Beyond the Gym: Rediscovering Nature & Peeing in the Woods.

During almost four months of Sheltering-In-Place to contain the Corona Virus in Northern California, I’ve rediscovered natural wonders, like watching wildlife as I walk alongside a riverbank, or the simple joy of peeing in the woods.

I didn’t plan to uncover these unparalleled delights. Like most remarkable moments of epiphany, they revealed themselves spontaneously.

With gyms and virtually every form of recreation locked down during California’s comprehensive COVID closures, walking or hiking on wooded trails or along rivers was one of the few, and healthiest, options available. I found renewed pleasure in walking outside, and didn’t miss the boundless boredom of the treadmill. For years, I found it ludicrous to look at a lock-step line-up of aging Boomers, earphones hugging their heads, running nowhere as fast as they could, frantically trying to outrace death.

Even before the pandemic put pumping iron on pause, gym membership, for me, was teetering on a very narrow beam. When I lived in San Francisco and was a member of a 24-Hour Fitness near the Embarcedero — where many of SF’s homeless came to shower — I watched in amazement as one fully clothed homeless guy jumped into the hot tub, convincing me it was time to change gyms, before he could change his clothes.

Moving up to Napa County, I first joined a very classy health club in St. Helena, and then a déclassé club in Napa City. The déclassé Club — which should have been its name — met my low expectations when I noticed all the expectorating old men were using the showers as their personal spittoons. I quit the club and it went out of business a short time later.

My last gym was a gleaming, light-filled spotless place — part of the In-Shape Health Club franchise that opened in Napa with two swimming pools, one indoors and one out. Yet, even such a pristine place, couldn’t work out the rank rattiness of gym rats. A sparkling locker room quickly lost its luster, with wet towels left lumped in piles, and sinks filled with shaved hair follicles. I got tired of complaining about cleanliness: why didn’t they enforce the rule about no shoes in the steamroom? Why was the pool so dirty? Why were kids under 16 permitted in the Jacuzzi when the sign clearly said “NO.?” Why were lethargic, lard-like “water walkers” allowed to clog up the clearly marked “lap swimming lanes?” The only consistent “NO”, was that NO ONE enforced the rules.

Nor did anyone keep after the germ-generating jocks to wipe down machines as a courtesy to others, re-rack weights, or to pick up their own mess. I got tired of telling people, “your mother doesn’t work here.” After the pandemic hit, I had pathogen-packed nightmares, with mask-less musclemen panting, grunting and vaulting virus in my direction. The idea of becoming a crazed Covid Cop did not appeal to me. I was looking to reduce stress, not produce more of it.

I was enjoying my hikes in nature so much more than I ever enjoyed the gym. Unlike many fellow Corona Virus hibernators, I hadn’t gained one single pound during the closedown. So, even when the State permitted health clubs to have a limited opening, I cancelled my gym membership — the first time in more than 40 years I would be without one, something unthinkable before COVID. I was $110 per month richer, and happy to spend it on some good Napa wines. I didn’t want any more worry of wiping down every piece of equipment both before and after use.

I was free. Better yet, the outdoors were free from disinfecting wipes.

There was, however, one fundamental problem with returning to nature. After hiking for 90 minutes or two-hours, I usually needed to pee. Public restrooms were out, since most were shuttered, and those that weren’t, should have been. With the Corona Virus lurking on every touchable surface, the last thing I wanted to do was brush against a surface that others might have touched. I know I’m clean, but what are you, to paraphrase PeeWee Herman — a perfect quote for quarantine times.

At first, I abstained from drinking any water for an hour before hiking, hit the bathroom before bolting out, and dashed home when my bladder began to beckon. But, regularly hiking together with my partner for the first time in years, I enjoyed our outings more and more. I wasn’t so eager for them to end, and she was better at “holding it,” than I.

So, last month, on a beautiful trail along the Napa River, I did what I had not done in decades. I peed outside. I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way home, so I spotted an off-the-trail spot, out of the sightline of other hikers & bikers, unzipped my safari shorts, and did what came naturally. It was glorious. I urinated on some rocks, not wanting to damage any plants or trees.

I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to be busted by Officer Lockstock, the corpulent cop in the Tony Award winning show “Urinetown”, who arrested people not paying to pee. No one. No bikers, no hikers. No one. I was free to pee for free. So exhilarating.

This week, on a magnificent trail in South Napa with a canopy of Eucalyptus trees, I had to go again after hiking for nearly three miles. I picked the perfect spot, behind a huge Eucalyptus, with a tree-trunk four times my size. This time, there was a slight, delightful breeze, and the gentle zephyr entered my open zipper, making me want to pee in the woods for worlds without end. I was, like a young boy, liberated from the gym, and free to pee outdoors again.

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