Reframe Your Morning Commute: Polar Vortex to Poké Walk 

By Mara Addison

As a Venture Outdoors Trip Leader, I regularly participate in hikes that last two hours or more through heat, and cold, and nasty precipitation, over creeks, and through trees, and up long hills. So why was the thought of a flat 23-minute walk across downtown Pittsburgh so daunting to me? 

For four years I worked at the Steel Tower on Grant Street and would occasionally make the walk from my parking lot in the Strip District to the building. It was a 13-minute walk. And unless I was walking with someone and chatting, I found it pretty miserable. 

In the summer of 2018, I switched jobs and now work near Point State Park. Parking is inexpensive in the Strip, so it made no sense to change where I left my car in the morning. Every day, since June 2018, I took a shuttle from the Strip to the Steel Tower. From there, I walked two blocks to jump on the T. This took at least a half an hour, much more if the shuttle or the T were running late. On the few days the T wasn’t running or the shuttle was MIA, the walk was 23 minutes.   

Let me repeat – 23 minutes. You may notice, this is faster than relying on transportation. 

Yet it seemed like such a harrowing thing, that 23-minute walk. From the Strip! To Point State Park! *GASP* Coworkers gawked at the distance. Friends agreed this was far too long of a walk to tackle. You’ll be exhausted, they said. It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, they said. Why walk when you can ride, they asked. 

And then, at the beginning of the New Year, I had an epiphany. 

I’m a hiker. That’s what I do. In any weather, pavement or woods, hot or cold, heavy backpack or not. I hike. 

I teach people how to hike safely. I lead children on hikes and show them the beauty of the trails. I hike and don’t watch the clock but watch the trees, the wildlife, and the people. Walking through downtown is a chore. But hiking? Hiking is a treat, for the body, for the soul, for the senses. 

I traded my running shoes for hiking shoes, gathered my hat and gloves, and made the decision to simply start hiking. Not walking – but hiking. 

I started by taking the shuttle to town and skipping the T, hiking exactly 13 minutes from Grant Street to Point State Park. After several weeks, I added an afternoon hike from work to the Strip. After that, I just started hiking back and forth every day. 

I watched the trees, the birds, and the people walking their dogs. I decided to say something nice (in my head) about every person who caught my eye. (“Ugh, look at that awful jacket” became “What great shoes that man is wearing.”) I made it a goal to pet at least one dog per day. I ran into an old friend and made lunch plans. I saw the mayor and chatted and shook his hand. (He is also an urban hiker.) The time flew by. I was disappointed when I got to my destination. Through the Polar Vortex, heat waves, and rainstorms, I hiked. 

About a month ago, my nine-year-old daughter rediscovered the Pokémon Go app. As a good mother would, I started to look for Poké Stops for her downtown when she was short of Poke balls. (If you don’t know the lingo, no worries. Follow along anyway.) 

After two weeks, I started going after some of the Poké People myself. Just for fun. Suddenly, my 23-minute hike expanded to 28 minutes. There were certain stops through downtown and the Strip I had to hit on way to and from work … for my daughter, of course. 

And the best news? We are currently planning a Venture Outdoors Pokémon Prowl for the end of summer.  I’ve discovered many other people who walk around looking for imaginary creatures to trap on their smart phones. Why not have everyone explore together, kids and adults, in a safe and fun group? Look for more information on the website soon. 

My daily hikes are a great life lesson in perspective. If you look at a task with fear or derision, it’s going to remain drudgery. But if you reimagine it, and find a way to embrace it, wow, what an adventure you may have. 

Isn’t that the way with most things in life? Isn’t it better to find one good thing about every person you see? To see the beauty in the bare trees, to keep your eyes open for doggos to pet, to listen for the songs of the birds and keep track of the shimmering ice on the river? Isn’t it better to be proud of your accomplishments? 

I wish you your very own burden to overcome, and the imagination and enthusiasm to conquer it and make it a thing of daily joy.