A pink flower against green leaves. Portland, Oregon. June 2020.

unexpected hurdles on the quest for feeling better

It’s ridiculously difficult to find and purchase a reliable treadmill online.

I’ve not been getting enough exercise since I started isolating nearly four months ago, and my health is paying the price. My body is softer. My fatigue is heavier. Other symptoms like GERD, the chronic daily headache/migraine, anxiety, and insomnia are getting worse.

I used to go on a hike through the neighborhood every morning. That was a couple of miles of brisk walking I could count on every day. When I was feeling especially adventurous, I’d head into the local woods for a much longer excursion, though I’ve been in too much pain to do that for a while. And during the pandemic, even the shorter morning hikes have become a rarity.

. . . Because very few people in my neighborhood are masking up or distancing properly. I ventured outside for a short walk on Thursday morning and didn’t see a single person wearing a mask. This included couples and families walking together—and who got way too close when passing other groups—and work crews as well, even as they huddled together to hand out tools and go over plans. At one point, I had yard workers on either side of the street and had to walk down the center of the road, right on the yellow lines, in order to keep my distance from both, because neither group moved inland. Mine was the only mask I saw the entire time I was out.

Given that it’s summer in Oregon—when there is more construction, more utility crews making repairs and upgrades, more landscapers and gardeners at work, more kids in the parks, more runners and hikers on the roads and trails—it’s impossible to avoid people when venturing outside. I don’t dislike people, but I do have to fear them when Covid-19 cases are on the rise and so few people are taking even basic precautions.

As ridiculous as this sounds, given that I’m in a lovely and easily walkable neighborhood, I have to stick to the house for my own safety.

I need exercise to feel better—or, more accurately, to feel less bad. This is a necessity, not an indulgence. Cardio exercise through simple, moderately-paced walking is what my body tolerates best. Weights and isometrics can be done in moderation, but only with the foundation of regular cardio; otherwise, it wreaks too much havoc on my blood pressure and I end up in bed for days. I’ve tried doing laps through the living room, hallway, and kitchen while listening to podcasts. I’ve tried marching in place and doing limited aerobics while watching Netflix. The household laps make me dizzy, and it’s easy to get distracted by what’s happening on the screen and then find that I’ve stopped moving.

Which brings me to looking for a treadmill. Unfortunately, not any old treadmill will do. We’re limited on space and funds, so that narrows the options considerably. Or, you’d think it would. Even when focusing the search on space-saving, compact machines that can fold flat for under-couch storage, there are a surprising number of options but no real stand-outs. There are several brands which seem to be the exact same machine with a different name or slogan slapped on the side, but even then the reviews are all over the place. “The best purchase ever!” “A total piece of crap.” “I’ve used it two hours every day for four months.” “It broke after two weeks.” Etc. All commenting on the same make and model of machine. Treadmills aren’t conveniently returnable, so it’s kind of important to get it right the first time.

And then there’s the run on home fitness equipment. Most of the machines I’ve seen have limited availability and are priced 50% above what they had been at the start of the year. Price gouging as a result of the pandemic closing down gyms, as well as people like me having to weigh whether going outside is worth the exposure risk of encountering neighbors and workers without masks.

Hours have been spent on this search—considering different models, reading and re-reading reviews, watching videos, searching for articles and trying to figure out which ones are actually ads in disguise, and growing exhausted and confused in the process. It’s like being in the cereal aisle at Winco, except instead of hundreds of different kinds of granolas and sugar loops for $3 to $7 per box, it’s an endless parade of machines you can’t test out in person and which carry price tags of $500 to $1200.

I’m not looking for a top-of-the-line machine to meet my every fitness need; this can be a basic* unit to help get me through a pandemic. (*It cannot be a manual treadmill, though, because of increased stress on the joints.) But I don’t want to make a bad investment in something that squeals or wobbles or breaks. And then there’s the cold realization that this might be something I have to rely on for years, because there’s no telling when the world might be safe again for people like me—nor what might happen with the economy in the meantime, and whether I’d be in any position to consider such a purchase again.

I can wait to see if the costs come down, but they might also keep going up. I can keep checking my local Buy Nothing group, Craigslist, and eBay. Gyms might reopen and then immediately close again, causing an even heavier run on diminishing supply. Maybe it’s worth the 50% “pandemic premium” to order something now, and then keep my fingers crossed that the shipping estimates (and customer reviews) are even remotely accurate.

For now, the search continues.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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