A few weeks ago, we asked our newsletter readers how they were feeling about the city and nation on a scale from one (🤬) to seven (🥳). Two-hundred-and-forty-nine people responded.
Almost half said they were at a three (😔) when asked about COVID-19 in Denver.
Seventy-five percent said they were at a two (😭) or one (🤬) when it came to “how things are going generally in the U.S.” The survey went out on Jan. 11, a few days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
So what are people doing to vent the angst?
Enter the second question on that survey: “What are you doing to blow off steam?”
Sixty people – about a third of all respondents – mentioned they’ve been relying on walks to keep their heads on right.
We know this is not a scientific poll. But let us add one more piece of unscientific context to this.
Scott Gilmore, Denver Parks and Recreation’s deputy executive director, told us the city saw a “huge increase in park usage” since the pandemic began. His department doesn’t formally count visitors, but he said staffers with boots on the grass have all noted more people flocking and walking to parks since the city shut down last spring.
We went out to talk with some of them.
Jean De La Cruz and her daughter were beginning a new tradition on Tuesday with their very first walk around Sloan’s Lake. De la Cruz said both of their waistlines suffered during lockdowns, and it was time they took some action.
While most people we spoke to weren’t thinking too much about Joe Biden’s inauguration, which loomed in just a day’s time, it was on De La Cruz’s mind. Two of her grandchildren attend school on Lincoln Street in the Emily Griffith High School building, just a few blocks from the Capitol. There hasn’t been any political violence there since the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., but she said her family was not going to risk letting the girls go to school on Wednesday.
Being cautious is the first step to keeping her mind at ease, she said. The next is finding an outlet for added stress. A sunny afternoon at Sloan’s was just the ticket.
“If you’re capable of mentally stabilizing your thoughts, I don’t think it should be so bothersome,” she said of America’s current political struggles. “It’s all a mental thing.”
We met Karen Serrano at City Park, who was taking a lap around Ferril Lake during Tuesday’s morning cold. While she said the nation’s recent political violence was unbelievable, it’s not the thing that she needs to work out on her walks. Serrano is from Honduras and works here as a nanny. She worried about her ability to remain in the U.S. throughout President Trump’s presidency. Her prospects may change this week.
“I’m hopeful,” she said. “But either way, it’s very hard.”
She doesn’t make it onto these paths every day. But when she has the chance to step outside and clear her mind, she said she takes it.
Spencer Howard said he’s hardly missed a morning of walking around City Park. He said he’s a social creature who lives alone. When his office in the Tech Center closed last spring, he had do figure something out to balance his new isolation.
“That social outlet was a big deal for me. And working from home, it really feels like the walls are closing in on me,” he said. “This walk does a lot of things for me. It’s a little meditation. It helps me to get my 10,000 steps in every day, and it helps me to get out of the house.”
That meditative aspect was most important during the election, which he said was a particularly stressful time. This week, it’s all about stretching his legs before getting back to work.
Howard’s walks may also be the start of a long-term habit. He said he doubts that his company, Oracle, will ever move back to a full-scale office operation.
Joel Sobel and Andrea Hall have long taken walks around Sloan’s Lake, so they noticed when the pandemic pushed more people onto the pathways there. Hall said her Fitbit has logged close to 800 miles since March. Lately, they’ve enjoyed walking in inclement weather.
“It’s the best time, because there’s nobody out,” Hall said.
“There’s some solitude,” Sobel said.
Peace and quiet is worth pursuing, though Sobel said the act of walking doesn’t exactly clear his mind.
“The news and the situation in the world is so disturbing,” he said. “The best way is to try to avoid it and not think about it and stop reading so much about it and be obsessed with it.”
“Extreme exercise,” like back-country skiing, is capable of making him forget, he said. A walk around the lake with Hall is a decent distraction from watching the news in the first place.
Craig Andres, who took out his earbuds for a moment to chat, said he had a similar experience at Sloan’s.
“I’ve seen so many inaugurations,” he said, and plenty of political infighting. “I don’t really pay a lot of attention to it, to be honest with you. I can’t do anything about it other than get upset, and then what’s the point? It’s not going to solve anything. So I just go on and do my exercise.”