COVID-19, Personal

Walking in the cold

I’ve regained all the weight I lost over the summer and am again 15 pounds over my ideal weight. I say that hesitantly, because it’s not like I have a weight problem. I’m only four pounds into the overweight category, according to this BMI calculator. Until I turned 40 I had a blast-furnace metabolism and could eat anything I wanted. Now, in my 50s, to keep my weight where I want it I need to limit calories and exercise a little. A thirty minute walk four or five times a week is all it takes.

Before COVID-19 sent knowledge workers everywhere to their home offices, I used to walk a fair amount just going about my day — between 2,000 and 4,000 steps, according to my iPhone’s step tracker. But now that I’m home all the time I am lucky to walk 500 steps in a day — unless I deliberately leave the house to take a walk.

Side street
I walk this road a lot. Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Agfa APX100 (x/7-98)

Trouble is, it’s cold. I hate the cold!

Over the summer, I couldn’t wait to get on my bike every day. I preferred the bike to walking, but that’s not to say a good walk didn’t have its own pleasures. But now? I have no desire whatsoever to be outside.

I’m starting to force myself. I put on a long overcoat and my earmuffs, and pull one of my COVID masks across my face. In middle age my teeth have become sensitive — they’ll ache for a couple hours if I walk thirty minutes in freezing temperatures. I know I can wrap a scarf around my face, but a COVID mask works just as well for this purpose and is a lot easier to manage.

We haven’t even hit the coldest part of the year yet. It’ll come, later this month or early next. We’ll see some days well below freezing, even below zero Fahrenheit. I’m ready. Since I was in high school I’ve owned a Korean War era Army topcoat. It hangs well below my knees, and it has a stout wool liner inside. It has repelled every cold nature has ever tried to throw at it. It’s Army green, so it’s hardly a fashion statement. But when it’s that cold, who cares?

I don’t mention it here much but I have a bum left foot. Bunion surgery in 2014 was supposed to alleviate the pain. It did, but it left me with a new and different pain. The ball of my foot and my big toe would both ache and go numb. My original podiatrist kept telling me it would heal in time, but it didn’t.

Healing up after the surgery

I found that I could walk nearly pain-free in Birkenstock sandals, which I wear whenever it’s warm enough. But that doesn’t work in the winter. After considerable trial and error I found an over-the-counter insert and a wool metatarsal pad that, together, made walking less uncomfortable. But long walks still irritated my foot.

I finally went to a different podiatrist this fall. He was awesome. He told me that either I had some scar tissue in there that was irritating a long nerve that runs along the big toe, or the original podiatrist nicked that nerve during the surgery. If it was scar tissue, he said, he could probably restore my foot to normal with a short course of steroid shots. But the only thing he could do for a damaged nerve would be surgery to cut it off entirely. He said he really didn’t want to do that as the end of my foot would permanently go fully numb.

He did some clever diagnostic work that, unfortunately, ruled out the scar tissue. It had to be a damaged nerve. “But all is not lost,” he said. He fashioned an insert for my left shoe that takes most of the pressure off the ball of my foot as I walk. It is almost as good as my Birkenstock sandals! At least foot pain isn’t a barrier to me walking anymore.

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COVID-19

Winter’s a comin’

In the spring, I thought that lockdown might flatten the pandemic curve (remember that phrase?) enough that life could return to normal in the summer. I was willing, eager even, to press pause on seeing family and especially friends — to just stay home — for the greater good. But now it’s clear that we’re in this for months longer yet, easily through the winter and possibly even longer.

I’m mighty introverted and love spending time alone, but even I need some human contact. I feel it deeply — I’m not getting enough, even though I live with my wife and some of our children and thus have company whenever I want it. To be whole and healthy, I need to see family that doesn’t live here, and I need to see my friends. Videoconferencing hasn’t been a good enough substitute.

Obviously, risk of COVID increases the more you interact with people outside your household. My wife and I have read a number of articles about it, articles that were as agenda-free as we could find. The consensus is that when you spend time with people outside your household, the lowest-risk way to do it is outside, where whatever people around you breathe out dissipates into the air. Distancing of at least six feet, or masks when that’s not possible, further reduces the risk.

Indiana businesses are open again with a few restrictions (though in at least one county bars remain closed). This appears to have signaled a return to normal for many Hoosiers. I see people spending time in each others’ homes, riding in each others’ cars, and having meals inside restaurants. It saddens me to see it, as this behavior only spreads the virus.

