COVID-19 and Trip Planning

As we seek solace in the outdoors, it's important to consider our impacts on small, gateway communities.
Meghan Young Meghan Young
Founder, Pacific Northwest Outdoor Women (PNWOW)
March 18, 2020

While we fully understand the desire to get outside right now, we want to urge caution and preparation. Many of the towns and communities that are gateways to the outdoors are more rural, with limited access to groceries, fuel, and medical supplies. They’re already being hit hard with visitors, as are parks where rangers and administrators are also sick and having a hard time managing the off season crowds.

No matter how prepared you are, you’re likely to need gas, maybe a few extra supplies, and if something goes awry or you’re an unwitting COVID-19 carrier—medical services. Each time you take advantage of these services, you’re potentially exposing yourself and others to COVID-19. Further, you’re placing additional strain on communities that have either already been hit or are in fear of being hit, and that’s not what any of us should desire. And remember that someone else has to clean that public bathroom you use.

We recognize that getting outside is integral to mental health. But, let’s consider some alternatives to overburdening small communities while we take care of ourselves.

Some things to consider:

  1. Stock up on everything you’ll conceivably need from your home. This includes gear, food, water filtration, etc. Making a stop en route to your destination not only exposes you to more people (and more people to you), but takes essentials from communities that are already hard to reach. If your adventure requires you to purchase additional supplies, take a moment to assess and ask yourself: is this the only option or can I do something else?
  2. Double check the website for where you are going, as this situation is evolving rapidly and many places are having to close in response. If you can't find information on the location easily, consider changing your plans rather than making phone calls and burdening an already over-burdened system.
  3. Calculate your route and your fuel needs carefully. Can you make it there and back without gassing up? If not, how necessary is the trip? If you do need to get gas, please be cognizant of minimizing contact with others and pick a location with plenty of it. Then wash your hands.
  4. If something goes wrong, what’s the medical access? Rural hospitals have, at most, a couple ventilators and very few inpatient beds. The town itself may have just 3-4 providers at the most, and EMS is bare bones and usually volunteer. A COVID outbreak could be devastating to these places. Think on this as you decide how remote to get and where to go. Smaller communities like Leavenworth, WA, or Payahuunadü (Bishop), CA, have very limited emergency medical supplies and locals have asked folks to consider this as they plan.
  5. Take advantage of local parks and nature walks outside of your home. Sure, this doesn’t guarantee the remote feeling of the mountains but it’s a great, relatively safe way to move your body outside in the fresh air without negatively impacting others. Plus, you can save gas money as you hopefully explore some new areas! Maintain a 6 foot distance from others and enjoy it.

Questions, tips, or tricks to offer? Favorite urban walk to recommend? We welcome more ideas and suggestions in the comments for keeping the community safe while we take care of ourselves and each other.

Photo by Meghan Young.

Editor's note: This blog was adapted from an original post in Pacific Northwest Outdoor Women (PNWOW) on Facebook, a group founded by Meghan where she still serves as a volunteer moderator. We thank Meghan for leadership during this challenging time.


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Teresa Hagerty
Teresa Hagerty says:
Mar 18, 2020 10:31 AM

Please, please, please stay home or travel in a manner where you are not exposing yourself to other people. (and vice versa) This is our most important job right now.

I understand the stir craziness and the sense of loss. We are all scared, confused, and seeking comfort right now. So many of us find that comfort and peace in the outdoors.

Remember though that this is temporary. If you must go out, please do so responsibility. Right now, this may mean avoiding popular trails altogether, only traveling with people you live with, and not stopping outside of your community at any point in your travels. This is also a great time to get comfortable practicing your Leave No Trace compatible wilderness hygiene routines and peeing outside to avoid public bathrooms.

We can do this together. Be safe, be well, and remember that our actions have massive consequences at this moment in time.

P.S. Remember too that this will go on for longer if we fail to behave. Don't like these restrictions right now? Great. Remember the virus doesn't either. You can do this.