Every evening of every weekday has the same ending.
At the conclusion of another restless day cooped up at home, we escape our enclosures to breathe in the fresh air and verify the outside world is still there.
As we walk the city streets and sidewalks before sunset, our long shadows stretch from one day into the next and report no change.
The solo walkers and joggers, the couples and their dogs, the clusters of parents and their adolescent children banded together as a full ensemble all take part in the daily routine in an effort to maintain sanity while stuck in a time loop that obscures any sign of a future that returns us to some semblance of normalcy.
Living in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, every day feels the same, but almost nothing seems normal. For many, the outdoors is the one grounding force that provides a vital respite from the stress, anxiety and isolation experienced during an unprecedented period of uncertainty and upheaval.
But even how we approach our outdoor spaces has seen a change, and our current circumstances require adjustments in behavior to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us.
Going for a hike is no longer as simple as jumping into the car and heading to our favorite trail on a whim. It requires a bit more planning, consideration and sometimes sacrifice.
Above all, an outdoors outing calls for common sense.
Social-distancing rules still apply outside. Having the ability to maintain a minimum of 6 feet of distance between yourself and others should dictate where and when you hike. Trails that were popular and busy before the pandemic began will still be popular and busy now — maybe even more so — because people are creatures of habit, and habits can be hard to break.
But instead of joining the crowds, who shouldn’t be crowding in the first place, our situation presents an opportunity for exploration as we seek out spaces we can enjoy without worrying about passing packs of people and catching the coronavirus.
Many have taken to the streets, roaming nearby neighborhoods and making new discoveries in their own backyards. Residential areas and even much of downtown Santa Fe are ideal for walking or cycling thanks to reduced traffic and ample room available to keep a comfortable buffer from others.
I’ve made a habit of walking or jogging every weeknight just before sunset near my home on Santa Fe’s south side. I first head east down Beckner Road while watching the fading sun turn the Sangre de Cristo Mountains pink, then stroll west along Governor Miles Road as the purples, yellows and oranges hanging in the sky briefly displace the uneasiness that’s been gnawing at my mind all day.
On the weekends, I usually take a day trip for a hike within a short drive of my home.
Normally, I would be tempted to hit the popular trails. Maybe scale Atalaya, or go to the ski basin to hit the Winsor Trail, or head up into the Jemez to stroll along Las Conchas Trail.
The pandemic, however, has encouraged me to hunt for less-trafficked spaces. Some have been remote, some sit in plain sight, and many have felt like hidden gems that will enter the rotation as my new go-to places even after the pandemic mercifully passes.
New Mexico has an abundance of public lands, and though it may take a little research, it’s not terribly difficult to locate gorgeous, low-traffic trails within a short distance of Santa Fe.
A call to a local Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service office, or even the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, can offer some helpful leads. Investigating the rarely reviewed trails on hiking apps or Google Maps can also unearth fantastic finds.
Still, being responsible while exploring remains paramount.
Hike only with those in your household. Though it’s tempting to socialize, this isn’t the time to go on a group hike with friends.
Research where you’re going. Opt for open space hiking areas rather than along narrow trails with steep inclines that make it difficult or impossible to pass by others while allowing a wide berth.
Bring a map and compass or GPS device so you don’t get lost, and don’t take any risks that could lead to injury. You’re not going to be practicing good social distancing if you get in a jam you need a search and rescue team to get you out of.
Take along all the food, water and supplies you’ll require on your trip to eliminate the need to stop at a store where you could potentially pick up or pass on the virus.
Keep a mask at hand that you can quickly put on if you find yourself in close proximity to others.
And if you get to the trailhead and find it packed with vehicles, have a second option available. Return home if needed and try again at a less busy time of day, or simply walk around a part of town you have yet to explore.
We’re fortunate to live in a gorgeous part of the world. Many of our city’s streets and trails offer stellar views residents from other locales would be envious of. Our days are almost always sunny, and our evening skies are appointment viewing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.” And so we continue to walk each evening looking out to the radiant west, instilled with the hope of brighter days ahead.