Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Sunday, November 7, 2010


About 4 years ago I was on one of my many business trips to Augusta, Georgia. I was working a 12 hour shift at night and had taken up walking along the tow path for the old Augusta Canal after work in the cool early morning hours for exercise. This had been a renewal effort after a long run of ever increasing inactivity. I was starting to feel good again. While I couldn’t maintain my old speeds of better than 4 mph, I was comfortably doing 3 ½ mph and gradually improving. The Augusta Canal is a wonderful place to walk. It is flat, well maintained, and the upper part is wooded. So it offers shade and a beautiful walk. I enjoyed my morning walks and the exercise was making me feel younger, a little more vibrant, a little less like the old man that I was evolving into.

The Augusta Canal was built in 1845 to provide a water transportation path around the rapids on the Savannah River and to provide water power for mills in the city. During the Civil War the Confederacy built a large gun powder works along the canal. The canal was expanded in 1875 to provide more water for the various mills. Eventually in the 20th century, the mills closed and the need for the canal diminished. Georgia created the Augusta Canal Authority in the mid-1980s to develop recreational usage and preserve the historical aspects of the canal and in 1996 Congress designated the canal as a National Heritage Area. You can read more about the Canal and its history at the Augusta Canal website.

The Augusta Canal website has a map which you can see here:


One curiosity with this map is that is has no compass rose. Which way is north? Up is not north on this map. You need to rotate the map about 60 degrees clockwise to get north facing up. When properly oriented I-20 will run south west to north east instead of south to north as the map shows now.

My canal walks had two different starting points. Driving out Evans To Locks Road, I could park at the head gates (area marked #1 on the map and inset) on the northwest end that feeds the canal from the Savannah River and walk south east to the 2 mile marker and return for a four mile walk. Or I could park at the ball field at Eisenhower Park (area marked #2 on the map and inset) and walk north west to the 2 mile marker for a 3 mile walk or go to the 1 ½ mile marker for a four mile walk.

The particular walk that I am relating was on a Saturday morning. Due to a problem with our test, I had been late leaving work and the day was starting to heat up already. Being late and with the heat, I decided to just walk the 3 miles so I parked at Eisenhower Park and walked north west from the water company to the 2 mile marker, just a little beyond Interstate 20. Being a Saturday the path had far more walkers than usual. As I approached the 2 mile marker, three young women were coming from the opposite direction doing that speed walking stuff, where one walks like an ostrich and punches with their fists reminiscent of the drive rods on a steam locomotive. It is a geeky looking walk but extremely demanding. The women were in their mid 20s. They obviously enjoyed each other’s company and were, how shall I put this, a bit irritating with their bravado. They were a bit too loud and exuded a yuppie arrogance that I found grating. Reaching the 2 mile marker they cheered and started to punch the air vertically above their heads like some damned NFL player that just carried the ball into the end zone. They then turned around and began walking back to the head gates.

I was about 50 yards away from the 2 mile marker when they performed this little display of young female hubris, and I thought to myself “the old man is going to pass up this pack of arrogant young female punks!” I will pour on the coal, pass them up and turn around at the 1 ½ mile marker and return for a four mile walk. Well that was the plan.

So I speed up. I am walking faster than what is comfortable but I have 50 yards to make up. I am starting to breath hard but I am not maxed out. All I have to do is close in that 50 yards and pass them. Hmmm. I am having trouble catching up. So I pour on a little more coal. Now I am uncomfortable. The heat is bothering me and I am breathing real hard. Damn, I think they are slowly pulling away. I seem to have more than 50 yards to make up. Awww, this is bullshit! Damn it. I was walking faster than them when they were in diapers. OK so now I pull out all the stops. I am walking as fast as I can. I can’t run, my back and knees will not tolerate the pounding from even a short run. Besides I am a walker, and damned good walker at that, and I want to pass these arrogant women walking, not running. So I formulate a new plan. I will pass them hopefully appearing to be calm and stop and take picture and let them get by and return to my normal pace. Damn! I still can’t catch them. The 1 ½ mile marker appears. They are still pulling away from me. Damn it, you old fool, try harder. I try but there is no reserve.

The women disappear around a curve up head. I round the curve a minute later and they are gone. They must be around the next curve. They can’t leave the path, they have the Savannah River on their right and the canal on the left. I walk past the 1 mile marker. I am still going as fast as I can, but I know that I am slowing down. I am breathing as hard as I can and there is something of a wheeze in my breath. It is getting hotter, and I am drenched with sweat. OK, time for a new plan. They will probably slow down in the last half mile for a cool down. I’ll zoom past them, then stop for a picture, let them go by and then collapse on one of the benches that are located in the first half mile. I go wheezing past the ½ mile marker. Still no sight of them. Damn it to hell and back. I keep going as hard as I can but now even if I caught up with them, my sweat drenched wheezing victory would be a parody of my original intentions. I round another bend to a fairly long straight view of the head gates and the zero mile marker. They are gone, probably in their air conditioned cars half way home to a shower and a cool refreshing drink.

