Adventure in the Time of Covid

Yes, this is a hard, unprecedented, difficult, uncertain, scary, pick your darkly ambiguous adjective time. We’re stuck at home. The news is constant now. The constantly updated death toll. The constant reminder of how we failed to prepare. The constant decline of the stock market. The kids constantly on their screens. I looked at my youngest daughter’s search history and she was searching for how viruses spread and Covid death rates. Okay, not going to lie, there were some makeup and TikTok dance tutorials scattered in there, too.

Through all of this uncertainty, there has been a pause, and I am thankful for it. Because we live near open, nearly empty trails, my wife and I continue to work, our kids have access to their teachers, music lessons and soccer coaches (all online now). My son has a skateboard and a mountain bike. One eats curbs, the other eats trails, and they both eat hours. My oldest is continuing her college clarinet studies and filling our house with beautiful music and the muffled, frustrated crying that artists will recognize as growth.

We are privileged, and I am grateful. And my heart aches for people who aren’t as lucky, people who have lost their jobs, and people who are dealing with the death of loved ones. It is a scary time, and I’m not trying to minimize it.

This will affect everyone in some way. I wake up at 2 AM, worried about how this will affect my kids, and I can’t go back to sleep.

I worry about my wife, who spends 12 hours a day in the ER and won’t tell us the worst of it because she knows we can’t handle the details. Sometimes she will just say it was a hard day and go upstairs to shower, and I can see how hard it was in her eyes, and she won’t let me hug her in that moment and that’s really all I want to do.

My kids sleep until 9 or 10 AM, and I let them. The school sent a bell schedule and I see others posting their amazing homeschooling routines. I hope to get there, but to be honest, as long as we all come out of this still loving each other, I’ll consider it a win.

I was initially excited in the early stages of our self-quarantine (we started earlier than most due to my wife’s patient interactions in the ER). I just assumed we would get outside for most of the day. I was already making a mental checklist. We would hit the trails for a run, surf, go to the climbing gym, daily yoga session, and a camping/climbing trip to Joshua Tree.

This was before the mountain towns, the gyms, and the beaches closed. This was before we knew the ramifications of most of these activities. This was before the term social distancing became less of a vague notion and more a concrete law. In my neighborhood, people have been posting pictures online in an attempt to publically shame neighbors who might walk a little too close to each other.

Self-quarantine became about self-isolation as we learned about flattening the curve. It felt like a dark hazy cloud was settling over my head. I would wake up, turn on the news, and break the day up by snacking, planning what to buy from the grocery store, planning what to eat, and eating.

I’ve alternated between two pairs of sweatpants for the past 3 weeks.

I’d still get out and run or bike occasionally, but by myself, and I’d still try to get some online work done, but it’s a battle and laziness is winning.

Spring in San Diego is a beautiful time, and day 14 of quarantine was especially beautiful. It was a Sunday. The sun was out, the clouds were feathery and the breeze was cool enough to make walking in the sun with t-shirt and shorts comfortable.

My wife was at work and my kids were reading the latest notifications from their friends and I was watching the news say the same thing over and over.

“Let’s go,” I said. They all were quiet, and they knew that there was no getting out of it, so with the solemn resolve of a prisoner walking to the van after the guilty verdict has been read, they changed out of baggy sweatshirts and cat-fur covered flannel pajamas into shorts, t-shirts, and running shoes.

We’re lucky enough to be able to cross the street and immediately be on muddy, rocky paths with yellow wildflowers and trees that have grown from saplings to 20–30-foot beauties in the 15+ years we have lived here.

As a long-time trail runner, I dreamed of having a running family. A legacy of cross country runners that a running magazine would feature someday. All bouncing along together in perfect stride, my daughters with their long brown hair, catching the golden rays of the sun, and my son with his “Like Father, Like Son” tattoo à la Matt Centrowitz covering his gaunt, slightly shrunken runner’s chest.

Didn’t quite work out that way. They all lasted through middle school cross country before deciding that isn’t the type of suffering they wanted to subject themselves to. I shouldn’t be surprised. My running journey was full of starts and stops, and I didn’t really learn to love the suffering until I was an adult with three young children. Running became an escape from a different kind of suffering.

So now, when I say “Let’s go,” I don’t say “Let’s go for a run.” But I’m not fooling anyone.

We headed to the meadow. We call it the meadow in our family because it doesn’t have an official name, or maybe it does, but if you head down a muddy and rocky singletrack trail, cross two streams, go through a natural tunnel where the branches of the trees have joined overhead to create a canopy, past a small waterfall that was rushing harder than usual thanks to the recent rains, avoid the poison oak, and cross the wide and deep mud pit using a rope hanging from the oak overhead and a couple of two by fours that some kind person hauled there (and that my dog fully ignores), you will reach our meadow.

This pause has come with a quietness. Less people outside, and fewer cars. But it is so much louder in other ways. The laughs were louder. You could hear the rushing stream from further away, and there were more birds singing, or maybe I could just hear them now.

Our family hike inevitably turned into a run as we headed down the steep and rocky singletrack in order to get some momentum for the jump across the stream where we all got at least one shoe wet.

Last weekend was Easter Sunday and I watched as Andrea Bocelli sang to the empty streets of Italy. His music was cut with drone shots of empty city centers. There is something peaceful about emptiness. It’s not really empty, or lonely, it’s just quiet. And the music filled the space. The pull of nature is the same.

We seek that quiet emptiness. It fills us.

After our hike, we all returned to our screens. Me to my computer and the kids to their phones, but we were all a little happier than we were before we went out.

I’m still scared for my kids, and what they will remember about this time. Hell, I’m scared for myself, but what I hope to remember is that short family outing from our front door. My 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son sharing a seat on a rope swing, laughing, and not even trying to elbow each other off. I’ll remember sitting in the driveway watching my son master a trick on his skateboard or listening to my daughter practice her clarinet or the walks with the dog in the early mornings on empty sidewalks. I’ll remember the fear and the uncertainty as well, but things are rarely all bad. I hope that years from now when we talk about the coronavirus, my family will remember these small things and the way we filled the emptiness with something beautiful.

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