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GUEST POST: Five Beautiful Treks in Ladakh by Ondrej Svestka

The disputed northern reaches of the Indian sub-continent called Ladakh afford some of the most stunning trekking in the world.

Although I deeply love oceans, deserts and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty. They keep me continuously wanting to know more, feel more, see more.

Victoria Erickson

Ondrej Svestka Ondrej is an outdoor enthusiast and web developer from Ostrava, Czech Republic. His favorite multiday hikes are Alta Via 2 in Italy, Zentral Alpine Weg 2 in Austria, or basically any trek in Nepal. He reminded me of the stunning and wild beauty of the Himalayas. I trekked to K2 basecamp in Northern Pakistan in the mid ’90s, but have yet to visit India, Nepal or Ladakh. I hope Ondrej’s suggestions whet your appetite to plan a walking trip yourself!

Ladakh is a haven for adventurers, from casual hikers to expert mountaineers. Its vast mountains, valleys, and peaks are worth the challenges of its trails. The diverse types of circuits make the area popular among all types of adventurers. 

Families, first-timers, and solo travelers can take on the easy trails where they can explore the beauty and culture of Ladakh. Moderate to difficult treks are also available to those who are testing their skills and limits. 

The best season to visit Ladakh is around May to October. However, some circuits are only available beginning early June due to heavy snowfalls. So get your trekking poles ready; check out one of these beautiful treks in Ladakh.

Markha Valley Trek

Max Elevation5260 meters
Duration6 to 8 days

Located within the Hemis National Park, the Markha Valley Trek is one of the most popular trails in Ladakh. The Markha Valley is wedged between Stok Kangri massif in the northern area and the Zanskar range in the southern part. The entire trek provides a spectacular view of snow-capped peaks, mountain scenery, and ranges. 

You will explore multiple high passes, isolated villages, and barley fields. Along the trip, you get to stay at homestays, where you will experience the hospitality of the locals. Participate in their way of life and try delicious dishes. The valley is also home to wolves, foxes, and Himalayan bears. You may spot the elusive snow leopards that call this protected area their home if you are lucky. 

Lamayuru to Alchi Trek

The Alchi Monastery in Ladakh has some of the oldest and most elaborate wall paintings in the region as well as massive Buddhas.
Max Elevation5,153 meters
DifficultyFairly Difficult
Duration5 to 6 days

The Lamayuru to Alchi Circuit connects two of the most significant religious sites in western Ladakh. Explore these breathtaking monasteries along with shrines, Tantric relics made of human bones, and observe the religious practices of the monks before and after your trek. 

The hike is quite challenging as you take on Stakspi La, the highest elevation in the trek, and Kongskil La, around 4,900 meters maximum elevation. These passes require trekking skills and experience. But, the reward throughout and at the end of the trip is worth it. 

You will pass through the Ripchar River and spend a few nights in your tent along the rocks, under clear skies. At the end is Alchi, a peaceful village with a monastery along a tall canyon. The village is home to popular wood carvings and stunning frescoes.

Sham Valley Trek

Max Elevation3,874 meters
Duration3 to 5 days

If you want an introduction to Ladakh Treks or a beginner who wants to enjoy the beauty of the area, the Sham Valley Trek is a great trail. Aptly named “baby trek,” the circuit will take you through the picturesque lower Ladakh region starting in Likir. Start your journey with a view of the 11th-century Buddhist monastery, where you can see a golden statue of Lord Buddha. 

Throughout the three-day adventure, you will pass through homestays, where you get to enjoy local cuisine and know more about the people. While there are some steep slopes, the trek is even suitable for kids. You will pass through poplar-lined roads and a few other monasteries in Basgo, Lemisgam, and Alchi.

Stok Kangri trek

The mountain scenery is unparalleled for walkers in Ladakh.
Max Elevation6,153 meters
Duration4 to 6 days

For mountaineers who are ready to take on challenging trips, the Stok Kangri Trek is a great sampler for what a Himalayas climb will look like. The trail is not exactly technical, but you will have the chance to use mountaineering equipment such as axes, ropes, crampons, and more. You will spend about a day in the base camp to acclimatize to the altitude and gather supplies

The trek will be challenging physically and mentally, but the iconic view of the razor-edged summit of Stok Kangri is worth it. Along the way, you will face lashing winds as well as perilous slopes. The circuit starts at Spituk or Stok. You can also combine it with the Marka Trek. 