I slow my pace and walk to the head gates. I have long since sweated out my slurp of pre walk Gator Aid. It is getting damned hot, I had worked 13 hours through the night, and drove almost and hour each way to get to and from work. My knees hurt like hell, but not as bad as my back. I am thirsty, extremely thirsty, and my car is 3.5 miles down the canal and probably another quarter mile to the parking lot. You simple minded old bastard, what in the hell is wrong with you?

I walk back at an abysmally slow pace. I was defeated by three women that didn’t even know that we were in a race. They were 50 yards away from me when they turned around, they had no idea that I was chasing them in some macho bit of old man foolishness. They never looked back and saw me. They were not even trying. They were just taking their Saturday morning walk and enjoying themselves in a spirited manner. In my defeat I start the usual excuses. Hell, they are half your age. They are obviously fit. You did OK for a 57 year old guy. They are almost young enough to be your grand daughters. Can you think of anyone else your age that would have blasted 3.5 miles in this heat?

By the time I got to my car I was limping from the pain in my knees and back. Limping, hell, I was hobbling. Seven miles was overdoing it. I collapsed in the car, with the air conditioning on full blast, and drank a bottle of pee warm Gator Aid which was not helped by the yellow shade of the sort of lemon-lime flavor.

So why did I chase these women? I had no intention of saying anything, staring, or making any kind of trouble. All I wanted to do was pass them, and pass them as though it were effortless. Their minor display of bravado had irritated me, yes, but it was not worth this. When it was obvious that I was not going to catch them, why did I persist? At the two mile marker, I was sure that I could catch up to them and pass them. I was always a fast walker. Few people could keep up with me if I decided to pour on the coal. But that was based on old data. I didn’t start walking until my mid 30’s, after my MS attacks. Prior to that I had lived a life of what I called the 4 Cs. Excessive cigars, computers, coffee, and chairs. When I was the same age as those women, I would not have been fool enough to try to chase them, nor would I have been on a walking path in the first place. I knew I was out of shape then. Yet for some reason, I believed that a 57 year old man with multiple sclerosis, bad knees, a bad back, somewhat overweight, was going to pass them up and show them a thing or two. Why?

Some of it was generational. They were half my age. Some of it was social, they were rowdy and loud (not really, but in my in mind). Some of it is class. Even though I work as an engineer, I am decidedly blue collar. As I chased them, I imagined these women to be college educated professionals, probably making more 4 years out of college than I make after 30 years. I imagined them getting in their Mercedes—Volvo—Lexus and returning to their McMansions to shower and then meeting again somewhere to have some hoity toity lunch served with an expensive wine, while they discussed the grandly important aspects of their lives a little too loudly. I then imagined the obligatory trip to the mall to buy another pair of shoes whose price would exceed the cost of my wife’s and my entire wardrobe…not that a typical person would call our collection of rags a wardrobe. I then imagined them parting their ways to go have expensive dinners with their Robert Pattinson / Brad Pitt look alike professional husbands and then spending the evening at some swank club thunking more money into a bar bill than I spend on groceries for a month. I thought of them to be young, privileged, arrogant, yuppies born with a gold spoon in their mouth. I imagined myself blasting past their youth, their wealth, their privilege, and their hubris in some sort of grand personal triumph—a private triumph for I would never say anything to them but still a triumph. Chalk one up for old, pot bellied, bald, no fancy college, blue collar guys.

But why did I really do it? Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why did I make a fool of myself—granted only to myself—no one else had a clue why I was huffing and puffing down that tow path. Testosterone! I was feeling my oats a bit that morning. I thought because I was improving my walking that I was invincible. So there is brass tack number 1. Brass tack number 2? I am ashamed of old tack number 2. It is indeed old…as old as our reptilian brains that sits under the seat of our cerebral cortex. They were women. Women who were being a bit mildly cocky (yes, an intentional use of words) and I wanted to bring them down a peg or two. Had they been three young guys I probably would not have noticed because young guys act like that under the best of circumstances, nor would I have been the least bit tempted to chase them and put them in their place. So yep, it was sexist, and thus the source of my shame.

I pride myself in not being sexist. I believe in equal opportunity, equal pay, equal everything. I will admit that if I was unconscious in burning building I would prefer a burly man to carry me down the ladder, but if I needed brain surgery I think I would look for woman surgeon…better hand control, no macho I can hack harder than the other guy wiping out hunks of memories or functional skills. Yes I think women should be allowed to be fighter pilots if that is what they want, but I pray that they are not shot down over enemy territory. A little sexism busting through? Regrettably yes, but generally men POWs will not be brutally raped by their captors, and while the notion of body bags are horrific to me, the thought of our nation’s daughters returning in such is just totally unacceptable to me. OK, so all is not equal in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. Testosterone has its place. It gives life a little spice, it makes your mind a bit sharper, you feel better, you feel a little sexy. All good things but as the second part of my story will reveal testosterone has it’s down side.

