Since my last post on this topic, the pandemic and the social distancing prevention strategy has escalated further. I watched as our panic-stricken politicians, front line medical workers, and virologist experts scrambled for new data as the globe was ordered to stay at home for the near future. A major piece of physical distancing measures included shutting down trails and encouraging explorers to stay in their region and walk around their neighborhoods instead. Outdoor recreation as we know it has ceased- forest roads have been completely gated off and travel halted like a car after watching a yellow traffic light quickly burn to red and screeching to a stop at the intersection line. This has been a formative reality check for those of us that find freedom, reflection, and stability in between trees that tower above us to make our “normal life problems” seem microscopic.
As I mentioned in my last post on Getting Outside Ethically During the Coronavirus Pandemic, there are still ways we can enjoy nature and experience the joy that different components of hiking bring us while still following regulations in place. We just need to think creatively and see through visionary eyes. Sitting at a metaphorical intersection, it us up to us to make clear decisions about moving forward on a road we’ve never traveled before, a road to our new reality.
I feel that the easiest way to get through this season is to first identify the “holes” in our lives that hiking usually fills and find an alternative activity that meets those individual needs while still practicing physical distancing. Here are a few of the more obvious benefits from hiking that I am longing for during this time, and the ways we might satisfy this longing until we are in the great outdoors again!
Groundedness and Connection to Nature
There’s no doubt that the groundedness I get when hiking is stemmed from feeling connected to something bigger than myself. I know people find peace in different ways, but hiking is scientifically proven to reduce stress and enhance feelings of belonging- something we instinctively crave. So the question is, how do we acquire this off the trail until we can hike again? This could play out through yoga, deep breathing, going for a walk, or simply having some silence in the morning to start your day with your head on your shoulders. The answer may be as simple as stepping outside and looking up. Multiple studies state that simply looking at trees have proven to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress- even in urban environments with tree-lined streets. This tip is beautiful to me because it is available to almost everyone, no matter where they live, or what their circumstances and health circumstances may be. Lastly, all of April is Earth Month. To connect to nature while celebrating it, we can clean up our streets and other natural areas in our communities. We can walk around our town, spend time in our yards, or simply stand underneath our never-ending sky in kindred appreciation.
Another component of hiking that we all are missing right now is getting our bodies moving, especially because gyms are also closed. Finding ways to work around this can be self-explanatory, as there are limitless resources online for free, but this being said, it is a pain in the ass to negotiate with ourselves and peel ourselves out of bed and into the garage gym we may be using at the time. If you are like me, Youtube workout videos can get old in a matter of minutes, so start with stretching and light movement and see if creativity takes over. If you need a bit of inspiration, check out this visual from the Washington Trails Association to maintain muscle strength for hiking.
If you have stairs in your home, run up and down them until your heart rate peaks. While you’re doing your mountain climbers and jumping jacks, wear a backpack stuffed with bags of rice or whatever else you find in your quarantine food stockpile. Dance in your kitchen, or break out the yard tools and get to work on the landscaping you’ll never otherwise finish- whatever brings you joy and gets you moving.
Sense of Adventure
The excitement that comes from exploring and adventuring, the elation of jamming out on the way to the trailhead or finally reaching the peak and taking in the view, cannot truly be replaced. Instead, try to reminisce and let your memory marinate in reminiscence of times on the trail by looking at photos and sharing them. Another thing that helps me stay excited about getting outdoors is to work on projects related to adventure. Did you stuff that dusty tent back into the bag last summer? Pull it out and prepare it for this coming season! Last week I decided to grab my muddy boots and give them a good old fashioned deep clean. They are now clean and similar to myself, ready for when the world is back to normal.
The most impactful way to maintain excitement about being able to get outdoors once again is to start planning! We might not know exactly when we will be able to experience our natural regions safely again, but we can start rolling out our maps and setting intentions for what’s up ahead- things will straighten out in no time.
If you live in Washington and would like more information and live updates in regards to trail closures, please check out this incredible recourse my friends at the Mountain to Sound Greenway trust put together, providing ideas on things to do from home, information about safe recreation, and current closures and updates. mtsgreenway.org/covid-19-rec