This Month’s Featured Article

Walking for Body, Mind, and Art

By Published On: January 10th, 2018

By Dominique DeVito |

It’s January. It’s cold. The leaves are off the trees. Get outside and walk? It’s not exactly the most motivating time of year to get started – but it is the perfect time of year to get started. Why? Because it’s a new year, first of all; because you want to do something healthy after all the indulging over the holidays, right?; because it’s easier to start with short walks when it’s not quite so nice out – and you want to start off slowly; and because, honestly, you have to start some time, and it might as well be now.
“Walking is a great way to be more active, and is the most popular physical activity among adults,” according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It can be done by nearly everyone, and it doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment or a gym membership or anything, really, except some time and dedication.

That’s how it started for Carlo DeVito. If you happen to be a commuter on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge between Greene and Columbia Counties in the early morning (usually around 6 am), you’ve probably noticed him dutifully walking the bridge’s beautiful span. I know when I see walkers, I think how lucky they are to have the time, and how easy it looks to be out there. Carlo doesn’t have the luxury of time. Like many of us, he has several jobs he’s juggling. But this isn’t the story of his career, it’s the story of what happened when he started making walking a habit, and how he stays motivated.

When did you start walking (almost) daily, and why?

I started in January 2014, so it’s four years this January, 2018. I was making a job change and no longer commuting by rail more than five hours a day. I had spent so much time sitting on Amtrak trains that I vowed to myself that if I wasn’t on the train I would use that time in the gym or walking.

Did you have a weight or fitness objective when you started?

At the time, I was a biscuit shy of 260 – much more than I wanted to be! But my goal was not just to lose weight, it was to shed inches.

And have you succeeded?

I dropped 45 pounds initially, though I put some weight back on from working out later (which I do on a program designed for me by a trainer friend). I’ve also gone from a size 46 pants down to a 36.

Nice. What do you do to supplement the walking to work other muscle groups?

Once I started losing weight I started doing sit ups, leg raises, push-ups, and lifting a small pair of dumbbells (15 pounds). It was nothing crazy, it was merely about repeating the exercises with the same regularity that I had brought to walking. The goal was toning up my muscles not bodybuilding.

What motivates you on a daily basis to get out there and do it?

My biggest motivation is fear of getting fat again! I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. I don’t huff and puff when I go up and down stairs or when I go for a short walk. I can bend down and tie my shoes without my stomach getting in the way. And I have a lot more energy. I don’t want to give any of that up.

Do you prefer walking in the morning or later in the day?

I walk whenever I can. I do it early in the morning because my days can easily get away from me with business and everything else life throws at us. My routine is to wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 and get out. It’s quiet, then, and peaceful – albeit sometimes it’s very cold.

How do you keep a routine from getting stale?

I started taking photos of my walks to prove that I was somewhere. I started walking over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge about two years ago. I now have more than 3,000 photos taken from that bridge. Several people have suggested I publish a small book of those photos.

I know you have quite the following on Facebook for your walks and the accompanying photos. How does that influence your daily practice?

It’s funny, I actually get text messages on days when I skip my walk from folks wondering what happened. It’s great motivation. I thought, “Who in the heck would care about all these photos I’m taking?”, and I stopped for a short period. People complained! They enjoyed the daily photos. So I’m always looking for a fresh perspective. I never get tired of sunrise or sunset.
The walks have increased my appreciation for nature. For years I took trains and buses in and out of New York City, becoming somewhat oblivious to everything as I focused on what I had to do. But seeing the Hudson when I walk, I have found an absolute beauty in the river. Fall is gorgeous with the burst of colors. Winter is beautiful – it’s bleak and crushing cold and ice. The spring is an amazing transformation of the landscape. And summer is like a National Geographic video – I sometimes think I’ll hear David Attenborough’s voice talking behind me when I hear all the birds in the trees in the estuary.

Speaking of birds, what’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you on your bridge walks?

I was attacked by Peregrine Falcons. A pair was nesting in the bridge, and since I was going by during their morning feeding time, the male and the female would swoop down at me. They are huge! But it was fine. I was glad for the Falcons being there, as it shows the river is ecologically sound enough for them to survive there. I’ve seen Bald Eagles, too.

What’s the happiest thing?

Interacting with the Peregrine Falcons was also the happiest thing as it means that the river is a healthy place again. When you see the estuary on a Sunday morning when there’s no traffic, the bird song is unbelievable. I also like hearing the ice coming up the river and crackling and pinging and popping. There are so many little moments like this that I’ve come to appreciate how impressive nature is.

You’re spending a lot of time in the environment of both Thomas Cole and Frederick Church. Do you think about that?

Absolutely. The more photographs I take the more I think about Church and Cole. In many of the paintings – especially by Church – there are mountains lit by sunlight that are in the background, while some of the features of the landscape in the foreground are shadowed by clouds. I see that on a daily basis from the bridge. I think about those two artists often and how the river connects their worlds and mine and connects me to the paintings – and how awesome nature and landscape truly are. I have an incredible new love of landscape painting.

How do you feel if you miss a walk?

I feel awful when I miss a walk. Even if it’s only a short walk I miss it.

What’s been the biggest learning experience from this practice, and how do you compare walking outside to doing the treadmill in the gym, which can be a substitute for an outside walk?

Going for your walk is a very meditative time. You can give yourself a task to think through – things going on in your own life or your family and friends; business issues that you have to deal with; lots of stuff. And it all gets broken up with looking around to see the beauty that’s right in front of me. This is quite different from doing the treadmill at a gym. While it’s a better minute-for-minute exercise because you can challenge yourself to go faster or longer or further, being in the gym never equals the joy I get from being outside, breathing clean air and looking at what’s going on. I have never seen a sunset or sunrise inside a gym, nor have I seen Eagles or Peregrine Falcons or boats going up and down the river.

What’s your advice to those who want to start a walking exercise program?

Don’t try to kill yourself. Start out small with one or two miles. Try four days a week or three days a week or five days a week. Start off small, and eventually you begin to miss the days that you don’t walk. If you can, find a fun trail or a path through the city or town that you live in. Be smart and safe. Also pick a place that amazes you. Sometimes the opposite happens though. You pick a common place and suddenly it becomes amazing.

Where can people see more of your photos?

On my Facebook page. And if anyone wants to message me about their walking, we can commiserate when it’s really cold.

Thank you for the insight and inspiration. Happy 2018. •