How to Stay Safe & Get Outdoors During COVID-19

woman hiking on a trail in colorado
woman hiking on a trail in colorado

I know these are hard times. It’s ok to feel all of the feelings, from anger at the situation, mourning having to cancel your trips and your plans, being scared, anxious, worried, lonely, bored, and feeling just ok. I’m right there with you and I’ve felt literally all of them during these last few weeks too.


From canceling trips that I was really looking forward to going on, to having to wait in long lines to go grocery shopping just to find almost nothing inside, a day I never thought I’d see, to struggling to convince my grandparents in their 70’s to stay put and stop leaving their house. After a lot of lecturing, they finally gave in.


Right now, you might be thinking it’s a great time to go backpacking, start on a thru-hike, travel to national parks and destinations that you’ve always wanted to see, but it’s not. The coronavirus is a multi-point problem.


In the beginning days we’ve all heard it was nothing to worry about, just like the flu. Honestly, I thought that too. But it really is something to worry about and to listen to officials on what we should and shouldn’t be doing to stay safe.


Getting outdoors is such an important part of our lives, and thankfully in the US so far, we can continue to hike. But that’s not without limitations and adjustments as well.


In this post, I’m going to cover the multi-touch problem that the coronavirus poses and how you can continue to get outdoors safely.


Why you should care about the coronavirus outbreak

1. The mortality rate is very high for the elderly (over 65 years old), for people with chronic illnesses, and autoimmune disease.

You might not fall into one of those categories, but you know someone who does. For me, that’s my grandparents and my mom. My grandparents are in their 70’s and have battled their own fair share of illnesses and diseases through the years and have a compromised immune system. My mom as of writing this isn’t even 50 years old yet and has Lupus disease. Which means her immune system is weak as well. So if someone like my grandparents or mom gets sick, they have a higher chance of dying. I don’t want to lose my mom or grandparents, and I’m sure you have loved ones you care about too.


2. It spreads quickly in the community.

Even if you don’t feel sick and don’t have symptoms yet, you could be carrying and infected with the coronavirus. While you’re infected and don’t have symptoms, you could infect others in the community. This is how it spreads quickly. Going back to the first point, even if you feel fine, and you don’t have someone in your circle who has a higher risk of dying, you also don’t potentially want to be responsible for killing someone’s grandma. If you carry it, go about normal business before you show symptoms, infect someone and they infect their grandmother. This is how it spreads. Don’t take “I’m not sick” for granted right now.


3. Don’t overwhelm our health care system.

If we all go about business as normal, infecting each other, we’ll overwhelm our healthcare system. In recent weeks you’ve probably heard about flattening the curve. That means we work on preventing everyone from getting sick at once, so we don’t all rush to hospitals at once and overwhelm our health care system. This allows doctors to save more lives. They’ll have the resources and the time to focus on patients more closely. In countries like Italy, where it spread and peaked very quickly, people were dying because there were not enough resources for doctors to save everyone. Doctors needed to decide who lives and who dies. Personally, I don’t want to be put in a position where a doctor needs to decide that, and I don’t want to potentially put that on someone else either.


4. Even younger adults 20 to 44 years old are ending up in the hospital.

Although the mortality rate for younger adults is lower, you could still end up in the hospital. It’s not a virus that we should take lightly. You might not die, but you could permanently damage your lungs or other organs from the severity of the illness. Some people just have mild flu-like symptoms, while others end up hospitalized. Our bodies are so unique, you don’t know how hard this will hit you. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live with damaged lungs. I have a lot of hikes in store in my future so I need my lungs to be in tip-top shape. Also, going back to the third point, even though we’re young, if we overwhelm our healthcare system and all end up in the hospital at the same time, there is no guarantee if you’ll live or not. So, let’s avoid that altogether.


How to get outdoors during COVID-19

Now that we’ve covered the multi-touchpoint problem that the coronavirus poses, let’s dive into how to get outdoors!


Restaurants are closed, gyms are closed, but thankfully, doctors and government officials agree that getting outdoors is allowed. But not without limitations.


