The extreme winter sport for ambulating elders (and their dogs)
New England winter offers great challenges for the elder seeking adventure and excitement. There are some little-known types of adventure, for example, walking someplace in the city after a snowfall. This sport is readily available to anyone who no longer has an automobile, and is practically unknown to the majority of people who use a car to do all their errands.
Elders who walk are aware of the challenges. One woman, recovering from a stroke said, "I don't go further than the parking lot of our building to walk my dog. I don't dare go out into the street. I fear that I will fall, injure myself, and it will kill me." Falls leading to broken bones are a serious threat to elders, whose strength, balance, and bones may all have seen better days.
A couple interviewed while carrying shopping bags down a busy street (no cleared sidewalks along most of that street) are aware of the dangers of street walking in the winter. Not only is walking on the street very dangerous, but when they do walk on the sidewalk, they can slip and fall. The woman said "It is terrible. Last night I fell on the icy sidewalk three times."
Another senior reported that he is often forced to walk in the roadway of busy Walnut Street because of uncleared or icy sidewalks. He said, "Last night when I went shopping I had to walk both ways in the street. Some of the sidewalks were cleared to a dry, safe surface; some had paths trodden down in unploughed snow; and some areas were icy. It was scary but fun."
Seniors who are bored (been there, done that) take great pleasure in facing and overcoming the challenges of this sport. This is a growing sport with a large number of active participants. Some seniors don't see the fun in the sport, and insist on staying indoors all winter. But the participants all report the challenge gets the juices flowing, the adrenalin flows, and they feel young again.
The experienced TUWEE walker knows to prepare for an expedition. First, let someone know where you are going and when to expect you to return, so a search party can be sent out if you run into trouble. Second, be sure to have a designated person who can advise on your health care should you be seriously injured doing this sport. Third, proper equipment and supplies are essential. You should have drinking water, a loud whistle to call for help, a cell phone, ice-grippers on your boots, reflective tape on your arms and legs, a bright flashlight or a cycling/hiking lantern worn on the head, and very bright red flashing lights attached to your clothing (use the lights during the day as well as at night). Your clothing should be survival level, down filled, waterproof, and rated for arctic exposure. So far there are no TUWEE sections in sporting good stores, but you can find all your needs in a combination of stores: sporting goods, bicycle accessories, mountaineering, marine chandlery, and even in the big box stores.
Your dog and TUWEE
Your dog will enjoy the challenge of a TUWEE outing. Dogs are very easily injured if salt gets into their paws, so be careful to avoid salted areas. Also be alert at all times, if your dog bolts after a cat or squirrel, or is spooked by a vehicle, you can lose your balance and be knocked down. Consider getting a reflective vest and flashing strobe light for your dog to wear. My dog says, "Ice is good, snow is good, cold is good. Walking on salt in the road sucks."
Guide to an intermediate course
I have attached a series of photographs showing an intermediate course so you know what to expect. The photos were taken several days after the most recent snowfall (only a few inches), on a clear morning with 25 F, are unretouched, and of course give no idea of the truly serious challenges this course presents at night. TUWEE Intermediate Course Photos
Start on Central Street at the Court House. Go West along Railroad Ave. Note that the walks along the parking lot for the Courthouse and City Parking lot are not cleared, so you must use the street. Walk facing traffic and be prepared to leap into the snowbank to escape wayward drivers. Further along note the sidewalk on the north side is completely covered by snow dumped when the parking lot was cleared. This will block the sidewalk, assuring us of good TUWEE sport well into the spring.
At the end of the street, turn left on Sawyer. Note that the apartment building sidewalks and access to their parking lots is cleared down to dry pavement. This type of preparation is fine for wimps, but it spoils our sport, and you should take penalty points for using the cleared walks. (Like golf, each participant is responsible for keeping his/her own score).
Note that the sidewalk alongside the City Park has not been cleared and may be impassable for months. This forces the contestant to walk along a busy side street.
