Exercise and me, we've never been toasting good friends. Sure, when I was in my early 20s I ran two to three miles per day. I would jog along the back roads near where I grew up, or bounce around the track that rings the Sweeny High School football field. Sometimes I might give the winding, tree-lined walking trail a try. I had a good rhythm for it, and it paid dividends in the form a buttocks that could crush walnuts, and brought unsolicited compliments from female friends and acquaintances. Yes, yes.

Somewhere along the way my heart started working against me. The bradycardia I developed as a result of some undiagnosed birth defect started dragging me down. My heart was literally skipping a beat, and the intervals were getting bigger, so oxygen was starting to become a scarce commodity in Kevinopolis. My energy levels were starting to suffer. So was my waist line. In the span of just five years I went from a trim physique to a bulbous mass. Of course, I can't blame all of that on the bradycardia. There was fried chicken involved. Oh so much fried chicken.

Then, in 2010, when my condition was diagnosed and a nifty new pacemaker was installed, I started my long road to recovery. Long, mostly because I took my time getting on it. Once the stitches had been removed and I had gotten an OK from my cardiologist, I was free to change my deep-fried ways and get my behind on a treadmill. I declined.

I continued to decline for the next year, gleefully stuffing my gullet with every fattening fried food I could find. I had newfound energy, you see. My heart was working better, and now I could approach food with all new vigor.

I did this until I was told I had shockingly high blood pressure, and my doctor put me on meds.

That would not do.

Blood pressure medication has always been a symbol for me. Sure, I had pacemaker now. And sure, I was overweight, and my joints ached, and I was slowing down in nearly every conceivable way. There was a vague notion in the back of my mind that I was "getting old." At 38, I think this was a bit premature. But one accepts such things. One suffers on.

But blood pressure meds? Suddenly the message did a tsunami rush from the back of my mind to my frontal lobe. "Holy crap I'm getting old," I thought. "I have to do something about that."

There is nothing wrong with taking blood pressure medication. Some people absolutely must take it. It helps keep them alive. But c'mon. We all know ... I knew ... what was causing my BP to skyrocket. It wasn't a genetic pre-disposition or a side effect of something I had no control over. It was buckets of fried chicken for every meal. It was limiting my exercise to shifting my fat ass around in my chair while I watched TV. It was any number of really bad decisions on my part. And that, my brain finally accepted, simply would not do.

I determined I would get off of the meds. And I figured the best way to do that would be to lose a whole bunch of weight. So I went on a severely low-calorie diet, limiting my calories to about 1,500 calories per day. I increased my intake of vegetables by a factor of a billion (easy to do from zero). I started walking each day, hitting the treadmill when it was raining, and even using some resistance bands and free weights. I started taking vitamins and drinking lots and lots and lots of water (and some apple cider vinegar).

It worked. Beautifully. After about three months I was already seeing significant weight loss. I was also feeling better. Loads better. Much more energetic, much happier, much more fit. I was doing great. And people were starting to notice. But best of all, I was able to ween myself off of the blood pressure meds. I win.

When we bought our house and I started renovating I changed my diet a bit. I started eating fast food again, but I tried to keep it to light stuff. I made good choices -- as good as possible, anyway. But despite that, I did start gaining again. Not much. A few pounds. But it was enough to scare me, so I stepped up my exercise.

In the past couple of months, I've started going off the beaten path. Every morning I get up and go for a walk in the park near my neighborhood. I eschew the gravel-laden walking path, which takes me in a wide but predictable circuit around a couple of soccer fields. That's fine for someone who needs a bit of guidance, but it simply won't do for a warrior on his path to greatness. Instead, I cut across fields, follow bayous and drainage ditches the run behind fenced in back yards, and push my way through brush and bramble and thick growth. I am an explorer. I am a lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world.

I am afraid of snakes and rabid possums.

Luckily I haven't encountered either of those on my journeys so far (I've seen possums, but they seem blissfully rabies free). But it wouldn't matter. I push on regardless, knowing that such dangers exist but determined to stay my course. I am an explorer, after all. A roaming warrior.

These walks are great cathartic experiences for me. I work through a lot of "stuff" while I'm pushing through high grass and stepping over soggy patches of ground in the deep darkness of pre-dawn. Deadlines, petty comments from petty people, stressful encounters with upset clients ... all of this fades away when you're trying to figure out the best way to cross a marshy gully in the dark.

Earlier in the week I came across a playground that has a couple of "climbing boulders." I've taken to scaling these on their toughest faces, and I have to say I do it very well. I study the ascent, I choose my route, I mull over every Jon Krakauer book I've ever read. It's all big-boy pretending, I know, but it has awoken a passion in me. I've decided to look deeper into this rock climbing idea ... you'll be the first to know when I take it on, believe me.

To add some variety to the whole thing, this morning I carried with me my Jo staff (or jyo staff). It's been a while since I've practiced any sort of martial arts, but the staff was something I always enjoyed. And I always thought it would be the most practical weapon to learn, honestly. In a post apocalyptic world, there is sure to be no shortage of sticks.

I carried the staff walking-stick style as I made my away through rugged terrain, and practiced a few forms in the middle-of-friggin-nowhere. Then I made my way back to the park, where the climbing boulders beckoned.

When I came to the boulders, Jo staff in hand, I thought, 'I bet I could climb these boulders with the Jo staff tucked into my belt." An idea worth exploring, thought I! And so I ran the staff down the back of my T-shirt and through my belt, just to the side of one of my belt loops. Then I sized up the first bolder, picked the toughest route I could find (it's only about seven feet tall, so it's not like I'm scaling Everest here), and then started my "ascent."

Success! I reached the top of the boulder and stood proud, "unsheathing" my staff and waving it in victory. The double entendre symbolism is not lost on me.

Now, having mastered the ascent, I resheathed my staff and scaled my way down, again doing brilliantly. I am a master of rocks and sticks, what can I say?

For those of you disappointed with the positive and successful spin on this tale, and for those who were expecting a story ending with my bloody and broken body at the bottom of a boulder, I can give you only this: In daylight, it becomes blaring obvious that these boulders are considered a public toilet by every bird that flies over. This fact can be unsettling to a man who, as a celebration of his pre-dawn, low-light scaling of the mighty boulder, has decided that he will drink copious amounts of water from a nearby, dirty water fountain by cupping the water into his hands and drinking as if he were pulling it from a fresh mountain stream.

You're welcome.

I will probably keep up this kind of workout (adding gloves). The world is my gym now, and I refuse to wipe down the equipment after I've used it. And I may go ahead and join some kind of rock climbing program (if anyone has suggestions, send them to me). I have a monkey-like frame, well-suited to climbing, and I think I would be good at that sort of thing.

Fitness ... who knew I could actually enjoy it? I'm actually looking forward to incorporating more of it into my life.

Because the more calories I burn each morning, the more fried chicken I can eat at lunch.

Learning life lessons is fun.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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