Nubra Valley Trek

Max Elevation5,438 meters
Duration6 to 10 days

The Nubra Valley is known to be one of the most beautiful regions of Ladakh. The ancient gateway to Silk Road provides scenic views of purple mountains and white sand dunes. Besides following the age-old trade route, you will go through the Lasermo La pass, the trek’s highest point. This snow-covered peak offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Karakoram range. 

Once you are done with the core trail, you can explore the rest of the Nubra Valley. Ride on a double-humped Bactrian camel and explore the Hunder sand dunes. Then, visit the Diskit monastery, where you will see the 32-meter statue of the Maitreya Buddha. 


Ladak offers more than the scenic view of its peaks. The isolated villages with their friendly locals provide memorable experiences to any hikers. Its legendary monasteries are home to the most intriguing spots and artworks in the world. You can visit Ladakh over and over, each time taking home unique memories. 

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GUEST POST: Avoiding Ticks When Hiking

The tick may very well be the most dangerous creature you will encounter on a backpacking trip.

Paul Johnson is the Founder of The Tick and Mosquito Project and contacted me about a month ago with an offer to share one of his articles on a subject that could be of great value to those of us who love to tramp in the out-of-doors. Lions, tigers and bears may frighten us, but the lowly deer tick can cause tremendous harm to our bodies. Read on and take good care!

Sometimes, the most dangerous animal on the hiking trail is much smaller than you might assume.  For all the exaggerated stories of coyote encounters, bear attacks, or cougar sightings, it just might be that the creature you need to be most afraid of is a tiny tick.

Ticks transmit diseases in their bites, and the most common tick-borne illness is probably Lyme disease which afflicts at least 30,000 people each year in the USA alone.  The deer tick (which transmits Lyme disease) is a determined little creature whose range is growing by the year.  The deer tick is synonymous with the blacklegged tick.  While deer ticks are expanding their range each year, they tend to be most abundant in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

Take a few steps to be sure you are steering clear of ticks on the hiking trail or at the campsite.  Here are some things you can do.

Use Repellent

A good tick repellent or combination of repellents can do wonders in the effort to keep ticks away from you.  While many of us are not fans of using man-made repellents, a combination of DEET and permethrin has been shown to repel ticks as well as anything.  DEET is used on your skin (and it obviously repels mosquitoes too) and permethrin is applied to footwear and clothing.

When we hike and use this combination, we tend to experience a major reduction in ticks — probably an 80% decrease, although we have never scientifically measured it.

There are some suggestions of essential oil and more natural concoctions for repelling ticks as well, and some initial studies find that nootkatone, geraniol, and rosemary might be effective to some extent against ticks.  While we certainly like the notion of natural, essential oil repellents, we also say use them with caution.  Lyme disease is not something to flirt with, and if you for sure, positively are going to be hiking in an area known for Lyme-carrying deer ticks, go with the proven DEET and permethrin combo.

As lovely as it is to walk in, and often necessary, long grass is the favorite hangout of ticks waiting to attach to our skin.

Beware of Long Grass and Brush

Ticks typically live in areas with plenty of cover.  They prefer long grass to dirt or short grass, and some of their favorite habitat tends to be a brush pile or leaf pile.  As you are spending time exploring outside, you will be less likely to encounter ticks if you stay on the trail and out of the longer grass.  

For those who might be getting their kids outdoors, be sure to help them check for ticks.  Kids don’t always have the same thoroughness that adults have, so it is not enough to just tell them to check themselves.

Be sure to look for hotspots — ticks love warmer areas on the body such as the scalp, armpits, and are behind the knees.

If you are in a position where you have no choice but to go off-trail — perhaps are a photographer trying to get that perfect photo — then it is even more important that you use repellents before you go outside.

