Letter from Washington, D.C.

Hello, everyone. In mid-March, the mayor directed D.C. residents to stay at home and since then it’s been strikingly quiet. People venture outside like they’re taking their vitamins, no one casually strolls. Most keep to themselves.

Pedestrians crab about runners, the occasional cyclist rides around instructing others to wear masks, and more runners take to the street than ever before because the lack of traffic means we can.

In ways, it’s the same as it ever was, except we subtract most drivers and add new rules for griping at each other.

Many mentally measure distance with a six-foot pole. Others, a 10-foot pole. And a few seem not to have received the social distancing memo.

Some wear face coverings when outside, many do not. Most move in ones and twos, occasionally a cluster of people jars the landscape.

Not everyone follows guidelines to the same extent. The longer our slowdown continues, the more I learn about my own anxiety and tendency to interpret and follow rules, and how it compares and contrasts to those around me.

Periodically I check on the world from my window, and go spend about one hour every day outdoors. I like to give my mouth a break from all the teeth grinding. Seriously, they are taking a beating.

The worse the weather, the better for running because I don’t have to think so much about other people. Rainy? Windy? Cold? Time to go.

I wear a face covering when others are nearby and when I walk. The face covering isn’t so bad, and has the added bonus of removing any pressure to smile. That’s a relief, I should have started wearing these things years ago. Instead, I wave if I acknowledge someone.

As a randonneur, I feel well-suited to making wardrobe adjustments such as these. Reflective vests, ankle bands, helmet lights, and booties have primed me for this time. From a balaclava in winter, to a face covering in spring. No problem.

I don’t want to venture far, yet I miss long rides with Felkerino. I didn’t think I had, really, but then last week I thought about riding a 300K and my eyes welled up. That was weird. Technically, I suppose we could do a long ride, but the potential for something to go awry and require a rescue doesn’t seem worth it. Again, this is my individual interpretation of what works during this time.

Even though the sun sets later and later, we sustain our winter-like posture due to this terrible crisis, this pandemic. In the grand scheme who cares about #(%&*^) bike rides? We’ll do them again soon enough.

Felkerino has been regular about getting in his virtual miles – I’m impressed how long he can ride in Zwift – but not me. Instead of cycling, I run most days. I signed up for a couple of virtual running events, but learned my head has limited interest in formal training and event participation right now. Instead, I’m motivated by different goals – primarily to manage my anxiety and stay healthy.

Usually, runs kick off with a lively gotta-get-my-exercise type pace, but after the first three miles and when I feel I have the space, I let up. My eyes soak in the green grass. The opportunity to indulge methodical footsteps over the uneven surface while I obsess over dandelions and other plants is irresistible.

Eagles and osprey fish from Hains Point and I observe them. I hear blackbirds bully the robins and watch them skitter around me to escape. I hardly noticed the birds before. It wasn’t quiet enough for me to do so, and I always had at least one eye out for traffic. But traffic and movement is so light right now that otherwise unnoticed activity captures my attention.

I’ve journaled frequently about the crisis we are enduring. I don’t put most of those thoughts on the blog. (That’s why I have a journal!) But the general flow and purpose of my cycling and running has changed, so I share snippets of it here.

It overwhelms me to consider longer term plans or to think too many days ahead. Cases are still on the rise in D.C. People are still dying. While social distance measures are helping, the curve is not flattening yet.

Some day we will watch people on TV hug each other and not flinch. Toilet paper will be readily available in all grocery stores again. Tourists will eventually return to the city.

Some day. Until then, I fend off anxiety, fear, anger, and general cabin fever by forcing my two feet onto the pavement and seeing something good in each day.

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