Jeez… what a year, amirite? We are resilient as hell. But in this world of high stress, feeling of endless hopelessness, and constant exhaustion, I wanted to share with you a method of coping that is attainable to most people. Because even in this burning world, we can find pockets of beauty and humanity.
Sometime in March, when the pandemic was in full force in the US and we were required to quarantine, I made a promise to myself – I would be more physically active. There wasn’t much to do and every screen I encountered would induce panic and stress, with its frightening COVID statistics and constant doom and gloom. So, after a few weeks of panic of not knowing if the virus was simply everywhere, I began to build a routine to help me stay sane. I pulled out my FitBit that I had received for Christmas and I set some goals: 10,000 steps per day (pre-pandemic I would walk about 7,000 on a good day), more veggies and fruits, sleep right, and every other day watch some work out videos. My gym was closed, for God knew how long, and at that time all restaurants were closed as well. Eating healthy wasn’t difficult as I was *forced* to eat my moms delicious food (if any of you know my mom, she’s the best cook ever).
I started by walking daily, from 30 minutes to an hour… then 2 and maybe even 3 hours in a day. Despite sleeping awfully at night because of the looming stress, I fixed up my diet and felt energized in an incredible way. After walking all around my neighborhood, I ventured into hiking. And oh what a joy it has been. I have never spent so much time outside or craved the need to breath fresh air. Initially, many of the trails around me were empty, which allowed me to relax more without feeling the fear running into another person that carried the virus. Each weekend I ventured around Virginia, Maryland, and even West Virginia.
Is hiking for everyone? Some of you may be taken aback that I would ask such a silly question, but in the US there is a dark history of excluding people of color, specifically Black people, from enjoying the lush greenery and open spaces our parks have to offer. Or as better put by an Oregon Public Broadcasting article:
But not all outdoor recreation is accessible for everyone, especially for Black people. And it’s not strictly a matter of economics. Outdoor diversity groups like Outdoor Afro have found that it’s common for Black people to feel excluded, uncomfortable and unwelcomed when they try to enjoy outdoor activities.
She’s (Tara Cooper, an interviewee) also experienced a need to put on a show for the white people she encounters on the trail: a show that involves the avoidance of any stereotypes that negatively depict Black people. Sometimes she said it means answering uncomfortable questions about her income and her job, being extra smiley or making sure she lowers her voice so she won’t be considered as “being too loud.“
The darker bit of history relates to slavery, as it seems that most things in the US do. Forests were spaces where runaway slaves were captured, where civilians were lynched, and perhaps just simply disappeared. As a friend once told me, “I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t help but feel afraid.” And not to delve in further, because I’m sure the topic is being plenty exhausted, but to answer my silly question… YES, hiking is for EVERYONE and there is plenty of research that shows how important it is to be in nature.
So, during this time, invite a friend or two to go exploring. I can guarantee you, it’ll be memorable.
And hey, maybe it’s just what you need.