I drove over nine speed bumps daily on a major street in my subdivision as I impatiently commuted to my USF Career Counselor job, which was 21 miles away. I barely gave the homes or the intersecting streets a glance as I focused on my destination in the pre-dawn hours.
Fast forward from August 2014 to Fall 2020: I now leisurely stroll along the sidewalks of that same street as I watch impatient commuters drive over those same speed bumps.
The stark contrast in my change of pace was not caused by retirement. The COVID-19 virus has made walking a safe and enjoyable way to exercise outdoors while we “vulnerable” folks try to remain isolated from others and still exist on the planet.
Walking has been my preferred method of exercise for decades. As a USF employee, I strolled the sidewalks of the Tampa campus on breaks and at lunchtime. Before moving to Brandon, I even walked to and from work when I lived 1.5 miles away from the campus. I lost my campus walking routine as a retiree, but last year I began walking on the outdoor track at Bay Care Health Hub in nearby Valrico.
When the virus hit in mid-March, the temperatures were delightful, and I waited until 9 am to start my walks. I began walking along the major subdivision streets, but curiosity got the best of me. I glanced down side streets and wondered what kinds of homes, plants and people were there. Like many suburban subdivisions, the streets here take curves, lead to other curvy streets and sometimes become cul de sacs (a fancy term for dead-end streets).
Thanks to my trusty i-Phone, there is no way I can get lost. My phone even calculates how long it takes to walk to a specific destination. In March, I started walking on small streets that led to nowhere so I could easily retrace my steps. Gradually, I gained confidence in my ability to estimate walking time and eased my fear of loose, mean dogs on side streets. I found a wonderland of beautifully kept homes of different architectural styles. Magnificently tall trees as well as exotic plants and flowers were prominent. I also became attuned to bird calls. My mom was intrigued in later years by birds, but this was new to me. I reveled in the early morning silence to hear the birds calling out to each other.
Soon I began noticing walking birds in my neighborhood. On Facebook, I refer to four sandhill cranes as my “social distancing pals” and even have a following of Facebook friends who look for my daily updates.
However, seeing people has been a learning experience. In the past, the normal reaction when seeing a fellow walker has been to greet them and move over on the sidewalk to let them by.
Nowadays, I am “on alert” when I see a walker or bicycle rider. They are now a threat as they are potential sources of the COVID-19 virus. I calculate which direction they will continue to walk. If they are heading right toward me, I try to cross the street. If someone else is on the sidewalk across the street, sometimes I will walk in the bicycle lane to pass the walker and turn my head away from them.
Do you remember that I mentioned curvy streets? Here lies the danger. I walk on the sidewalks of some curvy thoroughfares which have concrete walls instead of homes. Just a few feet around the curve, I discover that someone is walking toward me at a brisk pace and has no intention of changing course. My only option is to move into the bicycle lane and hope that the car heading toward me remains in its own lane! It is even more worrisome when that brisk walker is talking loudly on a cell phone to a friend. The CDC has communicated that talking at a loud volume carries the virus further than speaking at a regular volume, so I try my best to remove myself as a target.
Every day the dog walkers head toward the park nearby. Sometimes two dog walkers will meet up and chat on the sidewalk, and I will cross the street before reaching them if possible. Once a walker was startled to discover that her dog escaped from home to join her. She promptly escorted him back home without further delay. Another time a dog walker let her large dog loose in the street and shouted, “Don’t worry – she is on a leash.” The trouble was that nobody was holding onto that leash!
Walking an average of five days a week has done wonders for my heart health, balance and mood. It is quite relaxing to be surrounded by the area’s natural beauty. The only drawback is seeing those other walkers briskly head toward me. My sense of self-preservation has been honed greatly, only it still seems strange to be so leery of people. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy walking with my new “social distancing pals.”
Diane Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, technology, theater, genealogy, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI class catalog and for OLLI Connects to which she is a frequent contributor.