Sitting at the end of the room glistening under the overhead lights, the torture device beckoned its victim forward. Agony awaited those subjected to its fiendish mechanisms.
And, yet, I entered the chamber room of horror. Dread filled my heart as I approached the medieval apparatus. Large paddles sat vacant waiting for my feet to be secured in their grip. I wrapped my hands around the two bars jutting from its frame. Air filled my lungs anticipating the pain to follow.
Summoning every ounce of will to survive the coming moments, I pushed my right foot down and pulled my right arm toward my body. The machine countered by raising my left foot and pulling my left arm forward. I reversed, pushing down with my left foot and pulling with my left arm, while the response was forcing my right foot up and yanking my right arm forward.
Over and over, the machine and I battled, the machine’s fierce resistance pushing and pulling my body. Sweat dripped down my back as pain seared through my muscles. My breathing quickened as I gasped for precious oxygen.
Would I make it through the required 30 minutes? Come on, my mind screamed, it is only 30 minutes. I could make it. I had survived it yesterday. And the day before. And days stretching back for months.
All because of that damn doctor, the mad scientist within him cackling as he issued his decree. He had explained the simple, unyielding truth. Avoiding the law was impossible.
To maintain weight, you must burn as many calories as you consume.
Such horror in that simple natural law. The unfairness. The injustice. But I had to embrace my punishment, accept my sentence, and do my penance. Embrace the mantra that my life had become:
Consume less. Burn more.
In my younger days, I barely even acknowledged the fact. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. Tasty deserts. Creamy sauces. Succulent meats. My body absorbed the riches without complaint and easily converted them to boundless energy. Activity was easy, painless, and fun.
But Mother Nature, in her usual cruelty, slows your metabolism down as you age. What worked at 20 or even 30 no longer works at 50. The rich meats were replaced by vegetables. The creamy sauces by fruit. The tasty desserts with bland after thoughts.
And, yet, it was not enough. My body refused to burn all it received. I still enjoyed quiet hikes in my beloved mountains despite creaky joints, but I needed to increase the exercise. Something intense that could burn many calories in a short time.
The elliptical had been the doctor’s idea. Thirty minutes a day, 3 to 5 days a week, of intensive aerobic exercise to maintain weight and good health. Because of a previous back surgery, jogging is not an option. The elliptical provides good exercise without the stress on joints.
But without the passing scenery and interaction with others that hiking or jogging offers, the elliptical is boring. Thirty minutes of tedium, my mind focused on each sweat droplet, each muscle sear, each breath inhaled.
I introduced distraction. Television.
Give me a good book and I can curl up and immerse myself into the author’s world. My imagination can soar as the words tickle my brain. Sadly, curling up on the elliptical with a book is not an effective exercise program. All attempts to read while exercising failed.
Precious few television shows hold my interest, but just enough to meet this need. Thanks to the magic of DVRs, an hour-long program, once you fast-forward through commercials, lasts about 40 minutes, the perfect amount of time to exercise and cool down. And that distraction keeps me from glancing at the timer on the elliptical every ten seconds.
Feet planted. Hands wrapped around the grips. Foot by foot, stroke by stroke, sweat oozes over my body. Feet pedaling, arms swinging, breathing intensifying. Muscles aching, protesting the strain. A rhythm establishes itself. Perspiration flows.
The television show pauses. The first commercial airs. I hit fast forward on the remote and wonder, “How long has this torture gone on?” A peek at the timekeeper reveals the horrifying answer – five minutes, 12 seconds. How can that be true? The chronometer must be wrong.
The television show resumes. Focus on the show. Focus on the screen. Legs pumping. Arms swinging. Sweat pouring. Huffing and puffing, muscles screaming in pain. Can’t stand it. Glance at the timer and see only six more minutes have gone by. Not even halfway through the agony.
Who invented such a heinous concept as exercise? Our ancestors busily farmed and hunted, burning calories faster than they could eat. They worried more about becoming dinner than watching what they ate. Only in our abundance of food must we dedicate ourselves to exercise. Other animals on earth fight to prevent starvation.
Hours seem to have passed but I refuse to look at the clock. I don’t really want to know. Forgive me, Jack Nicholson, I can’t handle the truth.
My legs and arms take over, my mind shifts to neutral. Pushing. Pulling.
The overhead lights flicker, hold steady, flicker again and fade to dark. The television goes black. A new sound erupts from outside – the generator firing up. As often happens on top of our mountain, the electricity has failed. The generator ensures that critical devices like refrigerators continue to run. We must preserve those future meals, future calories.
The exercise room, however, is not on the essential grid. Burning calories does not carry the same weight.
Sadly, powered only by my legs and arm, the elliptical continues to operate. It will run as long as I do.
But the timer screen is blank. No alarm will sound to signal the end of my punishment. No indication of how long I have suffered or how much longer I must continue.
How long have I been here? What was the timer when I last looked at the screen? My mind replies, “Twenty-nine and a half minutes. Absolutely sure of that answer.”
The power outage is brief. The electricity returns. The overhead lights flash and glow brightly. The TV returns to broadcasting.
Human energy powers the torture of the elliptical , but the timer requires a plug. Without even a basic memory, the timer has reset to zero.
I stare in horror as it ticks off one second, then two and three – a full half hour countdown showing once again.
So my timer says I have been pushing for seconds. My mind responds with hours. I trust neither, so how long do I need to stay?
I continue pedaling, unsure of the path forward. Exhausted, sweating, I surrender.
I step away from the elliptical and head for the shower.
But I know it is up there, waiting for my return. Knowing I will be in its clutches again tomorrow. I hear it cackle from the dark room, calling me to return. The evil pulls me toward it.
The torture will resume tomorrow.