Getting outdoors, especially during stressful times is great for your mind, body and soul. It’s fantastic exercise, calming to breathe in the fresh air, gives you the opportunity to reconnect with yourself and feel some peace and solace during stressful times.


It can be so tempting to want to go to a national park, take the road trip you’ve been dreaming of, especially with the flexibility of working from home or having time off from work, but this isn’t a vacation, this is a pandemic.


Right now, traveling to get outdoors is not recommended. It might seem tempting to run to the national parks in Utah or go snowboarding at the resorts in Colorado, but now is not the time for that. This week a lot of the corporate-owned resorts by Vail and Altera Mountain Company closed to protect their employees, the local communities and the attendees. State parks are starting to close and cancel camping reservations, and some national parks are also shutting their gates. Give this, your backcountry may literally be your backyard.


The reason you want to avoid those destinations like Yosemite National Park in California and Moab in Utah is that the towns we love so much that are gateways to the great outdoors do not have the infrastructure to handle a massive outbreak. Often their hospitals are not set up to handle the whole town getting sick, and the nearest hospital is hours away.


We need to prevent community spread in those towns as well. Know that getting outdoors is not worth risking thousands of lives. I completely understand your frustration in this situation, but we’re on this journey together. As hard and rocky as it will be, you’re not alone and we’re in this together as a global community.


You know what you do instead? Hike and get outdoors locally! Stick to a 10 mile radius around where you live. That might mean walking around your block or a local trail in a city park. This time might look different for everyone, but on the bright side, you’re still getting outdoors!


Things to keep in mind

1. Explore in a 10 mile radius around your home. Go for a walk down the street and keep 6 to 10 feet distance from other people.


2. Pick a very local trail right in your community. Don’t go on road trips, look for things right in your backyard. Look for trails that are going to be less popular. AllTrails is a great resource to search for what’s near you.


3. Please hike solo or only with the people you’re quarantined with. Normally I’m all for making friends and meeting people on trails, but right now is not the time to do it. Please don’t meet up with others that you’re not quarantined with. The coronavirus can spread before you even show symptoms, so you don’t know if you have it or someone else in the group. You could all end up infecting each other.


4. Pack and bring your own food and water to avoid stopping for snacks and drinks if you don’t need to. I know we all need to go grocery shopping at some point, but let’s do what we can to limit exposure to others.


5. If there are others on the trail, step off the trail and let people pass with a wider margin than normal. Remember, 6 to 10 feet is recommended.


6. Proceed with caution. Since our healthcare system is overwhelmed, this is not the time to tackle a peak or any other harder trail. You don’t want to risk getting injured and put the added stress and potential exposure to our first responders. When hiking also bring all the essentials and enough food and water. Make sure you can rely on yourself out there right now.


7. Don’t forget to Leave No Trace. This means to pack out all of your trash, including possibly bringing it home to throw away, dispose of waste properly, minimize the impact of fires, leave what we find, keep a safe distance from wildlife, etc.


8. Cough and sneeze into your elbow, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.


9. Stay at home if you’re sick. And quarantine yourself not to infect others. Follow medical guidelines of when to go to the ER and when to just ride it out at home. Consult your doctor for more info on this.


10. If you’re in a place right now with a full lockdown, please listen to what your area is telling you. So far California is closing national parks, businesses, and going into lockdown. We’re still allowed to get outside at the time I’m writing this, so let’s appreciate having that freedom to choose to or not to hike. Let’s not take that for granted by not following recommendations and having even that reduced. There are many countries where people can’t go outside at all right now.


Final Thoughts

I know these are all un-fun things to do. I know. But, let’s re-frame that negative mindset about the situation (I’m all about reframing negative mindsets). Let’s not think of this as a burden or the un-fun thing to do. Let’s think of this as all of us working as a community around the world, putting our differences aside and doing something for the greater good of your communities, the vulnerable in our communities and the human race. Now following those rules and staying at home doesn’t seem so bad, right?!


We’re all in this together, so let’s work as a community to stop the spread so we can resume normal life after this is over. And just think, one day, this whole thing will make one hell of a story.


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