My wife and I are still playing it conservatively — from our observation, much more conservatively than most. But we have loosened up some. Isolation has been hard on us and has contributed to our low moods. Right now, we do see our friends and extended family outside. We are beginning to travel together in limited fashion to places where we spend most of our time outside. We choose to take on what we believe is a small amount of COVID risk to get the mental health benefits of human interaction and being in the world.

We’re getting as much of it in now as we can, because this window will close when winter weather arrives. Indiana winters are cold and snowy, sharply limiting outdoor activity. I never look forward to winter, but I dread this coming winter more than any other in my life because it will mean intense isolation.

We’ve had occasional picnics in a Zionsville park and invited children, siblings, and parents who live in central Indiana. We’re having another on Sunday. We’ve taken dinner to my mom’s a couple times, and eaten it with her on her patio. A couple weeks ago my team at work had a socially distanced picnic together. And I’m starting to see friends a little, always outside, with reasonable distancing. On Tuesday I saw my brother and a mutual colleague for the first time since February. We met at a restaurant with a great whiskey selection, and sipped a couple bourbons on the patio while we caught up. It was wonderful.

Yesterday I took the afternoon off and drove to southern Indiana to meet my younger son, Garrett, at a state park. His mom moved way out into the country with her husband after he retired, and that’s where Garrett lives when he’s not away at college. The state park is about 20 minutes from his home. I don’t remember exactly the last time I saw Garrett, but it was before the pandemic and might have been a long ago as January. I’ve not gone this long without seeing him since he was born. We went for a long hike, and talked. It slaked a deep thirst.

My wife and I have also booked an Airbnb apartment in downtown Louisville for an upcoming weekend. Since we married, we’ve made a point of taking a long weekend away every three months. With all the hard stuff we’ve lived through, these trips help us remember that we love each other and enjoy each other’s company very much. Our last trip was in January. We need to get away. We chose an Airbnb apartment rather than a hotel because we think there’s some risk advantage to a single unit over a room in a large building. We were also able to learn about the owner’s cleaning practices in detail, and they satisfy us. While there, we hope to walk through downtown Louisville photographing its architecture and enjoying meals outside at restaurants. But if it rains all weekend we will buy groceries, make our own meals, and watch Netflix together. If this weekend trip is like all the others we’ve taken, we’ll return renewed in our relationship.

One of our sons moved out a few weeks ago. It brought us no joy as he’s on an unsustainable life path that will go badly for him. It’s been deeply stressful for all of us who live here. He is also estranged from the mother of his child. After he moved out we reached out to the mother, who has since been generous in bringing our granddaughter for visits. We were thrilled when the mother offered to make the visits to be regular, weekly if we can swing it, to build strong bonds.

Already bad weather has backed us into a corner, and we’ve allowed them into our home. We have reasonable assurance that the mother is managing pandemic risk as well as she can, and she has the same reasonable assurance from us. But in the end you never can really know and every person you add to your bubble only increases your risk. And again, winter is coming; the cold and snow will sharply limit our ability to see our granddaughter outside. We’ve judged that the better thing is for us to have time with our granddaughter, so we invite her and her mother in. We hope we’re right.

Holliday Road Bridge

Finally, I’m getting outside for walks and bike rides as much as I can. It’s a solitary activity and so I’m at no COVID risk. But the exercise is good for my body, mind, and spirit in these hard times. I figure I have about six more weeks on the bike before temperatures are too chilly for me to ride without special gear — it’s amazing how cold your hands, ears, and face get on the bike below about 60 degrees. I don’t enjoy wearing cold-weather gear on the bike, but this year it will be worth me investing in some so I can ride for as long as I can.

Walking will be easy enough and not unpleasant until the temps drop below zero Fahrenheit. Then I’ll break out my heaviest coat, a Korean War-era wool-lined Army trench that has blocked every cold I’ve thrown at it for the 35 years I’ve owned it. But walk I will, all winter. I’m making that commitment now. It will help me get through the long, lonely winter.

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On a walk

On the walking path
Apple iPhone 6s
2019

That’s the building in which I work, there across the pond. My desk is near one of those windows and has an unobstructed water view. I gather that there was some consternation among the longtimers that this prime location went to the new guy.

There’s a walking path all around the pond, accessed through the building’s back doors. With afternoon temperatures in the low 50s now, it’s often just warm enough for a walk. When my schedule allows it, I’ll make two loops of one mile each. The hard part is avoiding the geese, who think this is their turf and hiss at me as I walk by.

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Photography

single frame: On the walking path

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