How Hiking Helped Me Cope With Life During the Pandemic
In March of 2020, businesses, schools, and other services were shutting down across the country. Politicians, celebrities, and newscasters implored the public to “Stay Home” to avoid catching Covid-19. A friend of mine called me up and invited me to go for a hike. “We can stay properly social-distanced and still enjoy the outdoors,” he said. He was right. So we dressed up in our 18th century reenactment clothes (because we didn’t know when the next reenactment might be) and went for a five mile hike in the West Virginia mountains. It was a tough hike, and I huffed and puffed all the way through it. Boy was I out of shape! But I felt good having completed the hike.
As the weeks wore on, all of my reenactment events started getting canceled, and I thought “What am I going to do with my spare time now?” So I decided to do some more hiking. Why not? With all the gyms being closed, it was about the only type of exercise I was likely to get. I started hiking the state parks surrounding Baltimore. First on the weekends, and then on weekdays after I was done with virtual school. Sometimes I’d hike with a friend. Sometimes with a group. Sometimes we would camp too. Hey, it was a lot safer than going to the grocery store! Hiking became my way of coping with the new normal.
By late July, I looked back and realized that I had hiked over 200 miles since March. Could I possibly make it to 300 miles by the time school started? I made it my goal. I got bored with the local parks so I started traveling. I hiked the rail trail from northern Baltimore to the Pennsylvania line. I was a few miles south of York when I hit the 300 mark. I stopped for a minute to bask in the glory of achieving my goal. Then got back to hiking.
When school started in September, I knew I would have to curtail my hiking some. But I didn’t want to stop. I made a new goal: 400 miles in 2020. So every chance I got, I hiked. Cool autumn weather made it easier than those grueling summer hikes. On December 30, I hiked the 400th mile. But I had already made another goal. Could I get another 100 miles by the end of March? That is, could I hike 500 miles within a 365 day period? Well, I was going to find out.
I knew getting this last 100 miles would be tough. It would be cold. There would be snow and freezing rain and treacherous trails. But I got off to a good start and finished January with 442 miles down. That would leave 29 miles each for February and March. Easy. But then the snow came in February. I struggled over a few snow covered trails before giving up. I only managed to get 17 miles in February, finishing the month at 459. I needed 41 more in a month where I also had interim reports, grades, conferences, unpredictable weather, and my biggest reenactment event of the year to contend with.
I started hitting parks and trails on the way home from work just to get a couple miles in here and there. Thankfully the weather cooperated and it was mostly comfortable throughout March. I inched ever closer to my goal. But with 3 days to go, I still had 11 more miles. On Friday, I did 4.8 miles at Bacon Ridge. On Saturday, after a full day of reenactment at London Town, I stopped at Susquehanna State Park and got 4.4 more. On Sunday, I got the last 1.8 miles and hit the 500 mile mark with just 18 hours left in the year. I had succeeded in hiking 500 miles in a single year.
Reflecting on this achievement, a couple of things come to my mind. First, when the world is going crazy around you, it sure helps to have something that you can focus on and that you have control over. Second, I feel a lot healthier and stronger. Third, I feel more confident in my ability to accomplish other goals. So what do I do now that I have achieved this goal? Try to beat 500? I don’t know. I’ll continue hiking, but I don’t think I can do 500 again unless school closes down again. And none of us want that. Maybe something totally different. But it will definitely be something. Because the world is still kind of crazy, and I need something else to focus on.