way to Chicago. When I heard this was what we were going to hike I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think I expected it to be more ‘Stand By Me
‘ with actual rails and rail ties. In fact it had all been cleared out and left a nice broad, flat, walking path.

I met up with Ben and his friend Joe. Together we walked 4.5 miles out before turning around, it was an easy walk on almost entirely flat terrain but it was still a nice long walk round trip. When they had looked up the trail they had thought there was an impressive bridge we’d come to, but it wasn’t there. At least, not in the amount we walked. That’s alright, this was a nice way to burn calories and enjoy time away from Facebook, Twitter, and life.

I honestly don’t know the last time I walked nine miles. Today I still feel it. My calves, my knees, and even my hip flexors are tender.

The walk was the first amount of exercise I’ve had in the last few weeks. February ended up being a month of treading water. I badly wanted to continue exercising and working out but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I wasn’t motivated, I was fighting inertia. I always found an excuse. Thankfully, I haven’t suffered any major setbacks or backslides in terms of weight. I was able to simply tread water and see only minimal weight change.

This period of inactivity is only partially frustrating for the loss of progress on my weight loss, it’s also troubling as my first-ever 5k is fast approaching (as in this coming weekend) and I just know I’m going to suffer for these past few weeks. Today I am recovering from yesterday’s excursion but tomorrow I will be on the treadmill and preparing for that race.


This isn’t the first extended period of treading water for me. Last year there were roughly two months worth of time that I wasn’t actively moving forward. So I’ve been through this before. These happen to everyone. For anyone working on their own weight loss it’s vital they understand that these are just temporary pauses in the march towards progress. It takes an iron will to push through these times, but it is easily doable.

In some ways, yesterday’s wilderness stroll being on the ‘iron horse’ trail feels fitting. I love the term ‘iron horse;’ it’s such an anachronism of a phrase in today’s world. The steam engine, while still critical for much of the world, is completely outmoded in modern America.

The thing is, as outdated as it is, that name is perfect.

Through the lens of the Victorian era 1800s it perfectly describes a train. A world where horses were the peak of transportation technology were now faced with this new marvel – an iron, man-made, steam-powered, behemoth which could do more than had ever been done before. They played witness to the birth of the steam engine and the railroad. Rails spread across the world, in America it played pawn to the great rail barons — making men richer than Croesus and sending others to the end of the bottle.

Today we are still fascinated by trains. They’re a very real and very understandable representation of physical power. These forty or fifty foot long engines at the head of hundreds of feet of train. Those are iron horses, rolling in and out of the biggest cities in the world: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago.


At the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

I took a trip to Chicago when I was younger. My first ‘real’ trip after college. I traveled on my own. I stayed in a hostel and explored Chicago for a week. I saw the sites, checked out the museums, the architecture. I wanted to see a Cubs game but didn’t get to. Whenever I travel my dad had a list of suggestions of things for me to do or see. Chief among his suggestions for Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. He recalled going and seeing the train they had on display there.

That trip was a fantastic experience, in fact I was in Lincoln Park when I got a call that was a job offer for my first programming job. It’s interesting but I was on my way to that museum when that call arrived. After getting the good news I went to the Museum and I saw it for myself. From their expansive model train rig to engine #999.

I think perhaps the other thing about trains that draws people to them is this: they appear to be indestructible. They’re not built with an expiration date. The boiler gets as hot as the sun and yet it is built to be a furnace on wheels. The wheels aren’t rubber, they don’t get pierced and go flat – they churn thousands of miles. Sure things break and they need to be repaired but the engine will go on.

The thing is, this is an illusion. They must be treated and cared for, protected from the elements. They cannot simply stand against the elements.

I find that our bodies are the opposite. Where a train’s daily routine is to do endless work with little apparent strain, our bodies are most happy at rest. Where a train appears to last forever, ours appear wilting and prone to flabbiness.

In one way they are the same: If you work to maintain them, they both appear to last forever.