Pandemic Walks: Reflections on a year of walking

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With so many of our usual activities off limits, walking has become an important part of many of our daily routines.

However, now that we’re more than a year into the pandemic, those routine walks may have become a bit boring. Are you tired of seeing the same things every day on your walks? If so, you’re not alone!

In this blog, our team shares some of their thoughts on their pandemic walks, and how they have kept their walks interesting.

Dorinda So, Executive Director

I was never the type of person who would go for a walk, just to take a walk. These days, though, I find myself wandering through the neighbourhood where I live to get some peace and quiet from living on a very loud and busy road.

The streets of single-family homes are architecturally fascinating in my neighbourhood, with all different sizes and styles, which is one of the things I enjoy most when travelling through a new city. At the same time, like so many, I haven’t been back to my parents’ house for an extended visit in over a year, and so these walks remind me of simpler days of growing up in the suburbs.

Of course, these days, we have bike lanes and cherry blossom trees to take advantage of, things I didn’t have when growing up, but I hope that one day, we’ll see more of these in my parents’ neighbourhood.

Lauren McVittie, Marketing and Communications Manager

I was living in a basement apartment when the pandemic began, and walking every day became a necessity just to experience sunlight. Those first tumultuous weekends in lockdown, I would pick far away destinations and just walk for hours while getting used to our new collective reality.

Now in a new, busier neighbourhood (above ground this time, thankfully), I like to explore quieter neighbourhoods with the help of a Bike Share bike. I will sometimes bike to a different neighbourhood for a change of scenery, dock the bike, and walk around. I enjoy not having to return for the bike if I choose to walk home. Another thing I have started doing to make my walks more interesting is to stop and read every historical sign I pass. In doing so, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of local history on my outings.

In these weird times, I take comfort in seeing neighbours interact with each other from their porches or coming across someone strumming a guitar on a balcony. I’ve also come across film sets downtown, and once even saw a neighbourhood distanced dance party! Those small snippets of life are always nice reminders of the lively Toronto that I miss and hope we can return to soon.

Colourful paper lanterns in trees above a pedestrian walkway along the waterfront at Sugar Beach
A film set near Sugar Beach

Titi Onabanjo, Assistant Program Manager

Before the pandemic, I never really went for walks on weekdays. With fitness centres closed, I have taken up walking as a replacement for going to the gym. I have found going on walks after work to be a very relaxing experience, a time to decompress and free my mind. Walking has also given me the opportunity to discover my neighbourhood, since I moved into a new neighbourhood just at the start of the pandemic.

There isn’t much to see in terms of shopping or restaurants as I live in a fairly suburban area, but there are few trails, parks, and small waterfalls I like to walk through. Having now experienced the trails through all the seasons, I have to say my favourite time of the year to walk the trails is fall. The changing colours of the leaves are very pretty, and the weather is not too hot or cold. I am not a fan of the outdoors during the winter but seeing the frozen waterfalls along the trails is pretty cool. At the start of spring as the weather warmed, I took up running in the mornings before work, and I look forward to seeing the cutest Golden Retriever. Seeing this dog adds a little colour to my day.

I hope to continue my walking routine after the pandemic, but that will largely depend on how long of a commute I have to work.  

Kelly Bray, Office Manager

I have a dog and no backyard, so multiple daily walks were already part of my schedule before the pandemic. I am lucky to live in a neighbourhood that is near Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm and Dominion Arboretum. This provides wonderful variety as the fields grow and the trees sprout leaves and blooms over the year.

My wife and I have also been enjoying walks as a date night activity. We walk to a specific destination like an ice cream shop, make up scavenger hunts to find items around the neighbourhood (a bird feeder, a cool statue, a lilac bush, etc.), or walk over to the arboretum with a picnic. It’s a great way to get out of the house and going on a walk together always makes for good conversation.

Stewart Slaymaker, Senior Program Manager

For several years before the pandemic, I lived within walking distance of work, so it was easy to incorporate walking into my daily life! Walking was also a chance to get some fresh air, think things through, clear the mind, and just enjoy being outside.

Not long before the pandemic hit, I moved to a new city. Since then, I’ve kept to the same schedule of three walks a day, even though I no longer commute. Each day I try to reach the magic 10,000 steps, and I feel that having this target helps ensure that I walk a good distance each day.

If I hadn’t moved before the pandemic, I would likely be bored of my walks by now. However, I’m fortunate that my new neighbourhood could probably be described as a 15-minute neighbourhood. I have plenty of ways that I can mix up my walking routes to keep some variety and since many services are within walking distance, I often have a destination that I can walk to.

On my walks I enjoy observing all sorts of things. Sometimes it’s a rabbit, or occasionally a raccoon looking like it’s up no good. Then there are all the birds, whether it is a blue jay, pileated woodpecker, or a red cardinal. At this time of year, it’s nice to see all the birds return who have been away for the winter. Just this week I’ve spotted the return of a tiny yellow bird, that flashes around leaving you with little time to enjoy it.

I think going for regular walks gives a sense of community too. Quite often I see familiar faces on walks, from the lady with her happy looking big fluffy dog, to the little boy whose mum patiently waits with him as he watches construction workers make progress on the latest condo. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together and sharing and enjoying the same spaces.

A trail through the woods in the summer time
A trail through the woods

Amanda Cheung, Project Administration Officer

Before the pandemic, the only people I knew who went on walks for fun were characters in Jane Austen novels. However, once the lockdown was announced and my classes, my workplace, and my social life all became virtual, I started to see the appeal of going on a walk without a destination in mind. Spending so much time online, where there’s an endless stream of news and entertainment to catch up on, I often find myself multitasking and ultimately losing focus.

Doing something active — whether that be walking, running, or biking — challenges me to practice mindfulness by directing all my attention towards a single task. Instead of sitting at my desk keeping track of the dozens of tabs open in my internet browser, going on a walk is a great excuse to listen to a new album all the way through or borrow an audiobook from the library to read while I explore quiet streets or visit one of the parks in my neighbourhood. I may not be as fond of walking as Elizabeth Bennet, but I’m starting to get there!

Raechelle Farray, Marketing and Communications Assistant

Before the pandemic, I was living in Toronto for university, so walking to classes or to transit for errands was a daily activity. However, when the pandemic cancelled in-person classes, walking became a necessary part of my life.

For several months, I took care of my grandmother in Simcoe Muskoka and had to walk to stores to access things that we needed. My favorite place to walk would have to be Kempenfelt Bay where there is an Indigenous monument called the Spirit Catcher.

Now I am living with my family in the Niagara region. To keep my walks interesting, I research walking routes with historical landmarks. Some places I would suggest checking out are Brock’s Monument, Niagara-on-the-lake Heritage District, and Voices of Freedom Park.

The pandemic has allowed me to better appreciate my community green spaces. When you travel by transit or car, your time in spaces is short and you can miss meaningful qualities of a place that you can only notice by walking. Being in green spaces helped my mental health during these isolating times. I hope in the future, we can better protect our green spaces and walking routes now that so many of us have realized the benefits of walking in green spaces during this time.

Cover photo by photo sung on Unsplash

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