Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A forced march for Earth Day

6 miles, 3 ½ hours and 1 fish: I reduced my carbon footprint with my own 2 feet
By Bill Edwards
Staff Writer

The oddest thing I saw walking the route from The Anniston Star building to the Starbucks coffee shop in Oxford was a dead fish.

Really. It was on the east side of Anniston's South Quintard, at E Street, just lying there on the sidewalk. A com-pletely whole dried-out dead fish.

I'm taking it as proof that this area was indeed once covered by a shallow ocean.

The exercise that produced this discovery was an effort to reduce my carbon footprint on this Earth Day 2009. If one were to give up one's car, how far would one be walking to take care of essential activities (not necessarily grabbing a cup of coffee)?

The answer, in this case, 6.2 miles, give or take.

The walk began at 8:50 a.m. Tuesday from the newspaper driveway, and ended at 12:15 p.m. inside the coffee shop. Following in his car, Star multimedia intern Whit McGhee manned the video camera to document my progress. It took nearly 3 ½ hours, but included along the way were pauses to talk, take pictures, use the facilities at a sympa-thetic business, etc. That means the distance could easily be walked in three hours, maybe 2:45 if one were brisk about it.

I found that surprising. It makes walking, at least in the flatlands, seem more feasible.

My legs did start getting a little sore, though. Later, it was good to sit down.

Additionally, sidewalks or some other created footpath would be good to have the entire distance, not just the por-tion from 22nd Street south to Greenbrier-Dear Road.

Along the way — the entire path was on the east side of the highway, facing oncoming traffic — the ground was surprisingly clean. We're gonna give credit to the city prisoners (the fellas in the gray-and-black stripes) who are taken outdoors under guard to keep the roadsides picked up. Thanks, guys. Oh, by the way, there's a dead armadillo down there in front of one of the King car lots.

Random note: Billboards are really big when you're not driving past them. I observed this at the Putt-Putt golf course.

Even the drainage ditch above 22nd Street was generally clean. I could see the individual segments of old paving that made it up — it looked like an old Roman road. One chunk of stone was evidently a piece of sidewalk from town: The abbreviation AVE, as in "avenue," can clearly be seen.

The walk through Anniston was pleasant as always. Founding fathers would likely be pleased to see that so much of their landscaping survived, and was even improved upon when dogwoods were first planted in the Quintard parkway around 1964.

The sidewalk down the hill south of Fifth Street was pretty ordinary as sidewalks go. I did wonder about a steep flight of stone steps that led down to the "A Street" neighborhood. Who built them? When? Who needed them?

In that territory, I saw the fish on the sidewalk. Shown a photo, newsroom observers declared it was a catfish; not unreasonable, given how a restaurant was like 30 yards away.

Maybe it was trying to escape.

The path south of Greenbrier-Dear Road, as noted previously, lacks a sidewalk. This doesn't make foot travel impos-sible, but if someone were attempting the route in flip-flops, for example, it would become messier.

The most interesting feature on the southern leg of the journey was the viaduct over the railroad tracks at the Annis-ton-Oxford boundary. It's a long way down to those tracks and Snow Creek that runs beside them. That, combined with the relatively low guard rail and the shimmy of the roadbed as semis rumble past, creates keen incentive to reach the other side as soon as possible. I was disappointed that no one had bothered to carve into the bridge's stonework any indication of the year in which it was built.

Under the bridge were signs of occasional human habitation. Count your blessings, people.

The path through Oxford held no unusual hazards. Although no sidewalk exists, the verges are wide enough to allow a safe walk. Motorists here, as everywhere else along the route, were polite. Well, no one yelled anything rude, even though I looked awfully suspicious.

Upon finally reaching the Starbucks service counter, I enjoyed seeing an old friend making my coffee and serving a yummy pastry.

All right, Whit, let's go back to the paper. My feet hurt.