Can We Recreate Outdoors During COVID-19?

I do admit to feeling some guilt for enjoying the outdoors while others are still battling COVID-19. It’s a tough call. Just what is the responsible action to take?

Historical Examples of ‘Social Distancing’

It might not seem like, but today’s health crisis with COVID-19 certainly isn’t’ the first time people have been subjected to ‘social distancing’. There are considerable examples both with and without health being involved. The first one that comes to my mind is polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s.

In 1893, Nansen and twelve companions built a boat capable of withstanding the dense pack ice, froze it in ice, and tried to drift to the North Pole. They played the onboard organ, eat, slept, read, and took scientific measurements.

Eighteen months later, they were still 500 miles from the pole Fridtjof and his chosen companion, Hjalmar Johansen along with 28 dogs elected to drag sledges and kayaks towards the North Pole.

Despite their best attempt, Nansen and Johansen were forced to find land before the summer warmth melted the pack ice, which stranded them in the Arctic sea.

On Franz Josef Land, Nansen and Johansen erect a crude moss hut, crawl into their double sleeping bag, and augered-in for nine months, eating walrus and polar bear and fighting what must have been insidious boredom and cabin fever. Nansen’s diary, once brimming with detail, is barely touched. “Our life was so monotonous that there was nothing left to write about…The very emptiness of the journal really gives the best representation of our life during the nine months we lived there.”

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

timber tracking

The Timber Tracking Project, was originally all set to go forward this spring, but we all know what happened instead; collecting was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, permits have been cleared for this summer and we’ll be out sampling practicing the best kind of social distancing. Now it’s all about looking at topo maps and choosing collection zones. Follow our updates from the field on twitter.

My Experience So Far

I find myself gleaning inspiration, not from Nansen and Johansen’s skiing, or distance traveled, or operational brilliance, but from their great ability to lay low. With this realization comes another: While I’d assumed adventuring taught me courage, or sacrifice, or strength, or stamina, the real takeaway was something less glamourous.

The greatest lesson I have gleaned is patience.

So why does this seem so hard to stay at home? Especially when you have all the comforts and none of the hardships associated with extended trips in the field. Perhaps it’s those very hardships and the constant chance for misadventure that make it more bearable than being stuck at home.

Recently, I rationalized a short weekend trip to a piece of private property just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park. Our Governor had relaxed our ‘stay-at-home’ order to include day trips to State Parks. Our trip was a straight go and back with no stops along the way needed for either groceries or fuel. Once at our destination we had no contact with anyone, so the risk was none existed to ourselves or others.

All that said, I do admit to feeling some guilt for enjoying the outdoors while others are still battling the virus. It’s a tough call.

I do admit to feeling some guilt for enjoying the outdoors while others are still battling COVID-19. It’s a tough call. Just what is the responsible action to take?

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Responsible Recreation During COVID-19

By now you know to only head out with household members, stay local, remain six feet apart from other trail users, and take it easy so as not to end up in the ER. Nobody wants that during this pandemic.

If the outdoor community doesn’t do its part to self monitor its social distancing, others will do it for us.

Trailheads here in Washington, and other states have been closed, as have numerous state and national parks across the country. This is, in part, the fallout of failing to social distance while we recreate.

If you’re part of the 90 percent of Americans under stay-at-home orders, outdoor exercise is generally considered an “essential” activity, but let’s not abuse it.

And sorry for the next few lines, but please don’t follow those bone-heads out protesting for their ‘constitutional rights’. Bullshit. They’re just out making noise because they don’t have the sense to realize this is a serious medical crisis.

They’d do well to remember the Government has every constitutional right to declare martial law.

If we want trails and trailheads to remain open, we need to disperse in time and space. Be an adult, be responsible.

How and Where to Recreate

Avoid steep and tight trails where stepping off to avoid people may be risky or impossible. Boulder’s Open Space Department is encouraging citizens to opt for less frequented trailheads and wider paths. I expect more land managers will follow suit.

This is common sense (which means it has to be spelled out for some people). If you and your family are walking two or three abreast on an eight-foot-wide trail, you’re forcing anyone passing you to choose between stepping off the trail or breathing your air. Don’t narrow trails further.

This has been long ingrained in the mountain-bike community, but even seasoned riders tend to forget. It’s imperative that trail users get vocal right now. If you’re approaching a slower group and matching their pace is intolerable, let them know you’re coming, and communicate with them to decide on a safe place to pass. Runners and cyclists need to ring bells or call out when approaching blind corners.

Step off the trail; we’ve been trained not to but now’s the time to temporarily forget that training.

Here’s the proper method: If the trail isn’t wide enough for proper spacing, step gingerly off the trail at a 90-degree angle, being careful not to tread on plants if at all possible. Once you’re six feet off, wait for the approaching party to clear the area before delicately retracing your footsteps.  

Refrain from posting on social media. This is not the time to gloat about your exploits and indirectly promote more trail use. The world doesn’t need to know that you’re gnarly, the world needs to know that you care.

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