Virtual trekker

Patty Farrell is in the midst of a simulated 2,932-mile walk from Ashland to New York
Patty Farrell walks near Laurel and Randy streets in Ashland.Julia Moore

Patty Farrell, a retired law-enforcement officer, has started a "virtual walk" across the country, logging four or five miles a day around Ashland and using a highway tour book to tick off her progress on a simulated route from San Francisco to New York.

Currently making her way through "Nevada," Farrell says the 2,923-mile game is "a way to motivate me and keep track of what I do."

She plugs her GPS into her computer, and software tallies it all up for her.

Why walking? It's the aesthetics of it: "the sights, smells, interesting things you run into and how good I feel afterward — the energy!" she says.

Taking off from her home near Helman Elementary School, Farrell has maps in her mind of which routes add up to three, four or five miles.

On top of the sheer pleasure she gets from walking, Farrell notes it keeps fat off while toning and firming calves, quadriceps and glutes. From her Pilates and walking instructors, she's learned to emphasize swinging the arms (shoulder muscles get tight if you don't swing them) and rotating the torso. She also learned that if you exaggerate lifting the knees, it prevents stress on the ligaments and joints of the hips.

"In winter, I start out in the dark and walk in the street to avoid dogs, bikes and stuff on sidewalks," she says. "I do a different route each time so I don't get bored. I get to see the cows, chickens and wildlife and say hi to the deer. When I moved into my house, walking and seeing other homes was a great source of ideas for landscaping and house colors."

The wet and cold of winter are a deterrent, she admits, but she tries to keep at it, using it as a meditation time for clearing her mind.

"I just go out the front door and decide the route as I go along. The Greenway is near, so I often go along the creek there."

Farrell knocks off 15-minute miles, so her pace is aerobic. She takes about an hour for each jaunt. At that rate, she still can carry on a conversation while walking.

As she told her story, she was just leaving Reno, Nev., headed into Sparks, Nev., on her virtual, cross-country tour. At five miles a day, she should be pulling into virtual New York in 580 days — sometime in the summer of 2014.

Where to then? She will decide when she gets to New York.

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