Check Yourself Regularly

It might seem obvious, but checking yourself for ticks is critical anytime you have been in contact with outdoor areas, long grass, or forests.  It is important that you give yourself a thorough inspection, not just a simple eyeballing of your clothing.

Make sure you look over yourself quickly after ending your hike or trip, because there is evidence that the longer a tick is attached, the more likely it is to transmit Lyme disease to you if it is infected.

Monitor Your Pets, Too!

If you are bringing your dog with you on a hike, be sure to help them prevent ticks from hitching a ride on their fur or coat. Because dogs often veer off into longer grass and brush piles, they are likely to come in contact with ticks even if you are trying not to.  There are some great tick repellents for dogs (outlined here) that will help your pet keep ticks at bay.  That way, your dog is less likely to carry ticks into your car or home when the outdoor time is done.

Though a real and present danger in the Northeast, lyme disease is spreading rapidly in the Midwest and along the Pacific Crest Trail.
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GUEST POST: The Yellow School Bus by Joyce Morehouse

Gotta take that adventure, in order to understand your journey.

Jennifer Pierre
Eric, Andrew and Alison Young, New York, 1969

My mother and I do not share the same name, but we share the same twisted humor, the same interest in watching tear-jerkers over and over (“Ross! You weren’t at the castle!”) and our voices are nearly indistinguishable on the phone, though we look nothing like each other. My free spirit and need to walk ridiculously long distances has always been a head scratcher for her, but I think this short essay on my first day of school many years ago, gives us all a clue.

The first day of school that year, it rained. Not hard, but enough that all three children – Eric, Andrew, Alison– wore their slickers. I, in my raincoat, stood safely waiting behind the screen door of our house on the hill, watching down the long, glistening damp drive for the school bus to arrive.

For two years, Alison and I had walked hand in hand to see the boys off. She called it the “cool bus,” and was just as excited as they were each day it arrived. She and I would wait until the boys boarded the bus and found their seats. Then, we would wave enthusiastically as the driver pulled away from the curb.

This day was different. It was Alison’s first day of kindergarten, and she was going to join her brothers – Eric, entering third grade and Andrew, entering second. There was a new intensity in our waiting.

The house was set on a hill above the road, and the driveway sloped down to the street. It was a large property, owned, as was the house, by the Presbyterian Church in South Salem, New York, which my husband served as minister. The house was three stories tall, a handsome Victorian with a bay window on both the first and second floors and decorative stained glass in the attic window. Not the first manse, which had been moved across the street, but the newest one, built in the 1870s. It had a full attic on the third floor and four bedrooms on the second, one of which we used as a playroom and study – a separate place to watch Captain Kangaroo and do projects together. We loved it!

The town was founded when New York was still a colony, so there were birthdates in the 1600s carved into the gravestones in front of the church. The church itself was founded in 1752, the first building built of logs. The current church, known as “The Old White Church,” was part of the older section of the town, so there were many homes that were built in the 1800s and a few that predated the Revolutionary War. It was a haunting, yet lovely place to live.

This morning, the air was misty, and the trees loomed dark against the vivid green of the grass. It was early September, so the leaves had not yet begun to change. The only bright color was the yellow of the children’s slickers and the bus itself.

“There it is!” one of the boys shouted, and all three dashed through the door, down the steps and onto the driveway.

I impulsively started down with them, but they were too fast for me.

At some point, I reached out my hand for Alison’s, but she was already chasing after her brothers. She never looked back.

When they reached the bus, they got on quickly. Without waving or even saying goodbye, Alison found her seat and was on her way. She had been waiting for this moment for a long time.

I remember standing there that misty morning with a smile on my face. I can still see all three of them running down the driveway in their yellow slickers, like three yellow birds in flight.

It was a bittersweet moment, of course. My little girl would never need to hold my hand to meet the school bus again, and I was happy for her. But my youngest yellow bird was leaving the nest, and I felt a momentary sadness. She and I had crossed a threshold and would not return the same.

Over the years, she and I have needed to “hold each other’s hand” during difficult times, “before the bus comes,” but this moment had been a triumph, a step in her growing up.

