By Michael Lanza
It feels very weird lately to be posting blog stories about “The 5 Southwest Backpacking Trips You Should Do First” or “The Best Backpacking Trip in Glacier National Park.”
It also feels very weird to be making plans for trips this summer—as I am doing—while we all hunker down in our homes in the planet-engulfing shadow of a horrifying pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives and threatens to kill millions worldwide, perhaps millions just in America.
It seems a little tone deaf to think about backpacking at a time when schools and colleges are closed across the country and the children we’ve exhorted for years to get outside are closeted in their homes and bedrooms because indoors seems like the safest place.
When national parks are closing out of concerns about spreading the coronavirus.
When so many people are out of work or losing critical income, and city streets and playgrounds look like ghost towns, and medical clinics and hospitals are starting to get overwhelmed (even though it has clearly barely begun) and it feels dangerous just to walk into the supermarket.
Fear of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has gripped us possibly more than any viral, mass fear has seized entire populations in decades.
Like many of you, I’m thinking about my family and their safety—every minute of every day, it seems lately. While we have plans for this summer, we will, of course, cancel them if there are lingering concerns over a public-health threat or our safety—because we don’t know how long this emergency will last—or if financial circumstances just don’t permit us to go.
But I also reflect on how much the countless wonderful times we’ve spent together outdoors have brought us so much closer together as a family. We have fondly looked forward to the rafting and kayaking and climbing plans on our calendar for June and backpacking trips in July.
Such hopes feel appallingly trivial even as I type those words—and at the same time, they feel critical to helping us regain a sense of normalcy, to believe that the world will someday be healed again, mostly, and that we will carry on.
That’s why, even as this crisis appears on the verge of exploding to the worst-imaginable scenarios, I have been quietly making plans and applying for backcountry permits for trips later this summer—trips I hope will happen. I have two backpacking permits for July, a third for mid-September, and I’m applying for a fourth in late August to early September.
If I can’t take any of these trips, I’ll be out just the small cost of a permit application. If I can take them, not only will my family, some friends, and I enjoy much-needed, psyche-rejuvenating escapes, but we will be supporting local businesses, tipping waitresses, and helping the people whose livelihoods depend on those of us who will eventually return to national parks and other wild spaces and the communities surrounding them.
I intend to continue posting stories at The Big Outside because I believe our current situation will turn around and everyone—including you and my other readers—will want and need to get out again and enjoy the very activities, places, and people that make life fulfilling.
I will keep producing the stories that give you ideas and information for your next trip because I believe you want to read them.
I will help you plan your next trip if you want my help, because I am still hearing from readers who want to plan trips, in spite of all the uncertainty—or just maybe because of all the uncertainty.
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In the weeks and months ahead, we will all have our own sets of priorities and choices to make in the best interests of ourselves and the people we love.
For now, I will vigilantly follow all public-health behavior recommendations and orders so that nothing I do endangers other people. (If you still cling to any doubt about the coronavirus threat, watch this video message from Italians.)
I will get out on our local trails as often as possible, exchanging very brief, friendly greetings and nods of mutual understanding with people I pass at a social distance—because especially at times like this, we need little doses of nature more than ever.
I will enjoy the company of my family while I simultaneously hold tightly to the belief that we will emerge okay from this dark and challenging time.
I will do these things, most of all, because I need to embrace hope. Sometimes, hope is what keeps us going.
May you and yours remain healthy, celebrate every day together, and be very, very safe out there.