Sunday, February 20, 2011


Some folks take their daily exercise on a treadmill, while others would rather perambulate on nearby neighborhood sidewalks. Both help improve general fitness levels, I suppose, but the former is just slightly more passive than the latter. I mean, the treadmill actually takes each foot backward for you as you throw the other foot forward to break your fall.

The stair climber at Club Expensive doesn’t do any heavy lifting for you, but a duller machine I cannot imagine. If I am going to climb stairs for fifteen or thirty minutes, I want to get somewhere. The viewing platform in the Statue of Liberty’s crown (if it was still open to the public) or the top of the Eiffel Tower (if someone is willing to pay for my flight to France). You know, somewhere that is actually up.

In June I hope to combine the real world alternatives of the treadmill and stair climber as I take part in my fourth sixteen-hour exercise regimen known as the Night and Day Challenge. Starting at four in the afternoon on a (hopefully) mid-temperature Saturday, my teammates and I will move ourselves around San Francisco to find as many of the sixty mystery locations as possible.

San Francisco, you’ll recall, is not a flat place. Sure, every once in a while you can walk there for five minutes without heading uphill, but generally when you take a step your forward foot is above or below the one in the rear. The wear and tear factor is thusly increased.

Doing this for sixteen hours probably seems foolish. It certainly does to us, my teammates and I, especially around one a.m. when we are just past halfway done. It seems like the morning will never come. But after a few months the pain is a distant memory and the next adventure beckons us as though it were a siren on a craggy ocean shoreline and we were scurvy-ridden buccaneers.

The first time I did the Night and Day with my brother. Then twice with a friend. As we put together our impressive 2011 team, either or both might be joining me, and I am working feverishly on adding team member #4.

D— thus far is unimpressed with the notion. He has been known to walk around San Francisco for hours at a time, but always during daylight hours. He knows his way around the city, but he is uninterested in doing so all night long, and he definitely has no desire to do any amount of running.

I thought there had been a time when D— expressed mild curiosity at the possibility of participating, but he has assured me that I am woefully mistaken. At no point had he expressed mild curiosity, and he is now on record as stating that he is considering a restraining order. Some might cower in fear of his emphatic speech, but I keep asking.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up, however, as D— and I recently approached the Filbert Steps in San Francisco. We were strolling around the city—not competitively—looking for beer and dim sum, and found ourselves near the 1300 block of Sansome Street, in the vicinity of the Embarcadero as it approaches the shopping mecca that is Pier 39.

The steps rise from just about sea level and eventually reach Coit Tower, a famous SF landmark that you can learn more about elsewhere. There are approximately 400 steps and they climb near 300 feet up, in a distance as measured by an overhead map of only 0.2 miles. That, my friends, is a 25% grade.

“Hey,” I said to D—, “I remember these steps! We had to run up them back in 2009!” Then I made the mistake of mentioning that we couldn’t find the mystery location situated about mid-climb, so we had run to the top, back down to the bottom, before going up once more to find what we were searching for.

It wasn’t the best way to convince D— that we were the team to join. It might seem like we were easily lost and that our map-reading skills might be sub-par. I could argue the point that we came in first place in 2009, but that was only when the point totals were broken down into subcategories. There were groups on bike, groups on foot, and groups using both. There were groups of men, and groups of women, and groups of both.

Yes, we came in first place out of all foot-based mens teams. Of which we were the only one. If I have to spell it out for you, that’s first place out of one; no other competition. That’s like still being in the pool when all of the other swimmers have already finished their race and gone home and spent the weekend sharing their various awards with friends and family.

Out of all foot-based teams in 2009 we came in third place, and there were only four. That’s like not losing, but only beating the losers.

Perhaps D— will end up competing in the 2011 Night and Day Challenge after all. On a more impressive team that doesn’t get lost on a staircase.

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