There we were, surrounded by a church, graveyard, and minister’s house, each filled with tales of triumph and loss, staying and moving on. And we were a part of the ongoing story –  my three little birds and me, standing there in the rain knowing its inevitability, torn between wanting to stop time and to hasten it on.

Granite Crag in the High Sierra.
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GUEST POST: Your Own El Capitan by Billie Jo Konze

Granite crag in the High Sierra, no where near as hard to climb as El Capitan.

I met actor and aspiring life coach Billie Jo Konze on the phone, when I decided to become a voice actor myself and needed the unvarnished truth on next steps. Billie doesn’t hold back, and told me it could be an exhilarating ride, but, like any life goal or trail we attempt to walk, it would require focus, patience and massive reserves of inner-strength. Billie Jo runs my accountability group, and there’s no one I’d want more in my corner than this wise woman!

What a Free Soloing Mountain Climber Can Teach You About Conquering Your Biggest Goals

Just before the beginning of the year, I was on a flight to the Dominican Republic with my boyfriend and his family, as always, trying to pick out a good in-flight film. Instead of joining my boyfriend in a lighthearted superhero flick, I decided instead to watch Free Solo, as I’d missed it in theaters, and knew I’d probably never watch it at home. 

I spent the next hour and forty minutes with my eyes glued to the screen, mouth agape, sweating, swearing, and occasionally emitting slight whimpering noises. 

If I’d known how this year was going to go, maybe I would have chosen the superhero movie, but Free Solo is an apt metaphor for any great undertaking, and I’m glad I came into this year high off the vicarious adrenaline of watching Alex Honnold prepare for and execute his climb

Whether you’ve seen it, haven’t seen it yet, or never plan to see it because your heart just can’t take it, here are a few things I took away from this amazing feat: 

  • Human beings are capable of amazing things. THIS MAN CLIMBED AN ALMOST COMPLETELY VERTICAL STONE FACE TALLER THAN THE WORLD’S TALLEST BUILDING…WITHOUT ROPES …IN LESS THAN 4 HOURS! For a really fun size comparison, image, click here. If someone can do that…and we can do THIS, then we can figure out almost anything. 
  • To do the impossible takes an insane amount of discipline. 

Free soloing is extremely dangerous. That being said, Alex Honnold is probably doing it as safely as a person could possibly do it. He works out. He eats extremely clean and healthy. He practices. Over and over and over. For me, besides the actual feat itself, this was the mind blowing part. The fact that he rehearsed the climb physically, on paper, and in his mind. He climbed El Capitan with ropes and studied the possible routes. He journaled about it. He discussed it with others. He analyzed it down to its smallest part. And when he found parts that gave him difficulty, he analyzed those parts even more, and practiced them with the diligence of a kung fu master. 

In only one week on the Colorado Trail, a hiker's emotions resemble the terrain – up and down.
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GUEST POST: Making it to Day 4 by Alison Heebsh

Sometimes we become so focused on the finish line, that we fail to find joy in the journey.

Dieter F.Uchtdorf
In one week on the Colorado Trail, a hiker's emotions resemble the terrain – up and down.
In only one week on the Colorado Trail, a hiker’s emotions resemble the terrain – up and down.

I met Alison Heebsh when the Minnesota Rovers Outdoor Club invited me and my friend Brenda to make a presentation for members about our hike of the Border Route Trail in Northern Minnesota. Her sunny nature and can-do spirit is infectious and I have to say, her hiking story rings true for all of us “blissful hikers!”

“Day two always sucks.”

Those were the words of my colleague, Joel, the day I returned to the office.  He’d asked about my week on the Colorado Trail and I replied, “Amazing! Beautiful!” Then I added, “Oh, except day two. Day two really sucked.”  

Joel was right. Looking back on my previous long backpacking trips, day two does, in fact, always suck, and pretty much for the same reasons. 

But if you can make it to day four…

Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

GUEST POST: The Pee Rag by Stacia Bennett

What is a pee rag? Let’s just say, it’s a tool that enables a female hiker to get the job done without fuss or muss, and focus on being her badass self on the trail.

