Walking Away from the Pandemic

By Jaime Collins

It appears the end of the pandemic is drawing near. The fact we will not be permanently stuck in pandemic mode comes courtesy of so many of you who masked up, stayed home, and protected others. That, I feel strongly, is the kind of thing great communities do for each other.

Let’s be clear, though, that the pandemic finish line remains foggy. We hear about virus variants and vaccine logistics, yet many of those reports are overblown or simply over reported or the science is misunderstood. The fact is, no one yet knows how it all plays out. That makes the exact timing of the end difficult to discern.

So, as I gaze ahead into spring 2021, I look for an answer to the question, “When can our Sole Mates Walking Club meet again?” I want this answer because healthy group activities like our walking club are also, I feel strongly, the kind of thing great communities do for each other.

Hard as it is to predict with 100% certainty, I do feel we have enough information to set a good target. Based on the available evidence, I am optimistically anticipating this spring will be quite different from last year. For outdoor activities like our walking club, it could even feel a lot like – dare I say – normal.

Realistically, many things will continue to be decidedly NOT normal. Despite many people being vaccinated and numbers of new cases dropping, we can all count on masking up and social distancing to be with us for a while. Many things we’ve given up for the pandemic we will have to continue to go without. Vaccines are here, but not enough people will have had it yet this spring to flip this pandemic entirely on its head. Some reports are also predicting variants of the virus will cause new spikes in infections, though there’s at least as much or more reason to believe that won’t happen. What I do know for sure is it all makes planning iffy.

The good news is many people are being vaccinated, and many more will be vaccinated in the coming few months. That includes many of our walking friends in Sole Mates who are often in the age and risk categories being vaccinated first. Early indications are that between vaccinations and the immunity produced by many people having had COVID, we are now entering the very early stages of herd immunity, necessary to end the pandemic. Thankfully, people are still being careful, too, and that will most definitely help suppress cases of coronavirus and prevent new spikes.

Additionally, walking outside greatly mitigates risk, too. If we can walk either masked up or with some distance between one another, we can meet again by late spring or early summer. Science explains quite well why there are next to zero documented cases of COVID transmission outdoors, even an entire year into the pandemic. The virus is transmitted almost entirely in closed spaces and crowded places and with close contact. Outdoors, the virus is quickly diluted, and the sunlight destroys the virus fast, too. That scientific logic combined with new cases decreasing and vaccines increasing indicates far less need to cancel another Sole Mates walking season.

Some in the media, including some experts, are less optimistic. However, the preponderance of knowledgeable voices agrees that in June through September of this year, activities generally will be safer and that outdoor activities will be especially safe.

One thing I’ve learned for sure is socializing is not a luxury. Nor is physical activity. Living well and staying healthy demand both. Sole Mates is one way to help bring an end to the harmful seclusion as well as the reductions in activity levels so many of us have endured.

Whatever happens, summer will very likely give us all far more freedom than we had during our pandemic nightmare. At the same time, you can count on our not organizing group outings that will put others at risk.

Where Does That Leave the Walking Club?

All that leads me to this somewhat tentative though still fairly solid AND definitely happy announcement: We will officially begin Sole Mates group walks on Monday, June 7, the week following Memorial Day.

And to boot, we will also kick-off our annual 100 Miles in 100 Days Community Walking Challenge on that same Monday, June 7. The final day of the 2021 Challenge will be Tuesday, September 14.

Now, because we’ve had to endure so much and because the challenge is always wildly popular, I have an exciting additional twist to announce: On May 1, we will also kick off a first ever 200 Miles in 200 Days Community Walking Challenge! That one will keep you moving all the way to November 16, giving participants a solid endurance challenge to help lift us out of our pandemic funk.

To give us extra time before scheduling a mass meetup, the May 1 start of the 200 Mile Challenge will begin without a big kick off event. We will plan on celebrating both 200 and 100 mile versions of our Challenge with a June 7 Kick-Off on the trail at the Platteville Regional Chamber’s Katie’s Garden at 5:15pm, and participants of both challenges are invited to attend!

Everyone attending the event will get a free 100 Mile Challenge logo water bottle (while supplies last). 100 Mile finishers will get a free Challenge t-shirt when they complete a challenge validation form and attend our big Finale event September 14. 200 Mile finishers will also get their own special t-shirt, available for pick up in November after the November 16 final day.

Walkers who participated in the Challenge last year or who are already members of our Sole Mates email list will be automatically entered for the 100 Miles in 100 Days Challenge. Anyone may enter either the 100 or 200 Mile events (or both) by registering on the Southwest Health website at SouthwestHealth.org/walk. Keep in mind, however, everyone gets only one t-shirt, so those who attend the 100 Day Challenge Finale on September 14 and pick up their 100 Mile Challenge t-shirt will not be eligible for an additional 200 Mile Challenge t-shirt.

Importantly, we can all anticipate for now that for our public kick-off event June 7, we will need to mask up at least until we get on the trail for an appropriately socially distanced walk. Masks and other precautions will only be required for our weekly Sole Mates walks according to the public health demands of this changing situation. Trust that we will err on the side of caution in order to protect everyone involved as well as their families.

About Sole Mates and the 100 Mile Challenge

Sole Mates is Southwest Health’s free community walking club. Sole Mates is also free of judgement. That means no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter how fast you walk, and no matter how far you want to go, you are ALWAYS welcome among Sole Mates.

The 100 Miles in 100 Days Community Walking Challenge is free and open to all. Walk a little each day or a lot on some days. Walk fast or slow and when and where you want. It’s all up to you. Complete your 100 Miles (or the 200 Miles in 200 Days Challenge), and get the free Challenge t-shirt, too. The shirt comes in addition to the real prize – adding years to your life and life to your years.

Sign up for Sole Mates at SouthwestHealth.org/walk. On that same page, you’ll also indicate whether you wish to enter the 100 Mile or 200 Mile Challenge.

On a final note, I like to remember that regardless how fast or how far I walk, it’s truly a privilege to be able to get out and walk at all. And that walking with friends is the very best form of exercise. Happy walking!

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