Covid-19 Experiences: Donalrey in New York City

The first Covid-19 case in the United States was detected near us here in Seattle in mid-January. Back then, we didn’t imagine that this would turn into such a difficult situation. The entire world has been affected. As we’ve stayed in touch with our friends and Bicycle Quarterly contributors in some of the most affected regions, we’ve been encouraged by their resilience. In this series, I’ll share some of their experiences.

I caught up with Donalrey Nieva from New York City. He and his partner Karen Yung photographed and wrote the cover story in the current Bicycle Quarterly.
—Natsuko

Tell us about yourself and where you live.

My name is Donalrey, and I’m a freelance photographer. Along with my partner, Karen, we’ve been quarantining together in our apartment in Brooklyn. 

What is it like to live through the crisis in New York City?

It’s been surreal to see a city that’s normally lively and bustling to be almost at a standstill. As a photographer, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shoot places like the Brooklyn Bridge and SoHo, which are typically packed with tourists, completely empty. However, it has also been heartbreaking to see everyone affected by the pandemic. We all have friends or relatives here who have been impacted. At the same time, there have been lots of stories of communities coming together to selflessly help those who are in need, which has been really inspiring.

Can you go outside at all? For how many hours/minutes a day?

We’ve been asked to only go outside for essential errands and for exercise. Luckily, there haven’t been restrictions on how long we are allowed to be out, but we have only been going out when necessary – to get groceries and fresh air. 

Here in Seattle, we’ve been allowed to ride and walk for exercise. Is that possible for you?

We are still able to go out for a ride or to exercise. However, the parks (where we typically ride during the week) have been busier and more crowded than normal, so that has been a challenge. Also, even weekend riding has been somewhat limited since we choose not to take the train further north (where there are more options for routes). Despite this, we are happy we can still pedal outside (and doing so safely – keeping our distance and wearing a mask). 

What do you miss most during the lockdown?

While we’re still able to ride outside and I feel lucky that Karen and I are still able to ride together, I miss riding with friends. 

I hope your family and friends are OK.

I am fortunate that my family and friends are well and doing okay. However, since NYC is the epicenter of this pandemic, we all know people who have been personally affected by the virus. 

What has been the most difficult part during the lockdown?

The uncertainty has been the most difficult part.

What has been a positive experience?

Getting to spend more time at home with Karen and talking to my family (who lives on the other side of the country) on a daily basis. Also, with our lives somewhat on pause, it has given us time to reflect on what is important to us and what makes us happy. 

How do you keep your spirits up?

I still look forward to the day when everything goes back to normal (or as close to the “normal” we once knew), so dreaming and planning the next adventure is something that keeps my spirits up. 

How do you stay healthy and keep your body in shape?

Now that we are cooking more at home, we get to try a lot of new things we would’ve otherwise gone out to enjoy – we’ve made scallion pancakes, pizza, bo ssam (a Korean pork dish) and lots of ramp pesto! While maybe not “healthier,” it’s been nice to try our hand at these comfort foods at home (and probably healthier than eating them at restaurants). Since we are still able to go outside to exercise, we still try to ride as much as we can. 

How do you release the stress that comes with this difficult situation?

Aside from cycling, trying to stay creative has definitely helped me release some stress during this difficult situation. I’ve been taking on some more meaningful and personal projects – one is a documentary highlighting the impact of the pandemic in Chinatown and some of the people coming together to bring relief to the neighborhood. More on this project in the near future.

As the pandemic (hopefully) wanes, what has changed? Can you ride as before, or do you have to change your routes, riding partners, etc.?

As the weather warms up, we typically do a lot more transfer rides on weekends – taking the train upstate so we can ride new/different roads further from home. Since that’s not a safe option at the moment, our riding was initially limited to roads right outside our door. We tried to make these routes more interesting by revisiting places we hadn’t been to in a while, like a recent city ride to Coney Island and Kensico Dam. However, we were still pining for adventures further afield.

Finally, we hatched a plan to visit Karen’s parents upstate to “borrow” their extra car. It was a bit of a strange journey with all of the precautions we had to take: we camped out in a tent in the backyard and talked at a distance over breakfast on the deck while they ate inside. Nonetheless, the new mobility has been freeing – we are so happy to escape to more beautiful and remote roads now, and since we literally see no one for miles on end, we don’t have to worry about riding with a mask like we do in the city! We do try to carry everything with us – enough food and water – so that we avoid stopping anywhere, as well.

I know you love to travel. When the time comes and you can get away again, where do you plan to go?

Our big trip planned for this year was to bikepack the Italian and French alps in hopes of catching the Tour de France at the end. The Tour hasn’t been cancelled (just delayed, for now), so I’m still hopeful it will happen. 

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