September 23, 2020

Trading out indoor exercise isn’t so easy

Now that spring seems to be emerging, I have one burning question: What do I do with my stair machine?

All winter, the exercise equipment in my home has been my personal connection to mental and physical well-being. But this time of year, indoor exercise quickly becomes outmoded. Who wants to be climbing electrically motored steps going nowhere when there are real mountains to climb, not to mention lakes to swim in and paths to hike?

Now there will be sunshine, birds, the calm of nature. Ah, the beauty of it all.

Yet I feel an odd regret about giving up the privacy and insularity of my winter exercise routine. I’m already nostalgic about turning the lights low after a workday and retreating into the music on my CD player. On those evenings, the sun would be long gone and the house grew chillier by the moment, but I was heating up as I climbed aboard, ever in pursuit of what one of my friends once called “StairMaster butt.”

My braver colleagues in the athletic world stick to the program throughout the winter by running on ice or skiing in snow. That used to be me but about five years ago I caught a chill, and I haven’t since wanted the misery and uncertainty of doing my workout in temperatures 40 below zero. It’s cowardly, I know. But I’ve become attached to the indoor scene, the one that consists of just me and no snow.

Therefore, in the quiet of my own home office, I exercised – if not exorcised – with abandon this winter. The step-machine doesn’t accommodate any side-to-side movement. (Don’t even ask how I discovered that little principle of physics.) But considering the lack of right-left possibility, I still managed to flail my arms to “Y.M.C.A” and to point an aerobically accusatory finger in the air toward an imaginary bad boyfriend as Gloria Gaynor ripped into “I Will Survive.”

On days when I needed less distraction, when I wanted nothing more than to be alone in my thoughts, I’d play Cesaria Evora or Van Morrison and fade into a fantasy of islands off the coast of Africa or a street in a village in Ireland.

Conveniently, I also caught up on my reading. A 30-minute workout meant I could get through one of my pop culture zines. Forty minutes got me through an issue of “Gourmet” or two chapters of “The Great Gatsby.” When else did I have time to for these types of delicious treats?

If I were waiting for an important call, I would lodge the phone on a nearby shelf. Once, a woman from California called to talk to me about the arts scene in Maine. I was breathless as I answered the phone.

“I’m sorry,” I said, figuring that if anybody would understand the primacy of working out, it would be someone from L.A. Turns out, she is a stair machine devotee, too. Did she also listen to disco? Diet tapes, she confessed. Step and let step, I figured.

For the most part, however, the real appeal of the indoor scene was that no one knew I was there, in the dim lights with the shades drawn and the music going. No one saw that I was wearing one of the kids’ discarded T-shirts and gym shorts. None of my shortcomings was revealed. My hackery on the tennis court, my bobbly slowness in the pool, my slogging style on the running track all remained secrets. I was a step-master jock and dreamed of Step Master Olympic Gold. It was a level of indulgence that may sound trite but was my winter salvation.

Now there is spring. We wait all year for this. Rah, rah, and all that. I’ll be out there hiking, swimming, climbing and swinging the racket. But I lament the seasonal irrelevancy of my stair machine because, during the restraint and containment of the coldest days, that bundle of nuts, bolts, chains and pedals allowed me a liberation I just don’t think I can find on the golf course.

Unless, of course, someone pipes in the Commodores version of “Brick House.”

Alicia Anstead can be reached at 990-8266 or

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