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Social Distancing on the Trail

It’s the scene most of us have recently encountered at our favorite public places.  We want to get out and get in our nature fix, so we head to our old tried and true outdoor spaces only to find that it has been overrun by others who are trying to do the same thing.

The majority of the world has been cooped up in their house for a couple of months and most of us are eager to get outside… some for the first time.  Although it may be frustrating, we still need to find a way to get out there and find that solitude.

During this time of social distancing, you may have to get creative to keep yourself and others safe. Adding to the frustration is the realization that a lot of people who are new to world of outdoor recreation may not have the core Leave No Trace principles or understand proper protocol when it comes to making these outdoor spaces enjoyable for everyone.

NO!  We didn’t come to the park to hear your playlist!  (haha) 

We may have a long way to go before everyone is educated in outdoor etiquette (article for another time), but in the meantime, how can we ensure that we can safely get in our outdoor miles… IN PEACE & QUIET?

Here are some tips to help you safely get in your outdoor miles:

1)     Go during non-peak hours – weekdays or early (I mean EARLY) morning.  Call the park office and inquire as to what those hours are… while you’re on the phone ask for a volunteer application 😉

2)     If the trailhead is full… move along – we wish everyone would follow this tip, but for now all you can control is your decisions.  This is a good opportunity to try out a new trail.  Go to the park office or call and ask for suggestions.  Drive around and look for less crowded parking areas – hint:  Usually those trails that are harder or further back in the park are less crowded. Most first time visitors neglect to get a map and just park where they see other parking. Ask around in your outdoor groups or other outdoor-loving friends.

3)     Make sure to bring along a mask in case you find yourself in close corners with those who don’t respect the rules and/or you need to help someone in an emergency.  Neck gators or bandannas can be worn around your neck and accessed at a moment’s notice… they can also double as sun protection. WIN-WIN!  If you opt for a more traditional mask, place it somewhere you can get to it easily. You may want to put it inside a plastic bag for protection. Remember to wash them after each use or place aside for a couple of days to decontaminate (follow CDC guidelines).

4)     Gloves and/or hand sanitizer are also added extras to bring along in case you need them. Most of us have alcohol wipes and disposable gloves in our first aid kits that we take on adventures anyway… or at least we should.

5)     “TREE-Cility” kits – If you spend time in the woods, you probably already have a potty kit.  You know the one you take with you in case you have to use the bathroom in the woods where no restroom is available.  These are good to have on hand if you don’t want to use the park bathroom or want to go somewhere that doesn’t have one.  Place all of the following items inside a large plastic bag that closes:  smaller plastic bag for used wipes, wipes or toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a trowel.  Make sure to follow Leave No Trace guidelines when using the bathroom in the woods.  Pack out any trash, go at least 10 feet away from the trail and any water source, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep to poop in and then cover it back up when you are done. DO NOT BURY toilet paper or wipes… even the kind that say they are biodegradable.  Animals will only dig it up and scatter it everywhere.

6)     Try a new outdoor sport!  If you walk mostly, take a trip to a local state park, grab a map, and get in a quick hike.  If you are a hiker, try out kayaking. A lot of your local outfitters and state parks will rent kayaks by the hour or day… or you can always seek out that friend who has their own and an extra and offer to take her to lunch if they will take you kayaking.

7)     Hike with a buddy.  This may be hard to do if you are social distancing.  Most group hikes have been cancelled due to this concern. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to hike, bike, or kayak with a friend or two while still keeping your distance.  You can always meet up at the trail head or location so you don’t have to share the same air space in a vehicle.  Wearing a mask when saying your hellos or deciding your route is a good idea.  Then when you get going, you should be able to keep a good distance between you.  Conversations may be harder, but you could always take the time to just be present with your companions and enjoy the silence and sounds of nature.  Kayaking is easier because sound travels better over water.

I am sure there are many more great ideas that you have thought of and even tried.  If so, please let us know on our 365 Mile Challenge Facebook group or comment below.  If you tried any of these, let us know how it turns out.  Pictures are always wanted!

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