This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and true trail voices around the country, and how trails have impacted the lives of Americans during COVID-19. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media.
It was the day before Mother’s Day—May 9, actually. We had been under quarantine for 58 days.
We had been juggling kids, jobs, furloughs, anxiety and grief. We were all thankful to be healthy and to have the privilege of being at home. We were grateful for forming our quarantine bubble—a little village of three families on our street in Arlington, Virginia, to help each other take care of our kids … seven between us.
But we were all at a breaking point.
The stress was chipping away at our resilience. The stress of the unknown. The stress of trying to teach kids, care for babies and manage our careers. The stress of being stuck indoors. It was a lot.
We had been trying to squeeze in morning mom workouts for a little while—6 a.m. sweat sessions to get our minds and our bodies ready for the roller coaster that would begin as soon as our kids woke up and the work/school/stay-at-home day began. It was nice to have that time—but we needed more.
"When the weight of it all is crushing, those [trail] moments outside have given us freedom and time to breathe."
For example, I was at home all day working full-time with three children, two of whom need hands-on support; my 9-year-old has significant disabilities, is non-speaking and needs constant supervision to ensure he is safe. He can’t go outside without close adult supervision. My baby, 14 months old at the time, was just that—a baby. I would spend days without going outside. I was craving sunshine and freedom.
And that’s when my neighbor had a great idea.
For Mother’s Day, we should ditch our kids and our partners and go for a long bike ride. The weather was supposed to be nice, she said. We could have some quiet.
So that’s what we did. On Mother’s Day, covering just 10 miles of the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail near our neighborhood, was the first time in nearly two months that my life felt a little bit normal.
I was alone. I was outside. I was moving my body. I was breathing.
My experience parenting during the pandemic isn’t unique. Studies and surveys keep pointing to the exceptional burden that many women are carrying during the COVID-19 pandemic. More likely to leave jobs or be cut from jobs. More likely to be managing the caregiving. More likely to be taking on additional household responsibilities. More likely to be further behind when this is all over. Experts fear that this moment is whittling away at decades of work for gender equity.
While my moments on the trail can’t fix the systemic inequalities that women face, or the uphill climb many of us are facing during and after the pandemic, these moments on the trail can help me rebuild my resilience. And they are—as often as I can create them.
Since that morning, we’ve been stealing those moments whenever we can. A morning ride into the city—20 miles round trip over the W&OD and the Custis Trail, to see the quiet streets in June, before things began to reopen. A dozen miles round trip on the Mt. Vernon Trail down to the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria to watch the sun rise. A ride to grab coffee, outside, while the birds and the city wake up. Walks and jogs a bit closer to home on the Four Mile Run Trail, when the time is tight.
Our moments on the trail—these hours of quiet before the trails get too crowded, before our kids are awake, before the rote routines of a pandemic kick in—have been life changing. When the weight of it all is crushing, those moments outside have given us freedom and time to breathe. Time to be ourselves without the label of mom, teacher, IT support, employee, boss.
Time to just be.
Have you recently discovered trails, or are you a long-time trail enthusiast? Either way, we hope you’ll share your “Trail Moments”—and the stories of how trails have impacted your life during COVID-19. Take the survey below, or share using #TrailMoments on social media.