On weekends I often frequent a large tract of green space in the middle of Johannesburg along the Braamfontein Spruit. Here the footfall has increased in leaps and bounds as people get out to enjoy themselves. The trails are used by walkers, runners, hikers, birders and the MTB fraternity, with various trailheads allowing access to the vast park. It is pleasing to note that people are observing safe protocols as they get out and enjoy the green belt community.
In fact, the community has adapted well to responsible trail use and the concept of social distancing and as such behaviour has changed. Chatting to folks on the Spruit has shown that a big change, especially with many people still working from home, is the way in which they have changed the times that they get out. They look for quiet times so as not to cause congestion at the trailheads. This ensures that they stay open and uncluttered.
I have also noticed that people are spreading out and avoiding steep tight trails. To avoid people congregating, the less frequented routes are now being used. In keeping with the lockdown legislation, people are wearing masks and buffs – often just around their necks to be pulled over their noses or mouths when approached, or if in a place where one cannot distance fast enough.
Just about everyone carries a small bottle of sanitizer. It’s about protecting yourself and others. It may be difficult to breathe through a mask when exercising but you need to be ready all the time to “mask up”. Level one allows a good deal of freedom to enjoy the outdoors and exercise but on packed trails, masks are important – especially if you sneeze or cough. This is generally brought about by the higher levels of histamines we are experiencing before our first good rains.
I also noticed the runners and bikers run in single-file – still able to communicate, but a lot safer. If you are all bundled in a group, you will force anyone approaching to breathe in your space. Keep the trail clear.
On a cold day, we can see our breath ahead of us, clearly visible yet invisible on a warm day, but still there. To be safe, don’t breathe in someone else’s exhaled air. Stay apart and enforce a two-meter distance for your safety. When cycling, keep a three-meter distance apart even if this means staggering starts to break up larger groups.
Don’t stop, keep moving and do not create a logjam. There is nothing worse than stopping to socialise and making it difficult for others to avoid you. Pretend you can see an invisible cloud of air that you do not want to be part of. Keep moving unless you have a wide-open space far from the crowd where you simply want to sit and chill for a while.
Make noise if a group does not see you and let people know you are approaching. Make some real noise. It will help the group ahead of you evaluate the situation and move out of the way to allow you to pass. This also applies to trail runners – you need to give warning and time so that we can make way for each other.
Our trails are managed. One of the unwritten rules is that the faster groups always yield for the slower groups i.e. a MTB group will yield for runners or walkers. In the new “normal” I advocate everyone pausing or yielding. This offers everyone the opportunity to evaluate the next move and this also rules out the risk of injury should one have to take a quick evasive step.
We have always practised sticking to a route and not breaking new ground. This may in future become necessary if the trail is not wide enough for adequate distancing. Move at a 90-degree angle off the trail to create more space. Be careful of any plants or wildlife such as insects or even birds’ eggs. Once the approaching group has passed, gently retrace your footprints and rejoin the trail. If you are on a MTB, lay it down on its side before opening space. On no account should you cut a new trail parallel to the existing one. This will attract others and widen the trail and cause possible damage to fauna and flora.
Then, and this one is a big “pretty please”, I have noticed increased congestion in certain open spaces due to public parks being closed. Parking at access points has become problematic and people are being hassled by car guards. Theft has increased, both personal (cellphones) as well as armed robberies and vehicle theft. Just be alert, but don’t be paranoid
Lastly, get out there and enjoy yourself. Take the dogs and kids and use our green belts and open spaces. It is a beautiful time of the year with longer daylight hours and beautiful sunsets and sunrises. Feel the sun and get your daily dose of vitamin D.