Vicki Londer finds she needs to get out.
In society’s rapid turn during the pandemic, Londer has gone from a school counselor who sees students every day to one who works at a computer all day. Instead of meeting with students — and talking face to face — to carry them through Westside High School, she is homebound and tech-centered.
Londer says her day has lost all normalcy. On top of that, she’s now counseling seniors who have lost all pomp and circumstance to end their high school careers.
At 4:30 every afternoon, Londer breaks out for a walk — around her neighborhood or around Prairie Queen Recreation Area in Papillion. It’s a must, she said.
“I just need the fresh air. I need the peace. I need the quiet,” she said.
Under a call to stay home, more people find it’s critically important to break out for a simple walk or go for a bike ride. Suddenly, a bit of exercise provides a daily dose of joy and a measure of sanity.
Local bike shops report brisk business — people who are dusting off “garage bikes” for repairs, replacing too-small kids bikes or buying their first bikes for themselves in years.
To help people joining the push, the organization Bike Walk Nebraska is posting basic tutorials: How to teach your kid to ride a bike. How to replace your bike tube. How to properly fit your bike helmet.
Around the Internet, memes and jokes are flowing about dogs getting walks over and over and over.
But the rush outside is creating real problems, too. Walkers, runners and bicyclists are supposed to stay socially distant, but the increasingly heavy trail use sometimes makes that impossible.
On Wednesday, people refusing to follow the rules led Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert to close city parks through April 30. Local trails and trails in city parks, however, remain open.
Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist for the Douglas County Health Department, said it will be important for people to watch their physical and mental health through the long pandemic yet to come. Exercise, she said, has proven to help people’s mental health and prevent depression.
Even if Nebraska were to move up to a stay-at-home order, people would likely be clear to go out and exercise as an essential activity.
But O’Keefe offered some cautions: Don’t go out if you’re sick. Don’t gather in a group. Keep your social distance. Keep within your family.
“It’s going to last awhile,” she said. “We need to be able to get through this with our physical health, our mental health.”
Josephine Hazelton of Omaha said she often took walks before. But now, she said. the walks through her neighborhood with her boyfriend, Michael Boyle, have taken on an entirely new meaning.
Hazelton said she feels more connected to her neighborhood. Recently, she found a neighborhood trail she didn’t know was there.
“Since my daily walks are the only time I leave my apartment now, they’ve become something I look forward to all day,” Hazelton wrote to The World-Herald. “They provide a feeling of calmness and connection to my neighborhood amidst all of this chaos.”
Hope Moural of Seward said she’s never seen so many people out, all of them happy to be outdoors.
“Couples holding hands, babies in strollers or the runner who flashes a quick smile before passing,” she wrote to the newspaper. “It makes my day.
“Never have I felt a sense of unity with others who just want some fresh air in their lungs to make this time a little easier.”
Matt Odson of Omaha has taken up bicycling.
Odson said he finds the intensity of a bike ride better lifts his spirits than a walk. It clears his mind, he said, and helps him de-stress.
Jim Carveth, owner of the Bike Rack in Omaha and Lincoln, said he’s noticed the increased activity as he’s out riding. As he passed one woman walking on a trail, she commented, “I want a bike.”
“It’s kind of unbelievable, to be honest with you, as far as the number of people out riding,” he said.
Carveth said his business is having a better March than it has for a long time. But he said he still struggles with the idea of staying open during the pandemic.
“Business is good, but it’s just a weird good.”
The Omaha area’s Heartland B-Cycle bike-share service also is seeing strong use during the pandemic, said Benny Foltz, the organization’s executive director. One day earlier this week, Heartland B-Cycle had 230 trips, and it continues to see more walk-up use by new riders, Foltz said.
Foltz said he notices the increase in activity — and in people being more social and pleasant. He said he hopes the changes stick.
“There’s a human connection going on that I’m not used to seeing on the trails, that’s for sure.”
Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, said she hopes people recognize benefits from exercise and use it to help them through the pandemic.
“It really does make a difference.”