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Breaking free of the desk chair

Retirement’s cherry on top: exclusive weekday access to beloved trails

| 22 Nov 2022 | 11:45

My Fitbit, like a secret spy, has spent the past dozen years creating a dossier on me. I bought it to replace an old-style pedometer that I kept clipped to my pants pocket and failed after going through the wash one too many times. I depend on my step count on the trail – it’s a habit I developed in the days before the totable GPS. I know, for example, when we’re approaching our next turnoff by the distance we’ve already covered. Or, if we ever get the feeling we’ve been trudging in one direction for too long, we’ll check our map and our steps to see if we need to backtrack. I still navigate with my tracker because it’s a lot less fuss than pulling out a phone and activating an app.

I’m in it for the steps and mostly ignore all of my tracker’s other features. I’ll admit to loving the digital confetti that erupts when, about halfway through a hike, I’ve taken my ten-thousandth step. Like all meaningless milestones, it’s a cause for celebration. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that silly little dopamine hit. But my Fitbit has been taking in a whole lot more than my step count, more even than the year, date, and time of every step, bar graph-able by day, week, month, or year. It records when and how I sleep, my every breath and heartbeat, and even the temperature of my skin. Wearing a Fitbit is like hiring a member of Mossad when all you really need is a hall monitor. I try not to think about a hacked Fitbit database that makes public all of my janky sleeping and exercise habits.

I also try not to think about who really benefits from all this passive surveillance of our active lifestyles. The Fitbit company would say it’s me, of course! I could, for instance, be reassured that I’m healthy, or I could take their dubious data about nocturnal restlessness and blood oxygen saturation levels to make positive changes in my life. But the most interesting thing about this gadget – and what I’ve only lately come to notice, a half-year into my retirement – is that my Fitbit is telling a story about my life, my literal ups and downs. It’s telling me something I don’t believe I ever knew, after a lifetime of sitting at desks: that I really like to move.

In my former workaday life, I struggled to break 1,700 steps in a day. My equally sedentary Fitbit-wearing colleagues and I would sometimes compare notes: the lowest score ever recorded among us, at the end of one memorably long day on our keisters, was 700 steps. At that rate we’re talking just trips to the lunchroom and the ladies’. (Editor’s note: since Pam’s departure, that office low-point has been blown out of the water by a production person who, after clocking a 480-step day, made some changes, including a standing desk.) Now, even on my lazy bones-iest day – when, for example, I had Covid and capitulated completely to Netflix and torpor – I walk three times as much as I did during a typical shift at my desk. On a day when I’m just pottering around the house and garden, I usually do three miles, and that doesn’t count all the standing, bending, and stretching that goes unrecorded by my digital spy. Meanwhile, the aches that had been dogging my neck, shoulders and upper back vanished soon after they were freed from desk work. The cure was simple: movement – automatic, and part of every hour. What an effort it must have been to sit still all day in my office chair!

The shape of my fitness bar graphs changed from weekend peaks and M-F valleys during my working years to their current high plateau. We still have a weekly day hike in the mix, just like in our weekend warrior days. Tom’s work schedule is flexible enough to give us a weekday hike – which brings me to another big change in retirement: the luxury of having our beloved trails, even the busiest ones, mostly to ourselves. That’s especially true now, in the off-season, when the only people we encounter are other members of our secret society of silver-haired retirees.

It’s a privilege to be able to soak in the sublime peace of a random Monday in the Shawangunks. Justly famous for their white cliffs and dwarf pines, the ridge’s prime spots get a lot of visitors on weekends. One popular trek is the thrilling Gertrude’s Nose Loop, which offers sweeping views most of the way, but I prefer to negotiate its crevasses and sharp ridges when the trail is quiet. Plan on lingering atop Millbrook Mountain to watch the raptors and take in the sweep of the Hudson Highlands. Hope to see you out there when you knock off work.


Trail: Gertrude’s Nose Loop
Trailhead: Minnewaska State Park Preserve, main entrance (5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, N.Y.), upper parking lot
Trails: Take the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road (red blazes) about a half-mile to the Millbrook Mountain Carriage Road (yellow blazes) and continue 1.25 miles. Take the Gertrude’s Nose Trail (red blazes) for three miles to Millbrook Mountain, where four trails converge. Get back on Millbrook Mountain Carriage Road (yellow blazes) headed north for another 1.2 miles, then take the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road (red blazes) the half mile back to your car.