Blissful Hiker, “The Pee Rag” Episode 1
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

It is not an overstatement to say reading Stacia Bennett‘s article on for The Trek “Gear Essentials for Women” changed my hiking life. My discovery began with a question posed in the private all-women Te Araroa Facebook , “Are any of you ladies taking a ‘pee rag’ on the TA?” I had no clue what this gal was referring to and obviously needed to get myself enlightened – or look the fool. Dr. Google led me straight to Stacia, a.k.a Tink, and once educated, I never looked back! I hope you enjoy this Asheville-based, former teacher turned nomad, Appalachian Trail thru-hike-attempt-turned-long-ass-section hiker’s explanation on a requisite piece of kit for every women’s backpack.

It’s super simple to start using a pee rag. The biggest decision you have to make is what material to use. For my long hikes, I chose to stick with a plain old cotton bandanna.

A bandanna is lightweight and since the cotton is thin, it’s pretty quick drying. Cotton is gentle on the skin and absorbent. So, pick your favorite pattern for $1 at the Wally World. Tie it to the back of your pack, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a pee rag.

Ok, I know what you are wondering. What the heck is a pee rag??

Actually, if you’ve spent any time at all on a long trail you’ve probably heard of them, and you’ve likely seen them hanging off the pack of the badass lady hiker in front of you.

A “peedanna”, or pee rag, is a bandanna or similar cloth that is designated for wiping after urinating in the woods. A lot of women opt to use a pee rag instead of toilet paper. There are a multitude of reasons why you’d want to make the switch to a pee rag. For me, the ease and convenience were the biggest factor.

"Wonder" with her throw-away suitcase filled with resupply boxes ready to send south.
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GUEST POST: On Hiking Slowly by Myra “Wonder” Kincaid

Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.

Jane Austin
Taking your time to hike a thru-hike allows one to enjoy all the little things.
Highly organized “Wonder” with her throw-away suitcase filled with resupply boxes ready to send south. Her goal was to avoid long stops in town that would slow her down.

I met Wonder in Bellingham, Washington, when trail angel Karl picked her up at the bus station. She’s an engineer and approached walking the PCT with an organized mind – and a few month’s worth of resupply already boxed, stamped and ready-to-ship in a throw-away suitcase. I was impressed and knew I needed to step up my game! We hopscotched the entire thru-hike and she finished one day ahead of me. I was most impressed with her self awareness when it came to managing the distances.

I sit in the grass about ten feet from the trail, eating dried fruit. My shoes and socks are off, letting the heat and moisture dissipate. Suddenly, another hiker comes crashing by, sunglasses on, earplugs in, head directly forward. They don’t see me in my bright red shirt and pink hat. It is as if I am wearing camouflage.

This scene repeated many times a day, during the five months I spent on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

I am not a fast hiker. I have been dreaming of a through-hike for over ten years, but I was unwilling to leave my job which had a fantastic vacation plan. For many years, I contented myself with shorter adventures, but my dream of through-hiking lingered.

Finally, I was laid off and I had my opportunity. But I had to go southbound. The southbound season is short and I knew I would have to move quickly if I wanted to beat the start of winter.

I prepared a spreadsheet as I planned my adventure, and discovered that I would need to average twenty miles per day, far beyond my typical daily mileage.

Could I even do it?

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GUEST POST: Staying Positive by Lonnie Dupre

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.

Dolly Parton
Guest Post writer and Arctic Explorer Lonnie Dupre in Greenland.
Lonnie resting at a hunting hut on the east coast of Greenland, just before finishing a 6,500 mile circumnavigation in 2001.

I met legendary Arctic explorer, Lonnie Dupre, when he agreed to come on my radio program. He only recently summited Mount Denali…soloIN WINTER. What caught my attention was not only the achievement itself, but the mindset he needed to adopt in order to follow through, even in the face of setbacks. It wasn’t lost on me that he listens to classical music to stay focused, calm, centered, brave and empowered. We have since become friends and last summer, hiked a few trails on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

For what its worth and perhaps stating the obvious, here are my two cents.

We don’t know what this virus will do to us. It could mean life or death. So staying put for a few weeks to months is a short personal sacrifice compared to one’s potential future.

