hot bod

Where Are You Walking?

Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty

Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

Now we are stuck. It’s distressing down to the marrow that isolation from the world is our best recourse to protect the world. Last Thursday, the governor of California told us to stay home unless going out is essential. I’m in Los Angeles with a dog named Finn to walk. And so, like thousands of my neighbors, I’ve interpreted the stay-home order to mean: Don’t go anywhere. But a walk isn’t going anywhere. A walk is going nowhere, slowly.

Really, a shelter order means: Don’t go to people. Isolation only applies to a walk if no one else has the exact same cooped-up idea you just had. While there are 6,500 miles of winding streets in Los Angeles, people seem to arrogantly pool to famous pedestrian thoroughfares. If you’re maintaining an impenetrable six-foot perimeter around you like it’s an invisible electric fence, you don’t just scuttle to the scene-y reservoir, where everyone else will go. You go where no one goes. You’re going unexpected, solo, full-blown hermit with your path.

Until the now times, walking, as habit, seems most associated with a cul-de-sac gossip-gang or a brusque lone intellectual on a daily constitutional before writing proverbs. This is not the propulsion behind walking now. Something that was so mild, so endlessly benign, is now teeming with the stuff of life. Walking now, as I see it from the other side of the dog leash, is a way of clinging to a last edge of a world that we shouldn’t be out in.

For now, so long as you can move down the street with your un-poppable six-foot bubble, walking is a gift. You can inhale new air, absorb new vistas. It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the weird flora is popping from every corner. The air has never felt crisper with fewer cars smoking it up. Even if it’s raining and windy, it feels lucky to be out (it’s been raining a lot in Los Angeles, so don’t scowl at me). Weather is an important exposure. There’s weather in your house, but it’s emotional weather. Walking outdoors is a chance to experience big shifts of the world outside of a human crisis.

When you’re at home, where it seems inevitable to lie down for too long, the scurry of fleeting fears get riveted to your breastbone. It’s just what happens. With walking, there is distance, there is propulsion, and there is no achievement. I guess someone else would find this holy or meditative. I just find it … the option for leaving the house. With all the love to Jenny Odell and the purity of resistance, my walks are not sacred.

My walks are distracted, messy, furious, filled with doubt and punctuated with small and essential signs of life. They aren’t self-disciplined new routines — three miles before coffee! — they’re huffing and multitask-y. I furiously text while half-listening to a book on tape, stalling the dog to sniff something he doesn’t care about while I mess with letter combos for online scrabble. I’m on the phone with my parents too loudly, scolding them about playing cards with their neighbors. I’m ranting and stomping up a hill on the phone with my college roommate whose wedding has been canceled.

I’ll just say: Even if you might think you’re in shape, if you want to pant very hard, walk up a hill and just try to answer your grandmother’s questions about your current living situation.

There’s something newly amazing about walks: You don’t have to touch anything. While you’re walking, there are no door handles or elevator buttons that will make you want to cut your own hand off. Engaging in an activity where there are zero touch points is a new type of ecstasy that they should gather into a little tincture.

Outside, there are signs of life. It also feels important to see strangers, to acknowledge each other with stoic nods from across the street. People are sitting on every balcony where I’ve never seen people sit before. Then again, I haven’t walked so much before.

People, as usual, are just the beginning of things. On these walks, I’m always most excited about animals— and when I say animals in L.A., I always mean coyotes. They’ve gone ham in our absence. I’ve heard dispatches from the West Side that the water in the grimy Venice canals is so clear you can see fish. There are fewer cars, fewer people, and more space for city wildlife to prowl around. You have a sense of the world thriving without you and around you, which is terrifying, bracing, and could be encouraging.

But even on a walk with my partner and their dog on our sparse neighborhood street, there is a fizzling uncertainty: Are we doing the right thing? Are we keeping everyone safe? On the scale of benign-to-dangerous, where are we at all times? Is this walk something that we’ll look back on, in two days, with shame about being selfish, carefree, underinformed? And when I say carefree, I do mean racked with anxiety, but not enough of it.

Walking is so normal that it feels wrong now, like it can’t possibly be okay. In this way, a walk almost seems almost creative? Somehow, it’s a solution to both leaving your house and avoiding the world. It’s a chance to emerge, to see and hear what’s happening out there for yourself. A loophole workaround to safely exist in the open, on earth.

Where Are You Walking?