TO Walks – The COVID-19 New Normal

For the past several months now, I’ve been starting off most of my posts with this:

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Also be aware that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited availability. Please check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not.

And after 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m wondering if I need to keep saying that. Don’t we all know this by now?

You hear people talk about “the new normal”, and the idea that what we have become used to with COVID-19 is what we’re going to have to keep doing for the foreseeable future. We all hope there will be a vaccine soon, but in the meantime we just need to keep doing the right things to manage the epidemic.

  • practicing physical distancing: 2m = 1 hockey stick = 3 dog-lengths
  • wearing a mask where physical distancing isn’t practical, like shops and indoor public spaces
  • washing hands and avoiding contact points
  • cheering each other up with sidewalk chalk art

While that’s become mundane, at least for me, what’s also become part of my new normal is the way I’m walking these last few months. For example, I’ve stopped thinking or planning for long multi-day out of town walks. The Bruce Trail is out right now, partly because sections are closed, partly because the Bruce Trail Org is actively discouraging through-hikes, and partly because I’m reluctant to book B&Bs or hotels right now.

And then, within the city, my routine has changed. In the Before Times, I would take public transit to some end point and walk home. Now I don’t want to use those the bus or subway, and since the City has closed many public washrooms in parks and has shut off public water fountains, I need to plan my routes carefully around pit stops while carrying extra water with me.

All of that means much of my walking has been local, 1-2 hour forays around nearby neighbourhoods. Thankfully, we live in mid-town and there are many quiet, shaded backstreets to chose from, so most days I ask Siri to just randomly pick a direction – North, East, South, or West – and head off that way.

With tricks like this, and some others I’ve learned, my new normal COVID-19 walking routine is helping me to keep sane.

COVID-19 Walking Hints and Tips

  • Walk on the left when you can. This means you’re facing the traffic if you have to step into the street briefly to give space on the sidewalk to someone else
  • Backstreets have less foot traffic. On busy streets like Yonge, I sometimes feel like I need to wear a mask because of the density of other pedestrians. On side streets, there’s hardly anyone about any day of the week, and it’s quieter so I can hear the birds.
  • Plan your route. Like I said, washrooms and water can be tricky. I can carry water, and I guess I can pee in the bushes if I need to, but that only works in forested parks and ravines. The neighbours don’t take kindly to pits stops in their hedges.
  • Planning ahead also means both hydrating before I leave as well as emptying the bladder.
  • Avoid bike trails, especially on weekends. Toronto has many multi-use trails, like the Don Valley Trail, and they are mostly too narrow to allow 2m of physical distancing from cyclists. Weekends are the most congested with would-be Tour de France pelotonistes, so I look for walker-friendly options.
  • Take a picnic. With many coffee shops and restaurants still limited in seating, and requiring mask-usage if you do go in, it’s easier to just take some snacks and have a bite on a park bench somewhere.
  • Skip parks with off-leash dog runs or playgrounds. Parks like this usually mean more pedestrians and less physical-distancing, which should mean more mask-wearing, and I don’t like to wear a mask outdoors, so I just don’t go near those parks.
  • Look for big, natural settings. Toronto is blessed with a wonderful system of ravines, trails, and parks that are big enough to offer lots of trails and fewer people for lower density, especially during mid-week.
  • Look for quiet neighbourhoods with lots of windy streets. Toronto has many areas that feature beautiful homes, lots of shade, and little traffic. Often these are quiet any day of the week so you can go for walks when the weekend-warriors are clogging the parks. Personal favourites include:
    • Lawrence Park
    • Lytton Park
    • Cedarvale / Wychwood
    • Hoggs Hollow
    • Rosedale and Rosedale Heights
    • Forest Hill and Upper Forest Hill
    • Moore Park
    • Chaplin Estates
    • Davisville
    • Leaside
    • Rathnelly
    • The Beaches
    • Leslieville
  • Check out the cemeteries. I’ve written many times about walking through Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and Mount Hope and Prospect Cemeteries are favourites too. They’re quiet, shaded, and usually free of cyclists, and this time of year I can fill my water bottle at one of the taps around the grounds. That said, please do remember that first and foremost these are places of memory and quiet contemplation.
  • The worse the weather, the fewer people about. If it’s raining or really hot/cold, you can avoid crowds by using the weather to keep crowds down. Remember – there’s no bad weather, just poor clothing choices.

And probably most importantly, remember that we’re all in this together. We’re all missing something, we’re all a bit inconvenienced, and we’re all impatient to be able to get back to whatever it was we thought was normal before.

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