Micro Walks

Ever since COVID-19 hit, I had a feeling that there would come a day when I would be locked in for a 14-day quarantine. That day has come. Our son is attending university in Halifax NS, and the Canadian Maritime provinces have imposed an Atlantic Bubble. This means that anyone coming into the bubble from outside (like from Toronto) has to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Since we wanted to spend Thanksgiving with our son, we came out at the end of September and are now in lock-down.

Because we knew we’d have to go through this, we rented a place in downtown Halifax that’s about 10 blocks from his university and close to lots of restaurants and grocery stores that deliver. We found a cozy home that has a small yard, and is also on two floors.

That means my daily walking routine consists of a series of micro-walks. It’s about 60 steps for me to circle the garden, so if I do about 15 laps then I cover just over a km in about 10 minutes. My goal is to get 30 minutes of walking in per day, and 15 flights of stairs, so every hour I get up and do some laps around the house and up the stairs, and once a day I go outside and circle the garden for 15-20 minutes. Over the course of the day I can get in around 6000-7000 steps.

As I write this, it’s only day 4 of my 14 and when this is published I’ll still have a week to go. I’m also taking advantage of the enforced sit-in to catch up on some reading and to do a little armchair learning. I’m just hoping we don’t have a solid day of rain, because it would be really tedious circling the garden in mud, but so far so good.

The reward, of course, is that when this quarantine ends we can have a family meal and celebrate. Till then, I’ll be going round and round, and round and round, and round and round …..

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.

Walkers vs Dog-Walkers

Walkers walk. Walkers of dogs let pets take them for walks, a significant difference.

My preferred routes often take me through the local streets, parks, and ravines of Toronto. While many of these parks have off-leash dog run areas, I grew up in a small town in rural Southern Ontario so when I was young everywhere was an off-leash dog run area. Today we fence in our pets, and designate park plots for pooches to poop.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like dogs. It’s just that I cannot always say the same for walkers of dogs, aka dog owners. I do make an exception for dog-walkers, aka the pro’s. In my neighbourhood there are lots of families that own dogs and who employ professional dog-walkers to exercise Fido during the day. Generally speaking, these folks are just that, professionals, and keep their charges under control. Sharing the path with them and 4-5 bounding terriers is tolerable.

Walkers of dogs, however, are like amateurs in many things – long on enthusiasm and short on technique. In normal times, on weekends there would be the unleashing of the hounds as the walkers of dogs came out, families with their pets. In today’s COVID times, this is a daily occurrence. In many cases, these non-professional dog walkers fall short of the standards set by their workaday employees. Let me count the ways

  • Poochie is precious; all my attention must be on him
  • Poochie is rambunctious; isn’t he cute!
  • Poochie is curious; ooh, what have you found in that man’s shoe?
  • Poochie is poopie; over there Poochie, poop over there!
  • Poochie is ignored; can’t you see I’m on my phone!
  • Poochie is in my way

Come on folks – share the space and smile at your neighbour. Poochie and just want to walk.

When Will I Stop Walking in a Pandemic?

I guess the title of this post has two meanings. When will I stop walking? Will it be because I get sick? Will it be because my wife or son or someone I’ve been in contact with gets sick, so that I have to go into self-isolation? Will it be because the province or city completely locks everything down?

And then the other meaning is broader – when will this epidemic end? When will restrictions lift, and some normalcy return? When do I have to stop criss-crossing the street, doing the the covid dance to keep my 2m separation from anyone else?

So which comes first – me being shut down or the epidemic ending? It’s what everyone is thinking. It looks like we’re talking months for all restrictions to be lifted, and probably at least a few more weeks here in Toronto before even a slight loosening. Recent briefings from the Ontario government talked about being prepared for 2nd and 3rd waves that stretch out 18 or even 24 months from the start this past March, and for a gradual, step-by-cautious-step return to what we hope is the old normal over that time. We’re in this for a longish haul it seems.

