The snow is melting down from the high country; the rivers, creeks, and streams are swollen with runoff and sediment; wildflower blooms are hitting their stride; and schools are officially offline. Summer has arrived ahead of its solstice again. How do we begin to navigate this new beginning in a time of extremely abnormal circumstances?
The hashtag “#StayHome had its moment…[b]ut quarantine fatigue is real,” writes Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School. Americans are going to head for the outdoors, now; and in places like Utah, we feel we’ve been isolated from our playgrounds and sacred spaces for far too long. But how do we venture safely into the back of beyond, or, for that matter, the hidden wild spaces of our cities?
Experts at the Cleveland Clinic tell us that “it’s important to remember that the same rules of social distancing that you follow indoors still apply while outdoors.” For the most part, this should be relatively easy to achieve. Personally, I follow the parking rule: if I can’t find a spot to park my car at the trailhead or my blanket at the park at least six feet away from others, I’ll head somewhere else.
The Guardian Newspaper recently surveyed a group of experts on the pros and cons of wearing masks outdoors. The answer was not a blanket “yes” or “no” to the question of outdoor mask-wearing; but there are considerations individuals should make when considering the outdoor space they will be using and whether or not they should wear a mask. First, it’s important to note that viral shedding is more prevalent when taking deeper, harder breaths—as one does climbing a steep switchback or running along a trail. More droplets; more virus, they say. Experts recommend at least doubling the social distance when exercising outdoors and forgoing the trail altogether if you’re feeling ill. Even for those without symptoms, considering a mask is important. Asymptomatic spread is a known possibility, and “the purpose of the mask is more to prevent you from spreading the virus as opposed to keeping you from getting it,” said one expert to The Guardian.
Preliminary studies have shown that if we follow these guidelines when recreating outdoors and use common sense strategies to limit exposure to those outside of our household, we’re at a relatively low risk of contracting the virus. The New York Times reports that “one study of 1,245 coronavirus cases across China found that only two came from outdoors transmission.”
As a backcountry enthusiast, the current pandemic has challenged me to rethink my recreation. I can no longer call up a buddy and set up a car shuttle for a 15-mile ridge walk or a leisurely paddle down the river. I’ve had to find the quiet spaces between neighborhoods while the snow melts and the curve flattens. But, in the process, I’ve been reminded of how to stretch a half-mile of trail into a half-day adventure, of the sounds of nature when man-made noise is absent, and of the care we have for one another’s safety when a family walks single file on the sidewalk past me.
I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah
Photos: Courtesy NPS/Matt Turner
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: A New Beginning: Josh Boling, 2018
Coronavirus (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Coronavirus, State of Utah, https://coronavirus.utah.gov/
McGregor, Nick, Want to Get Outside During COVID-19? Here’s How To Do It Safely, University of Utah Health, https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/04/exercise-during-covid19.php
Sullivan, Peter, Evidence mounts that outside is safer when it comes to COVID-19, The Hill (Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., A Subsidiary of News Communications, Inc.), May 6, 2020, https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/496483-evidence-mounts-that-outside-is-safer-when-it-comes-to-covid-19
Kaufman, Kenn, As Coronavirus Sows Turmoil and Fear, Seeking Solace in Nature’s Calendar, Audubon Magazine, March 30, 2020, https://www.audubon.org/news/as-coronavirus-sows-turmoil-and-fear-seeking-solace-natures-calendar