2020 was the year of walks

2020 was the year of walks

Nobody tells you how boring a pandemic can be. The movies missed that. 

That’s not to say the ongoing COVID crisis lacked awful action. It was all too full of it. 

But so much of a pandemic is avoiding doing…anything…to stay safe. In the movies people are always speeding somewhere to fix things. 2020 was more about distracting yourself as time passed. 

We occupied ourselves with TV, crafting, making sourdough, mindlessly scrolling TikTok, drinking, cooking, and pretty much anything else we could do away in isolation. But maybe above all else, oh man, we really distracted ourselves with walks. 

I often felt like a dog itching for any reason to move around the world for a glorious few minutes. OUTSIDE? It’s safe?! Oh my God, yes! Nutro, a pet food company, even made a commercial to that effect.  

There were so few activities that were probably safe. Taking a stroll was one of them. With our worlds so small, it feels good to move around and luxuriate in the air that isn’t stagnated inside your four walls. 

Walks boost your physical health in obvious ways, especially during a year when we couldn’t move about as much. But they also can apparently help improve your mental health, obviously important in a Hell Year. I am decidedly not a scientist and cannot fully explain why that is, but when I tell you walks have given me little serotonin treats, I mean it.

I think walks were so helpful in 2020, in part, because you simply got to look at new surroundings. So much of quar life is predictable and contained, at least on a walk there is some spontaneity. Seeing a bird, a cloud, hell, a garbage truck, is better than looking at the same white wall, the same bed, the same view out the same window.

It’s nice to just go. It’s nice to have something to do. In pre-pandemic times, I enjoyed long walks, but typically I’d tie it to an activity. I’d walk to meet up with a friend, or to go to a brewery, or to pick up groceries. But now I just walk. That is the end unto itself. And luckily, I live in New York, so the whole place is pretty damn walkable. 

I’ve always enjoyed walking but holy hell now I love it. Sure it can get monotonous — how many times can you do the same thing — but it’s something.

And you can make a walk anything you want it to be. I walked 13 miles into Manhattan one day: That’s exercise. I walked on my lunch break: That’s brainstorming. I walked because I was annoyed: That’s meditating. 

Drew Magary wrote about this idea in a treatise on walking for Deadspin back in 2017 that doubled as a commencement speech. Magary, a very funny sportswriter and novelist, put it better than I could: 

“Walk, motherfucker.

Walk a whole lot. Walk everywhere. Or, if you’re in a wheelchair, roll everywhere. Don’t drive. Don’t get an Uber. Walk. When you walk up to grab your diploma—and the wait for that will be hot and endless, mind you—keep walking. Do not stop. Churn those young goddamn legs while they’re still working.

You don’t need me to explain the health benefits of walking. Studies show that walking helps with depression, weight loss, heart health, and even brain health. Walking is exercising. Walking is thinking. Walking is writing. Walking is working. Walk as much as you can, wherever you can. And try to not to carry anything, because carrying shit ruins it.”

Something I’d add for 2020, though: Walking is socializing. 

Walking was my main way of seeing the world this year. Walking was (and is) the highlight of my event calendar. Family would call and ask me and my fiancée, “Any plans this weekend?” Hell yeah, we’re gonna walk. 

Or if you wanted to meet with a friend, going on a walk was one of the only safe ways to do it. You could mask-up and hit the pavement together, briefly feeling like it was real hangout. 

At first glance, this all sounds like just killing boredom. And it is. But there’s more to it. I think we all fell in love with walks this year because it reminded us of life. 

When you walk, you see the world. Dogs playing, cars zooming, people out and about, maybe walking, maybe doing the exact same thing as you. There’s a sliver of shared humanity. 

Walks serve to remind us that there is a world out there. We might be closed off from it in long stretches, but it remains. 

In New York, I’d pass by apartment buildings, each window framing a home life. There’s a couple making lunch. There’s a dad playing with his kid. There’s a dude standing in his underwear, oh God. 

Walks passed the time, sure. But walks also meant remembering the time that passed us by — when the world was open — and it reminded us of the good things to come.

Until that day, I’ll keep walking. Hope to see you out there. 

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