Yes, the coronavirus is monumentally disruptive and downright terrifying.
If you’re somebody who loves the outdoors, admit it: Take away some of the more horrifying details — y’know, little things like massive death tolls, economic collapse, no toilet paper — and there are a few elements to this you’ve always longed for. Namely, time on your hands (depending on your job situation) and an excuse to get away from it all.
Right now, before the full brunt of the virus is upon us and while we’re all trying to flatten the curve, it might seem like the perfect time to head to the mountains and wilderness for that epic hike you’ve alway wanted to do.
I get it.
With social distancing in full effect, my work schedule is lax to say the least. And, living near Boston, there’s not an exciting mountain peak to be found nearby. (Sorry, Blue Hills and Wachusett, but the thrill is gone.)
When I do try to hike local trails, the scene at the trailheads right now is like trying to find parking at the mall two days before Christmas. Even when I am lucky enough to find a spot, the trails are packed. It’s social distancing without the distance.
My wife and kids are home, too, and have taken over the televisions. So I’m left to the internet, where I find myself watching adventure documentaries about epic backpacking trips, paddling expeditions, climbing adventures. The itch to get away grows.
Late in the day, I’ll sit outside and watch the deep red afternoon light fade into a dark blue and then black. The stars come out, and I think of the other moments I’ve had time to spend just relaxing and watching the sky change. It’s usually been on memorable trips to places like the woods of northern Maine, backpacking in the Adirondacks, and a family adventure in New Hampshire’s North Country.
It makes me want to go away — far away — to these places that excite and inspire me. Away from the crowded local trails near my home. I want to feel that sense of being “out there.” Feeling awe at my surroundings.
It seems like the perfect time to load up the car and go have that meandering adventure I’ve always wanted. I can even justify it in my head. I’ll pack my own food. I won’t interact with anyone else.
But then I see Facebook. These wonderful hiking groups and pages that have long been a source of information and inspiration are quickly becoming war zones. Some people ask hikers to stay home, to hike local, to not take the chance of bringing the virus to their small towns. Other people call them selfish, say they can be careful. As is so often the case on social media, arguments and name-calling begin. I even saw two people challenging each other to a fight the other day.
I want to go visit these places I love so badly right now that it feels like a physical pain. But then I think about the people I’ve met there, people who live there. I’ve often thought how lucky they are to live in such beautiful places. And they are. But that small town living also has its costs. Among those costs are they simply don’t have the health care resources for so many people in those communities to get seriously ill with something like the coronavirus at the same time. The virus in those communities will be devastating. People will die. Good people. Maybe the people who run that small breakfast place you love. Or the couple that rents you kayaks.
I can tell myself I’ll be self-sufficient. I’ll try to have barely any interaction. Maybe no interaction at all. Plus, I’m feeling fine. But you can’t be sure. Even if you don’t get gas or shop at a store in that community, but instead 30 or 40 miles away, you still might bring the virus that much closer. Every bit matters. And, if you’ve listened to the health experts on this (rather than your uncle or the guy who runs that hunting blog you like), you know the virus is incredibly contagious and infected people can show no symptoms for more than 10 days.
The sacrifice of not going on a trip hurts. But, really, if not going on a great trip is the sacrifice you’re making, think about the big picture. While healthcare workers are working around the clock, while many older people shelter in their homes in fear, us not taking that dream trip right now isn’t really all that much of a sacrifice.
Instead of going on that trip, I’ll use this time as both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge will be finding those places near my house that I don’t yet know about, to put in some effort in discovering places for myself. I went bushwhacking in the woods near my house with my son the other day. We found an amazing, beautiful stretch of woods near our home that we’d never known was there. And we never would have known if we hadn’t had time to kill and decided to go exploring. It was an adventure; the kind of stuff I used to do when I was a kid, before I knew about “hiking.”
Sure, the local woods might not be as inspiring as a place like the High Peaks. But, again, doing something that is only a little fun and exciting really isn’t much of a sacrifice.
The opportunity here is I’m going to spend some of this downtime going over maps and guide books, planning for future trips. When things get better (and they will get better), I’m going to take the time to reward myself with some real adventures in amazing places.
Until then, I’ll hang close to home. And so should you. We can do this.