Walking COVID style

by Judith Fogel, Communications Co-Chair

“I tried walking. I stepped out, a woman was coming towards me, I crossed the street, a dog walker appeared, I crossed again.”

I am trying to convince a reluctant friend to take up walking. Her swimming pool is closed, the gym is off limits, she is going stir crazy. “I can’t do this,” she wails. “It’s too hard.”

Welcome to my world. Welcome to COVID Walking 101. I have mastered the art of zigzag, bob, weave, duck. You CAN do this.

I think back to March when it all began. How naive we were. As the pandemic enveloped us, I thought if I kept a six-foot distance, avoided handshakes and hugs, I would be relatively safe. But knowing little, we also worried. Is it aerosolized? Will I catch the virus just by breathing? Are six feet enough? Does outdoors confer a slight advantage? I began to eschew my favored hiking trails because the oncoming traffic was too close for comfort. With no friends and walking groups to join, my husband and I roamed neighborhoods after sunset, where we encountered less foot traffic and were able to make wide turns to avoid contact. Everything was closed, the world was at a standstill but the blossoms and flowers marched in right on schedule and we were able to take in all their majestic glory.

How to navigate the mask, hydration and bathroom were my greatest challenges. Told not to touch our faces, I did not remove the mask, drink water, or use any facilities until I arrived home. That proved impossible as summer bore down. As I learned more about outdoors, that it is twenty times safer than indoors, I grew a little more confident. I removed my mask to quench my thirst, searched endlessly for that elusive single bathroom stall, and even ducked in for that quick grab ‘n’ go Ben & Jerry’s on a scalding summer afternoon. But I never let my guard down and continued distancing. In the long stifling summer, I was shut in and outside all the time. Walking walking, in the blistering heat, no indoor respite, seeking out every tall tree like a shade seeking missile.

We are seven and a half months into this pandemic. And I walk everywhere. Trails, city blocks, the King Street Place streatery. I marvel how businesses and local governments are adapting and reimagining urban spaces to safely accommodate diners and walkers. I simultaneously grimace at outdoor crowds and my heart sings that so many have discovered the joys of walking. I wish it hadn’t taken a global catastrophe to force people outside.