New York has long been celebrated as the most walkable city in the country. What happens when it’s not?
I’ve been a big walker ever since I moved to Manhattan 15 years ago. I’m not picky about the particulars of my admittedly geriatric-sounding hobby. Sure, enjoying a lap around Central Park or a power walk along the Hudson River might be my preferred way to log miles, but I’m just as content to do so at the gym, armed with an iced coffee in the treadmill cupholder and episodes of reality TV streaming on my smartphone.
My walks are more than just workouts. They’re self-care via sweat. As someone who’s struggled with anxiety my whole life and whose racing, worried thoughts can leave my brain in a tangle, it’s almost as if I can feel those fears unspool mile by mile — a powerful reminder that the best way to move forward is sometimes, well, by moving forward.
But just a few short months ago, everything changed.
As the coronavirus pandemic began its deadly creep across the globe, driving many inside their homes for the foreseeable future, daily routines went out the window. When gyms shuttered across the city, many indoor exercisers made a beeline for the city’s parks. It wasn’t long before those spaces were teeming with bikers, runners and walkers, making social distancing impossible.
That’s how I found myself toggling between no fewer than seven different Amazon tabs one restless evening, seeking an affordable, no-frills folding treadmill that could be wedged into my one-bedroom walk-up apartment without driving my fiancé or downstairs neighbors insane.
I settled on a model from a brand I’d never heard of called Ancheer. It had enough positive reviews that I was relatively confident it wouldn’t collapse beneath me within the first week and, at $300, cost roughly as much as two sessions with my therapist. My hope was that it’d be just as effective, given the circumstances.
The treadmill arrived just a few days later, with minimal assembly required. While I’d fretted about finding a machine small enough for my cramped Manhattan living quarters, I needn’t have with this one. With handlebars that hit my 5’10″ frame around mid-thigh and a belt that measures just 14 inches wide and 40 long, it’s practically fit for a dollhouse. When I shared a photo of myself posing on it with a few friends, most immediately expressed concern over the possibility of me flying off the back of it mid-stride, like Taylor Swift in that Apple Music ad.
To be sure, my little Ancheer is far from perfect: it’s set at a fixed incline that can’t be increased or decreased, and because of its size, it’s definitely for walking, not running. Also, the included instruction booklet is pretty much useless. “Never use the product if you are eating or doing other behavior,” one head-scratching tip suggests.
But while it definitely took me a beat to adjust my stride and get used to my tiny tread, I have used it every single day since it arrived, and consider it perhaps the best money I’ve spent since the pandemic began. It’s lent much-needed structure to my new work-from-home routine. Each evening, I hop on immediately after wrapping up my duties for the day and stroll for about an hour, losing myself in episodes of “The Bachelor” or “Cheer.”
For its handful of faults, my little machine has become the thing keeping me sane while I’m stuck at home, allowing me to cling to one critical part of my life even as so many others remain on pause. Before the world screeched to a halt, I typically averaged around 20 miles per week. Being able to keep that up, even as I’m confined to my apartment, has given me at least a little bit of control amidst the chaos.
With New York’s lockdown showing no signs of letting up in the immediate future, few of us really know what’s next. But as we collectively continue to navigate this strange and scary new reality, I’ll be taking things the only way I know how: one step at a time.
Update: While my exact Ancheer treadmill is sadly sold out, several of the other similarly-priced options I was initially considering — including models from XTERRA, Sunny Health & Fitness and SereneLife — are still available.