It could very well turn out to be months that we need to keep a distance from family, friends and neighbors. When even just the first 14 days seems like an eternity.

To get through this, one needs to first be optimistic and train your mind by understanding and excepting that we could be in this for the long haul.

Look at it as a long and grueling expedition that needs some planning and is implemented in small steps – day by day, step by step.

Look at it as a long and grueling expedition that needs some planning and is implemented in small steps – day by day, step by step. Don’t be thinking about the finish line or when this will all end. Look at this as a challenge on how you can best adapt. Stay optimistic and look for the bright spots that keep you motivated to climb out of the bed each morning.

Reasons to be optimistic

  • It makes people stop and think about what’s important in life…family, getting in touch with nature, contemplating life in general, long walks in the park, making that long put-off call to a distant friend.
  • The virus doesn’t care if you are rich, poor, old, young, male, female, black or white. The virus is a great equalizer that will bring people closer together.
  • These times make us reflect on what we are doing to our planet and each other.
  • The earth’s environment and animals get a break from all the pollution with air quality getting better each day.
  • We soon realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we are not the only things that matter.
  • This will humble us.
  • This changes life around the world as we know it. A re-set button to perhaps something better.

How to stay energized

  • Write that book you always wanted to do or undertake that building or landscaping project.
  • Have a camping expedition with the family in your backyard. In preparations for future trips. Kids will love it too!
  • Give back and plant a few trees.
  • Tackle that list of putzy jobs around the house.
  • Step in and volunteer in your community.
  • Take an online class. Perhaps learn a new language, photography…
  • Plant a garden, get chickens, train a new puppy…
  • Get out of bed, eat good, and exercise.
  • Allow yourself to just be. Try and relax to lower your stress. You can’t control what is, just care for what you can.

Warm healthy regards, Lonnie

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GUEST POST: 10 Ways to Stay Sane & Active While Social Distancing by Julie Singh

I would get a lot of writing done if I lived in isolation in a cave under a swamp.

Claire Cameron

Julie Singh is a full-time explorer via RV and shares he knowledge of the outdoor world through her blog Trip Outside.

I “met” Julie Singh on-line when she contacted me about my life as the Blissful Hiker. I have to say, I envy what she has carved out for herself as a full-time RV-based explorer, biker, hiker, paddler, skier and outdoor advocate. With her husband Reet, she founded TripOutside, an all-in-one for researching top outdoor destinations, finding adventures and gear from the best local outfitters, and booking it all online. This is a superb and comprehensive list on how to stay sane – and fit in body and mind – during this unprecedented moment.

There’s no denying that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has put a stop to almost all outdoor activities. With increased home quarantines and social distancing measures, cancelling outdoor adventures has become the new norm. This may leave you bored, anxious, and searching for ways to stay fit. We feel ya! That’s why we’ve put together this guide with ways to stay sane and active during the pandemic.

How to Deal with a Complete 180 of your Lifestyle

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GUEST POST: “walks everywhere” by Ann Juergens

We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place.

Annie Dillard

Ann Juergens and I serve on the board of the Schubert Club, a classical concert presenting organization in Saint Paul. At our last meeting, before social distancing when it was still safe to share a glass of wine and small talk in close quarters, Ann shared with me how she walks every day and everywhere, too. Ann is a model for how we can all become #blissfulhikers even during a Pandemic.

From my front porch I watch people I’ve never seen before walking past my home. On the last day of March it is 55 degrees, and they walk down the middle of this residential street, on the sidewalks or on the grass, with dogs or with one other person, or, if in a group of 3 or 4, they walk with social distance between them. Dozens and dozens of people, they walk briskly with ear buds and babies and beverages or slowly with limp, walker or cane.

The pandemic and its shelter-at-home mandates are pushing people to walk as never before in memory. When the four walls of our domestic cells become too much, we no longer hop into the car and head to another place. At least we’ve been instructed not to do that unless for an essential errand.  So every day after some hours of work or schooling, when my St. Paul neighbors and I need to get out of our homes, we rely on our itchy feet.  

And walk we do.

The pandemic and its shelter-at-home mandates are pushing people to walk as never before in memory.