As summer presses on and the confines of quarantine chafe, many of us are looking out the window wondering, “How do I get out of here? Safely?”
We’re still trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 in practice. For many, that means unnecessary vacations and cross-country trips are being put off for now. Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t delve deep into your local surroundings.
For those of us in urban areas, this means turning to our parks, local trails and wildlife areas. If your city or town doesn’t have these resources close at hand, a quick Google search may bring up reasonably close alternatives. Recreating close to home is a good way to lower your chance at exposing someone else or being exposed yourself. If you’re feeling sick, please stay home. Nature isn’t going anywhere. If you’re ready to venture out though, keep in mind the #RecreateResponsibly guidelines which will help protect each other and our natural landscapes during the COVID pandemic.
Tips for Getting Outside and Staying Healthy
1) Check the access. Many state and local recreational sites have been closed down for months, are in the slow process of reopening or have significantly reduced their daily capacities. Check in with managing agencies like the National Park Service, BLM or U.S. Forest Service for the most up-to-date restrictions/closures and make sure you can actually be at the place where you want to recreate. Nothing will ruin a day like being turned away completely or receiving a citation for trespassing.
2) Plan ahead. Call ahead or do some internet research. State tourism sites and local visitors bureaus can be a wealth of information about any need-to-know travel mandates or closures, and can also assist with things like where to camp. Also be prepared for less services, such as closed toilets and limited grocery facilities. Bring your own hand sanitizer or hand washing system, as well as plenty of potable water.
Planning ahead also means getting gas, food stuffs, and any other items you need before you head out to your play spot. This will lessen your exposure as well as keep you from exposing others.
3) Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 ft. apart from non-“family” individuals or groups. On the trail this could look like calling ahead when you see an approaching person or group and giving them the right of way to pass safely. The same goes for biking or other mechanized activities. Paddling or swimming offer chances to social distance, as well, but be mindful of personal space when returning to shore or the dock.
4) Try lower risk activities. If you’re generally an action sports person, think smaller risks, bigger rewards right now. Work on fundamentals if you are training towards a big goal, or increase the length of your trail rides or runs. Our healthcare system and emergency responders are spread thin right now, and there’s no reason to put yourself or them at unnecessary risk.
5) Leave No Trace. This means pack out the gloves, hand sanitizer, masks, toilet paper and so on that you may generate while recreating. A sturdy Ziploc bag or trash bag should stay with you or your car while you’re out. This will make cleanup a breeze.
6) Don’t be afraid of your fellow humans. Smiling with your eyes may be the move of 2020 so practice it. Speak up, masks muffle us a little. Say hello on the trail, share information and anecdotes. Have a good day. Six feet isn’t all that far really. And people are just as likely to want to talk as you are…or not. Do what feels right. We need to keep fostering openness and inclusivity while in the outdoors. Few places are better for making meaningful connections than the beauty of nature.
Putting #RecreateResponsibly Guidelines to Practice in Real Life
I have had success with being open with my favorite recreationalists and friends. That big backpacking trip or multi-day rafting excursion? We can still do them together. We just have to be ready to be open about our health, comfort levels with interpersonal interaction and always be willing to go a little further to keep each other safe. Before a recent road trip, my travel group spent the two weeks prior updating each other on our health. While on the road we only had “close” interactions with our “family group.” This meant no sharing snack bags with others, consolidation of our water supplies, and a hand wash station was set up for easy access at all times.
Many states and counties across the country are now mandating face coverings in public (like for that unplanned gas station stop or unexpected grocery run), so keeping a few masks handy is a quick fix for forgetfulness. There are many mask styles available and multiple outdoor brands even make breathable face coverings for wind, sun, or light weather. Better yet, keep an extra or two in the car. This will save time and stress. These can be a great backup for if you forget your mask on your way out the door.
If you have a medical issue that precludes you from wearing a mask, please practice good social distances. You should recreate to the level that makes you comfortable and happy while observing local mandates.
Pre-pack your lunch with a hand cleansing system. This way you can snack without worry. Better yet, bring pre-packaged snacks like fruit leathers, Clif bars and trail mix. This way you can pour the delicious treat directly into your mouth instead of touching your food with potentially dirty hands.
Remember to wash or sanitize your hands for 20 seconds prior to touching your face or eating. This is a standard practice on backcountry trips to prevent illnesses.
This all may seem like a lot to think about each and every time you go out, but think about it as a few small steps to making the most of your next adventure. Create a checklist, pre-pack your gear and snacks, invest in a little pack to keep your hand wash/sanitizer and mask handy. Being intentional about preparing can streamline the process and lower your overall stress as you try to get out the door. That means you can focus more on recreating and make your personal accountability easy and effortless.
Learn more about the #RecreateResponsibly Coalition and help get the word out.