Turn left on Lowell, a major traffic artery. Take double points for walking in the roadway on Lowell Street. (Many drivers are texting or on their cell phones, they probably won't see you.) Most of the sidewalk going into the center has been cleared, but there are a few interesting challenges, including opposite the City Hall.
At the major interesection of Central and Lowell, at the statue, a rough path has been plowed allowing access to the traffic control walk button. This has deteriorated the course, making this section too easy; last winter this area was not ploughed and a real challenge. However, there is still a lot of packed snow and some ice. The same is true as we cross over Central St. and proceed north on Central. We have some fine challenges going past the taxi parking area, and the waiting areas for buses; both are nicely packed snow and ice.
As you approach the coffee shop, you will find that snow from clearing the parking lot has been piled onto the sidewalk, and along the Walnut Street street side, has not been cleared. Pushing the "walk light" button is worth extra points.
This is the starting point for the Walnut Street Challenge Course, an advanced TUWEE course of about 0.5 mi along a busy street; turn right on Walnut. Daylight traverse is worth double points, night traverse is triple points. The photos show the very beginning of this fine trail.
Continuing the intermediate TUWEE course, cross over to the west side of Central, the walks are clear up past the bank, but just short of the cross street there is a terrific patch of packed snow and ice. This is an easy traverse if you have ice grippers, or you may choose to use the roadway, the oncoming traffic has a very brief time to see you (extra points). Crossing over Stevens Street, the first house has cleared the walk, but the next is a very treacherous icy patch. You get extra points for going into the street, since this is a very busy artery and you are on a curve, making it a challenge for drivers to see and avoid you. (Many drivers are texting or on their cell phones, they probably won't see you.)
The trail diverges at the next intersection with a light. You can turn left on Warren Street and confront numerous cleared and untouched walks, you can rope yourself to your companion for safety while crossing the railroad bridge, and you can choose between navigating the street or traversing the icy walks. This route continues along Crowninshield Street and Sawyer St. (these are easy sections), to close the loop back to Railroad Ave.
Or instead of turning at Warren St, you can continue straight up Central if you wish to get to the Elder Center, for example. You will find a mixture of cleared and treacherous walks, and the street is a truly thrilling area to walk along (worth triple points). If you make it to the Elder Center, you can relax and regale your peers.with your exploits.
Prerequisites for TUWEE
Have your doctor provide a certificate of your health and ability to withstand severe physical and emotional stress.
You must be in good shape and able to walk a mile in under 15 minutes. You must have excellent balance and coordination, as evidenced by your past or current participation in any of the following: mountaineering, downhill or cross-country ski, ice skating, squash, etc.
You must have at least two years of winter urban street walking in the Northeast and pass the beginner's trail traverse, and hold a current membership in TUWEE.
Any person with at least two years experience in Tai Chi, and who practises the form daily, is exempt from the other requirements.
We need to create an organization to fight any efforts towards educating people about the need to clear their walks, or even worse, to enforce ordinances about clearing walks. Fortunately local governments are short of funds for clearing streets and sidewalks, while a minority of householders either cannot or will not keep their sidewalks clear. Today most walks are not cleared to pavement, are not salted or sanded, and provide terrific challenges for us.
This fabulous sport seems to be the invention of Inspector Boss Van Aken, or more precisely, the anonymous writer whose manuscripts were found in the trash. The location of all the stories which feature Van Aken and his Canaan dog, Nerek, seems to be "Riverby," a fictive location someplace near Salem MA, on the north shore of the Boston area. for backround, see: Foul Weather: a locked building mystery (featuring Van Aken and Nerek)
TUWEE is a very dangerous extreme sport and nothing in this article should be construed as providing instruction, advice, encouragement, or support for anyone to engage in the activities described. These are clearly hare-brained, stupid things which any mother would prohibit. Anyone doing these activities does so at their own risk and peril. The urban environment shown here is chosen from many similar towns in the region, only for purposes of illustration.