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Gristmill: Road to Nowhere

Thu, 11/02/2023 - 05:38
The treadmill may have hit its peak in the popular imagination with George’s travails in the closing credits of “The Jetsons.”
Hanna-Barbera Productions via YouTube

Running en plein air always seemed the way to go. An obvious statement, but more than that: running pure, without the distraction of headphones, earbuds, EarPods, what have you.

No pace-distorting tunes, no engrossing podcast slowing your footfalls to barely a jog. No tracking Garmin GPS on the wrist, no Apple Watch, no Nike Run Club app on a smartphone strapped to your person. No indoor tracks, no gyms.

And this is why my newfound enthusiasm for the treadmill in the stale air of the basement comes as such a surprise. A Bowflex bought sometime early in the pandemic with a portion of those mysterious government funds long since disappeared, it has at last been getting a regular workout. It’s dark out? The weather stinks yet again? Let me at it.

From upstairs, I once listened to the pitter-patter of a teenager’s feet treading the mill till a sick-making 6.2 miles was clocked — too much of one thing, in one spot, for too long. My routine, though, has so far been limited to a precise two miles, or you might say an exact 200 calories burned, as measured out on the machine’s glowing blue display, or make that 20 minutes flat, very flat, in elapsed time. Because I’ve been seeing all three minor milestones converge, the caloric triumph being signaled with a trumpeted electronic ditty.

That’s not all that much of a workout, really, but the benefit comes in the gradually accelerated pace the spinning rubber carpet somehow encourages. The unsettling lack of resistance underfoot is countervailed, exertion-wise, by the ease of your finger on a button ever upping the tempo until you step off the carpet and your shirt is soaked in sweat as it never is after pounding the pavement outdoors.

Still, there’s always something. And so I ask, what is with the mild havoc played with my equilibrium? Without fail, at least once per treadmill trip to nowhere I experience lane drift, on a contraption where there’s no room to stray without unfortunate consequences. I’ll tilt, my balance challenged as if I were amidships on the Cross Sound Ferry in one of those squalls that used to send countertop snack bar foodstuffs sliding sideways onto the floor.

It’s as regular as it is puzzling, and it’s taking a while to get my bearings. In the meantime, I’m reminded of a Raymond Carver poem, “Looking for Work,” in which, dreaming, he finds “a new path / to the waterfall.” He’s told by his wife to wake up, “But when I try to rise, / the house tilts.”

Ever stare at a waterfall for too long? All that nonstop rushing motion in one place, a kind of movement in stasis. Carver nailed it, it’s dizzying.

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