Back in the idling rental car with the air conditioning blasting at Eisenhower Park, I finished a second pee warm bottle of yellow Gator Aid and finally got collected enough to drive back to my motel. I had to shower and eat yet, and be back at work in 6 and half hours. So across from Augusta National Golf Course (of the Masters fame) I made a right on to Washington Road, a 6 lane monstrosity of traffic lights, businesses, strip malls, and restaurants. I got caught at the first traffic light, the first car in the slow lane.

Dodge Magnum--Even the same color.
The rental car company gave me a Dodge Magnum. An odd looking station wagon sharing the same platform as a Chrysler 300. The thing looked like a coffin from the back. Some of these Magnums had the famed Chrysler Hemi V-8 sporting up to 425 horse power—an incredible waste of power for a road vehicle (yes I am showing my age). Several times at gas stations, someone would ask me how I liked my Magnum and was it fast? I would then explain that it was a rental and the tiny V-6 in it was slower than my mini-van.

So here I am, an old guy, who just had my ass whipped by three women that didn’t even know that they whipped my ass, sitting first car at a red light in the slow lane, with a car that could be misinterpreted to be a muscle car when in fact it was a glorified sissy. A BMW pulls up next to me in the fast lane, young guy in his late 20’s. He starts revving up his engine. Waaaaaaaazzzzzzzziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnggggghhhhhhh!

He must of floored it, because seldom have I heard an engine wound so tight. He keeps looking over at me and senselessly revving an engine on a car that was probably worth more than my entire estate. I am watching him out of the corner of my eye. Thirty years ago I may have been enough of a horse’s ass to take him on, but not in this sickly Magnum—not even back then. The term asymmetrical conflict comes to mind. The light turns green and he smokes the tires and makes it to the next red light before I have even got up to 20 mph. I drift into the light and he starts his idiotic revving again, looking over at me, as though I am going to take him on in a drag race with this glorified slug. I ignore him, the light turns green and he smokes the tires again but seemingly more in frustration this time. I intentionally pokey along and allow a few cars to get ahead of me for the next light. I remember of thinking, what an idiot…wanting to drag race on a busy road like this. How dangerous!

How dangerous indeed, but let’s analyze relative danger. Here is a young guy with good reflexes carrying on in a supremely well designed automobile. Dangerous yes, but was it as dangerous as the stunt I had just pulled on the canal tow path. A 57 year old man, somewhat overweight, two weeks into an exercise program after years of inactivity walking at a maximum rate for two miles in the heat. Was that any less dangerous? Hell no, it was decidedly far more dangerous although limited to only a danger to myself. True I wasn’t going to wipe anyone else out with my antics, but would my untimely passing not effect my family? I was an ass, a far bigger ass than this young guy because I should know better.

So there it is the dark side of testosterone. The stuff that drives aggressive and hyper-competitive behaviors. The hormone of stupid stunts, hemi engines, bar fights, 160 mph BMWs, and heart attacks and strokes in older men. How many lives has it cost over the eons?

My little story is somewhat entertaining. I enjoy telling it because I do have something of a self deprecating nature. I also like telling it because it contains an elemental truth about men that I am not particularly proud of, but come far to better understand with this particular incident. Men will do stupid things around women. I wasn’t trying to show off or flirt with these women, I was only trying to defeat them—even if only in my own mind. There was nothing to be gained in this victory. Most of my dislike for the behavior of these women was based on about 30 seconds of silliness—a mock victory at reaching the two mile marker that had nothing to do with me, but which I took to be feminine arrogance. Then in the heat and fatigue during my stupid attempt to bring them down a peg or two, I imagined elaborate scenarios about them that had no basis of facts. I simply allowed myself to go out of control.

The failed attempt at passing the women was something of a mile post for me. It was the event that announced loud and clear that I had entered a new and different phase in my life--perhaps an asymmetrical phase. When you are very young, a child, there are many things that you can not do, but you have every reason to expect that at some point in your life, you will learn or grow into that ability. You are looking at the world with the optimism of hope for a better future. The damned asymmetry comes from the fact that in the twilight years, you lose abilities that you had and there is no reason to expect that you will ever get them back, only the pessimism of the firm understanding that things will get worse. I thought it would be a piece cake passing these women, when in fact it turned out to be an extremely asymmetrical conflict. I was in a losing struggle for my younger self, and they, completely unaware of my distress, were out for a pleasant walk.

Oh incidentally, all the brouhaha about the map not being orientated properly to north…that is testosterone as well.

EDIT 8/21/14:  Are you curious about how testosterone functions in the body?   Here is a cool  website the will explain the hormone, how it works, and some of the problems of low testosterone levels:

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