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February 25, 2011. This one’s a serious challenge. I’ve walked and eaten my Way through New York, Beijing, Venice, San Francisco and so many more. And never had a problem burning way more calories than I consumed.

But Charleston. Way too much great eating. And it’s not all, uh, light stuff. I mean, this is a town where you eat bacon three meals a day if you’re not careful. Fortunately, they have really great bacon. Even Better, they have one beautiful walking street after another. Click to see the big, detailed Google Map I made for you. Let’s go.

Breakfast on the Harbor
Let’s set the tone with a little walking before breakfast. Start at the original center of town, the old Market. Long, low sheds that stretch from the waterfront to Meeting Street. If it’s Saturday, there’s a small Farmers Market inside. And a bigger one up at Marion Square. Or pick up fresh, local fruit and good bread any day at Queen Street Grocery (corner of Logan Street). Then head east on Market, turn south on East Bay and proceed to Baked. Get the Sweet & Salty Brownie. Trust me. It’ll get you through the next ten miles. And together with your fresh fruit, you’ve got breakfast for less than 350 calories and $5.

Five minutes to walk around the block, up to Vendue Range Street and over to the north end of Waterfront Park. Find a bench. Beautiful view of the harbor, the sun’s up over Fort Sumter, the Ravenel Bridge is sparkling across the Cooper River. Have a great breakfast.

The Historic Loop
The beautiful morning walk along the waterfront. South through the quarter-mile long Waterfront Park, then along the top of the sea wall. An even mile to the southernmost point of the Charleston Peninsula and White Point Garden’s huge old shady oak trees.

Then a mile through the thoroughly preserved and charming-beyond-belief brick and cobblestone streets. Lined with 17th- and 18th-century mansions. Each with a spectacular walled garden. And a gate or portal to let you peek in. This is the town that gives you garden envy with your grits. Last week, the camellias were blooming everywhere, some of the magnolias just starting.

Another mile north through the center of town to the College of Charleston. The most beautiful campus since 1770. Spanish Moss hanging from 200-year-old oak trees. Students hanging out everywhere in t-shirts and bathing suits on a warm day. Hey, what time’s the Financial Derivatives in the Electricity Market lecture?

The serious walking
OK, a quick loop around Francis Marion Square. Then three miles north and west to Brittlebank Park on the Ashley River, the western boundary of the peninsula. Might want a bite of that brownie now, if you saved one. Now three miles south along the river and back down to the Battery. Great views across the water to James Island and Folly Beach. Great breeze. Cool brown pelicans cruising for fish. Wonderful, long views. Few in-your-face historic distractions. Make good time. Make it aerobic.

The last mile
Back through that charming, historic residential district. Distractions everywhere. But visions of lunch dance in your head. Your feet are happy to keep moving. They know you’ll sit down in one more mile.

The finish line is on Queen Street, between Meeting and King Streets. It’s called Husk. It’s Chef Sean Brock’s place. And it’s worth your ten miles. Hard to eat better than this. Somehow manages to look down-home simple while it tastes unimaginably complex. And I mean that in the best way.

Everything is local. Everything. Chef Brock is also Farmer Brock. Grows his own. Has his own fisherman. His own clam and oyster digger. His own smokehouse. Order anything. He makes perfect shrimp and grits. Not great. Perfect. Have them unless you’re allergic. Big portion. You could split it. And the lamb barbecue sandwich. Or the sarsaparilla short ribs.

Order a side of vegetables. They change daily, but they’re all great and interesting. The bacon braised mustard greens and kale were terrific. But then, so were the wood-fired turnips with preserved tomatoes. And the cider-braised cabbage.

Seems like you could get out of here with a 500-calorie lunch if you’re careful. Another Walking & Eating extravaganza where you burn way more than you consume. Then you see the dessert menu. C’mon, you’re in Charleston. Are you really not going to try the Black Bottom Pie in a jar? Or the S’more Chocolate Bread Pudding? The Apple Pie with Smoked Ice Cream?

Really. Your morning-long, 10-mile walk burned about 1,250 calories. So you’re probably better than even, even if it’s not by much. I know, what about dinner? No problem. You have a whole afternoon to walk. And you haven’t even seen half of the historic homes and churches yet.

Click to see the big, detailed Google Map I made for you.

Cost-Benefit Analysis
Let’s just say you’re already here in Charleston. The Walk is free. A great, energizing 10 miles in four or five hours. Some fruit at the Market and a Sweet & Salty Brownie at Baked make a $5 breakfast for champions. Impossibly great shrimp & grits for lunch at Husk: $14. But you may not make it out of there without the Black Bottom Pie in a Jar: another $7.

Let’s do The Math
10 miles. 4 – 5 hours. 1,250 calories. Eat really well, but not too much. Burn every calorie you swallow. What a Way to see Charleston.

Every Thing Is Everything
A Walk like this gives you the immediate benefit of a great day. Making exercise a habit gives you the long-term benefit of great health.

“… modest levels of physical exercise during middle age increased the probability of successful aging beyond 70 years … [reducing] osteoarthritis, falls and hip fracture, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, cancer, obesity, diabetes…” Archives of Internal Medicine, JAMA, January 25, 2010

It’s Always Something
You’re not in Charleston? So what. Go to your local Farmers Market for some great fruit; buy or make some great snacks. Map your own trail. In the city. In the country. In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of local, State and National parks. Use and support them. And when you get back home, make your own shrimp & grits.

While you’re walking, sip water frequently to stay hydrated. Not the expensive, environmentally unfriendly bottled water; filter and fill up at home, carry your own. Hiking, I wear my CamelBak backpack. Built-in water reservoir. Convenient in-my-face water “bite valve” never drips or leaks. Check out these handy 50- and 100-ounce packs. For something smaller, I use CamelBak‘s BPA-free bottle with that cool and highly functional bite valve.

Need To Know
Where to find public bathrooms along the Walk.

Putting the Ate in The Walk. The big Google Map marks the spots:

Husk. 76 Queen Street

McCrady’s, Chef Sean Brock’s “other” and somewhat more formal restaurant. 2 Unity Alley

Fig, Chef Mike Lata’s wonderful restaurant. The other world-class chef in town. 232 Meeting Street

Baked, the killer bakery at 160 East Bay Street

Fast & French Cafe for a refreshing ginger punch and a quick lunch. 98 Broad Street

Cru Cafe for comfort food at lunch or dinner. 18 Pinckney Street

Queen Street Grocery, fresh, local organic produce. Queen Street, corner of Logan

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