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Out the door and into the city: Writer walks through Yakima, one block at a time

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At the time it didn't seem so bad. In fact, when our newsroom was sent home to work in March some of us actually thought it might be kind of cool.

The next day, give or take, cool was canceled. Hard.

I like my house just fine, but the new arrangement caused issues almost immediately, as millions of people across the country soon learned. The never-leaving thing was a problem. Suck it up, I chastised myself, and don't fret about the walls closing in like a Death Star trash compactor. Besides, this coronavirus can't last very long, right?

And then the next five months happened.

Those of us who had become household pets, gazing out windows and doing laps in the kitchen, desperately searched for ways to ease the isolation, lighten the sameness and find a silver lining. Rarely having to wear pants, while certainly good for the washer, didn't count.

One day, finally, I had a dumb guy's revelation: Just open the front door and leave.

It started out as a few casual jaunts to scout colors for a classic quarantine chore — painting the house — but it quickly turned into a tour of Yakima and an introduction to streets and neighborhoods I had never seen despite living here for nearly 33 years. Sometimes the surprise would be just a block off one of our major four-lane arteries, or they would be hidden pockets of cul-de-sacs behind a park or a school.

So, intrigued and motivated, I set out to see my city.

After doing all the home projects I could stand in the early spring, including that two-week paint job, I needed to get off the property and drink more coffee. So this was my solution, and I soon began to crave these morning walks. To maximize my range, I would meet up with my wife — whose job is essential and who is not stuck at home — at a java drive-up and she would shuttle me home on her lunch break.

Then my Type A tendencies took over — what a shock! I got a map of the city and used a highlighter to mark every route I followed and specifically tried to add as much new ink as possible each time. As a sports guy, if I can't keep track of something I'm useless. I need to chart, measure, project and, above all, keep score.

So, naturally, I had an app for that. Within the city limits and plenty of West Valley, I've rolled up 278.4 miles over 115 hours, 6 minutes. Yes, I keep fractions of miles and minutes. Sports guy. Don't judge.

If we're going this far, there must be rules. All miles can only start from home near Kissel Park. No drop-offs on the other side of town, no cheating on a bike or floating in the Congdon canal. I also don't wear ear buds, the point being to actually experience what I'm doing. More than 115 hours with one's own thoughts: I know that sounds scary. But that's 115 hours away from home — pure coping-mechanism gold.

Ramping up in May to walks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday most weeks, the lunacy really kicked in. I wanted to know if I could check off a street for each letter, while avoiding the obvious ones. These aren't necessarily streets, mind you; they could be avenues, roads, drives, courts, boulevards, places, lanes or ways. Been down a few alleys, too. I can't tell the difference on these designations, except that courts tend to be dead ends, but here's what I came up with:

Avalanche, Bitterroot, Chisholm Trail, Dundee, Eleanor, Fechter, Glenside, Hollow Creek, Ivy, Jerome, Kona, Logan, McCarger, Naches, Olmstead, Pickens, Queen Anne, Richey, Saddlebrook, Tah-Kin, Uplands, Viewland, Whatcom, Yakima and Zier.

There's not much I can do about X, and I feel stupid about N and Y because they are clear violations of the good-faith effort to try harder. But I had no options. There's a Yule Way out beyond the Summitview Extension, but it's halfway to Rimrock Lake. And there's a shocking paucity of streets that start with N in Yakima. There are more in Selah, believe me. More in Moxee, even. So I went with Naches.

I love that there's a thin, curving slice of Queen Anne Boulevard just off Tieton near Davis High School. Got to be a story there. And Chisholm Trail near Chestnut and 40th? That's named after a post-Civil War route used to drive cattle from Texas to Kansas. Here's a street that's a long way from home.

One of the problems with variety, of course, is that half the streets are numbered (boo, boring). I've hit all the avenues from 1st to 88th, including that damn knee-buster 53rd up to Scenic. At least it feels cooler up there, and the view's worth it.

Did you know that Barge, which originates near Franklin Park, continues out beyond 93rd? But, with seven gaps, it's the most sliced and diced street ever. Same thing with Viola, which starts at the freeway and reaches 80th but has a monster gap thanks to Wide Hollow Creek. Dumb stuff you notice.

With all that asphalt, concrete and gravel to cover, it was a great excuse to get new shoes. I secured a pair of Adidas SL20 beauties touted for their featherweight 8 ounces. Modern technology, wow. (My first pair of running shoes weighed 20 pounds.) Suddenly my performance quickened, taking the average mile pace well under 16 minutes. I thought Adidas might consider an endorsement contract, helping to defray the coffee expenses, but I'd have issues with exclusivity. I like my Brooks hat and Nike socks too much. Plus, I think they're almost worn out.

I've learned some things that Realtors, landscapers and delivery workers surely know: Yakima could well be the duplex capital of the state, my extensive survey of arborvitae confirms its duality of beauty and nastiness, and if you get a six-inch scratch instead of a bite from an onrushing dog consider yourself fortunate.

As the temperatures rise, Yakima's giant, old stately trees have been my salvation, as are the sprinklers to brush my hat across. There are so many immense old elms, evergreens and birches, but whoever has the skyscraper in their backyard on South 47th near Chestnut probably wins the title for height. You can see it 20 blocks away.

Having lived here since 1987, and considering the countless miles of running and biking I'd already done as a younger man in a previous life, I'm amazed at how much I've seen for the first time on these walks. It feels like I passed by everyone's house or apartment, waving and saying hello to everyone else who was outside trying to save their sanity.

On these days, with an open stride and some fresh air, our difficult times are softened. Maybe just a little, but it makes a difference. It might be a long while before we return to the office, so the front door will keep beckoning and the odometer will keep spinning.

I'm grateful for finding my silver lining. Thanks for that, Yakima.

Scott Spruill is a longtime Yakima Herald-Republic sportswriter. If you see him walk past your house, give him a wave. He's crazy, yes, but harmless.

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