So when you look at it like that, a certain fatalistic, carpe diem attitude is likely. Remember that Bobby McFerrin song? – Don’t Worry, Be Happy

And can I just take a moment to remind you about some dos and don’ts about walking while we’re in the middle of this:

  • Do – keep 2m apart while making space for others by stepping into a driveway or off the curb onto the roadway if you need to
  • Do – try to walk on the left side of the street so that if you have to step into the road you can see the traffic coming towards you
  • Do – give extra space for someone who might be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19
  • Do – smile at your neighbours and fellow walkers 😉 – we’re all in this together

  • Don’t – walk about in 2s, 3s, and 4s crowding others off the street
  • Don’t – forget to look up from your smart phone
  • Don’t – ignore the birds, flowers, sunshine, and SPRING! now that you can actually hear, smell, and appreciate them
  • Don’t – be that person who’s so self-absorbed that they actually think this epidemic is all about them and how they’re the only ones inconvenienced by it all

Just Keep Calm and Carry On

And oh by the way, let’s hope we keep that idea once this finally settles, because waiting in the wings there’s climate change to be tackled, not to mention paying back the $billions borrowed to fight COVID-19. We’ve got a challenging decade in front of us. If the 1920’s were known as the Roaring ’20’s, then this coming decade may come to be known as the Pooring 20’s, or better yet the Soaring 20’s as we not only get back on our feet, we use our new-found resolve to face even bigger challenges. Humans are smart, resilient, toolmakers – 5 million years of evolution have seen to that.

In the meantime, embrace the little things – like a box of Rice Krispies when that’s what you crave.

Happy thoughts: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the times we live in

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been walking in our neighbourhood, I’ve been taking pictures of the many signs and sidewalk chalk art that I’ve come across.

They’re a mixture of happy thoughts and admonitions. There have been some that are too big to capture – I saw a chalk art design today that took the whole width of the roadway on Manor Road just west of Mount Pleasant.

Humans are nothing if not adaptable, and one of the ways we’re adapting to COVID-19 is to create art. It’s a reminder that we’ll get through this.

In the words of her Majesty the Queen – “We’ll meet again“.

Still Walking in an Epidemic

When I wrote about taking walks during the COVID-19 epidemic a couple of weeks ago, I knew that social changes were coming, but even so I didn’t that things would change as quickly as they have.

Just 3 weeks ago, COVID-19 was serious but still something that impacted someone else, somewhere else. Now it’s here, in Toronto, and very much hitting home. The city and the province have declared states of emergency. Neighbours and acquaintances are in self-isolation. At least one relative has tested positive for COVID-19. Our parents are tucked up at home and sitting tight. Stores and shops are closed or only offering delivery. Our son is home and is probably done school for the year (thankfully he received early acceptance from Dalhousie University so we don’t have to worry about marks).

It seems that plans are being adjusted and changed day to day. And that’s just the precautionary impact. So far, we don’t actually know anyone who’s been seriously ill, but it feels as if it’s only a matter of time.

So there’s a carpe diem feeling in the air to some extent, which is reinforced by spring fever when the sun comes out and then tamped down and mixed a feeling of uncertainty and doubt, especially when it is gloomy and rainy. You want to keep living and enjoy life, because it appears to be just a matter of time before a full-on city-wide lockdown is declared, or worse, you contract it yourself. At the same time, you know more is coming and that we’re still on the bad side of the curve.

Walking is a distraction in times like these, and of course we’re all feeling cooped up and in need of exercise. For the first time in weeks, I’ve actually gotten out 6 days out of 7 this week. I try to keep my distance from others, so I weave from one side of the street to the other as people approach, or walk in the roadway. There are lots of people still out walking dogs, especially as the off-leash dog parks are now closed, so there are still more than a few people out on the streets, and anyone with young kids at home is trying to keep them active. All of it means that in some ways it’s actually harder to find peace and quiet on a walk, even though vehicle traffic is lighter.

One thing I’ve noticed is that, in addition to the usual flotsam left behind by the receding snow tide, there is a new line of jetsam – latex and plastic gloves. 1000 years from now, will archeologists puzzle over this clue?

It’s quieter though – you can hear the birds, the chuckle of squirrels and the rustle of the breeze in the trees. The air is cleaner too, I have to admit that. Turns out that taking cars off the road makes it easier to breath – who knew! It’s ironic that with petrol cheaper than it’s been in almost 20 years and with light traffic about, now is the time for a road trip, but no one wants to be far from home and meeting strangers.

Will that shrink our horizons? Just a few weeks ago, people thought little of jumping on a plane or in the car and buzzing off to New York or Montreal for a weekend. Now we hunker down within a 1-2 km radius – New York is the other side of the moon right now, and in full lockdown even if we could get there.

So I keep walking, even if it’s just in our flat. I can do 5-10 minutes at a time, pacing back and forth across the living room and doing stair climbs as well, and can get it up to 4,000 or 5,000 steps in a day that way. Mostly I try to go out and walk the neighbourhood, careful to touch nothing on the way in or out (I’m getting good at using my elbow to turn the door handle and my foot to push it open). Our son has put a big sign on the powder room door as you enter the flat, to remind us all to WASH HANDS.

Sign of the times.