Upstate Geechie - Walking through the Pandemic
Updated: Jul 3
It was the first week of January, 2020. I was attending the annual AHA (American Historical Association) conference in NYC, NY. My son had accompanied me and it was a fantastic career and father and son experience. Not long after returning home, accounts of a new coronavirus were quietly escaping from China. The data and anecdotes were sporadic and compelling. By March the virus had inundated Italy. It was moving west at a rate that was simply impossible to accurately forecast. As cases entered through both American coasts, it was clear to me that an indefinite quarantine was imminent. As the public schools closed, college campuses shut down and daily life became a condemning digitization, my family adopted a sedentary cryptic reality. Mind you, there was nothing special about our condition. In fact, we were luckier than many. We had the resources to function from home, continue working in that model and support each other emotionally and psychologically. Still, the toxicity of the situation was ever-present.
We live in a relatively rural community. Country roads capillary off a “main” artery. The likelihood of contracting the virus through daily walks was, in retrospect, minute. Still it crossed our minds. We become accustomed to hunkering down inside the house, binging Netflix and playing our Wi. That felt safe and responsible. Our children were kept home and trips to the grocery store were anxious journeys filled with fear and joy upon returning home. Eating and drinking helped numb the shitiness of reality.
I have never been the most responsible eater. My diet is solid relative to responsibility but I am not an avatar of consumption discipline. By the beginning of May 2020, I was putting on pounds and exhausting like two or three pairs of sweats and shorts. Growing up an athlete and maintaining that identity throughout my adult life, this malaise was making me detest my body and my habits. Pre-pandemic I was active on multiple fronts. Our family belongs to a gym 6-8 months a year. I played basketball routinely and generally loved to work out some. It had all shut down. My wife Rebecca started a routine that by mid-May, 2020, had become a ritual. Walking. Her responsible eating has always set the standards for the family. An athlete her entire life as well, she had reached a pandemic precipice. Her solution was to walk, walk for escape, walk for fitness, walk for distraction and walk for miles.
What started as a chore (my weight was up) became a way to forget Covid for an hour. Historically I preferred to jog, I was finished faster and I felt like the cardio benefits were far greater. Initially we were doing three miles a day? That jumped to four, then five and thirteen months later it remains at that level. We take occasional days off, they are rare. We mix in some light jogging and a game of tennis too. Walking through a pandemic, a stressful election, a high school graduation and myriad stressors became an act of protest. It was a defiant gesture directed at a world that was spewing chaos. It sounds corny, I know. It gave us something controllable. It gave us something to rely on.
We continue to walk our road. Early in the morning and in the evenings are our favorite times. There are multiple routes now. The two-mile version is the quickest and keeps us on the main artery. After a year we have made tens of drive by friends. These are individuals we do not know personally but wave to us each day. The three-mile route takes us past a store, sometimes
I will take my draw string bag and do some shopping. The four mile traverses a beautiful, walkable neighborhood. It is awesome to see the homes take on season décor. Each of those circuits takes us over the Chemung River. On any given day the eagles are soaring, deer are drinking and mama ducks are scurrying their babies along the banks.
The pandemic changed everything and everyone. My whole family is now vaccinated and we have returned to some of pre-Covid norms. Some things will never be the same. I never thought I would become a walker (my son though), in fact I used to think it was a waste of workout time. The pandemic taught me how little I knew about many things. We are averaging six miles a day in 2021. Three pairs of sneakers later the ritual has changed our lives. We are still walking through a pandemic.