Tim Jones: ‘How are you doing?’

  • It takes a little extra effort and planning, but it’s easy to find places to hike that aren’t attracting the crowds you want to avoid. There are lots of hiking trails and logging roads to explore where you won’t see another person. Tim Jones

  • Courtesy Tim Jones

  • A small group of kayakers negotiating the Swift River in Albany, N.H. Whitewater paddling is a group sport, and maintaining appropriate social distance requires some awareness, thought and planning. Tim Jones

For the Monitor
Published: 3/30/2020 11:00:15 AM

‘How are you doing?” That’s the first question you hear from everyone these days, meaning “Are you healthy and coping.”

I sincerely hope everyone reading this is healthy, happy, and yes, getting outdoors and enjoying life.

My sweetheart “Em” and I are doing great. We are both feeling well, staying in touch with friends and family by phone, email and social media. We have deliberately disconnected from the 24-hour news cycle and are enjoying each other’s company, cocooning in a home we love with a well-stocked pantry and freezer and, yes, sufficient toilet paper. She misses her gym sessions with her friends, but we go out most mornings for a long walk together. She comes home and does on-line workouts.

Not surprisingly, whenever the weather allows, I’m out enjoying the outdoors. Since the ski area all closed early, I’ve been doing a lot of randonee skiing (climbing the hill before skiing down). There’s still a lot of snow on open slopes and we got eight inches of fresh powder Monday night. All of that snow is available to anyone willing to climb for their turns.

I’ve also been doing some road biking – which feels safer these days with less traffic on the roads. Once the snow melts a little more and the trails dry out up here, I’ll start hiking and do some gentle mountain biking (don’t want to crash and risk injury that might send me to the doctor’s office or emergency room).

Whitewater paddling is about to start in earnest. It’s my favorite outdoor pastime when there’s no skiing to be had. The problems with whitewater paddling are two-fold. First, it’s not something you can safely do alone. Second, is the need to shuttle cars, gear and people between where you start and where you end. I’m contemplating trips I can do with a very small cadre of trusted, experienced paddlers, on easy rivers where we can shuttle by biking or hiking. No more big groups, no piling people into cars for shuttles (no more even getting into cars with other people), no runs where there’s elevated risk of injury.

Flatwater and sea kayaking would be even safer still, and I expect to do more of that this season. Likewise, I’m readying my gear for solitary fishing excursions when the ice goes.

Whenever I head out, I usually go with one or two trusted local companions. All of us are well over 60, which is supposedly a major risk factor, though I’ll put the survival odds of the 73-year-old retired physician I just skinned up a mountain with higher than a 30-year old with self-induced lung issues. We are all aware of the risks, have all agreed to stay home if we feel sick or even suspect we might have been exposed to the virus. Even so, we keep a safe social distance, don’t touch each other’s gear,  and wash hands frequently. Personally, I think the physical and mental health benefits of regular outdoor activity far outweigh any contagion risks, but that’s a decision each person has to make for themselves.

When you come right down to it, the decisions we are making when we go outdoors in this time of global pandemic are exactly the same decisions  we’ve always made when heading outdoors. All of the lessons we learn in the outdoors are applicable in these uncertain times. Thinking clearly, making good decisions balancing risk and reward, having a contingency plan, and being properly equipped are all things that can help keep you safe in any risky environment.

Thinking clearly and making good decisions really go hand in hand. As we’ve learned in the outdoors, there’s always risk in life, the trick is to manage it to an acceptable level and still get to do what you want to do.

I’ve seen a couple of examples recently, where people wanting to get outdoors have made really bad decisions in a world where the COVID-19 virus is still spreading rapidly and killing people of all ages. The one that got all the publicity, of course, was the beach parties in Florida. Walking a deserted beach in the wind and sun is a great choice for an Active Outdoors adventure; partying up close and personal with a few thousand friends is not.

But there have been more localized cases of poor planning and bad decision making. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy recently sent a letter out to the public asking everyone to stay off the Appalachian Trail after big crowds showed up to stroll the famous footpath this past weekend. Too many people in too small a space, busy parking lots, crowded shelters, even on what is supposed to be a “wilderness” hiking trail. The same thing has happened on popular trails in other parts of the country.

With a little research, it’s easy to find hiking trails and camping spots that don’t get too much use. It’s also essential to have a backup plan in place: if you show up at a trailhead and find a bunch of cars parked there, go somewhere else. The popular trails will all still be there when the danger presented by COVID-19 diminishes. I’ve always recommended avoiding crowds, now it’s imperative.

With so much gloom and doom in the world, it’s more important than ever to find things you love to do and do them safely. My advice: wring every atom of pleasure out of life that you can. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Farewell to friends I’ve never met

 I’ve been writing this Active Outdoors column and sharing it with readers all over New England since 2004.

This is the last of these columns to run in the Concord Monitor, which was one of the original papers to pick it up and, for many years, my “hometown” newspaper.

It’s been a good run. Without getting too sentimental about it, I’ve enjoyed sharing ideas, adventures and encouragement with you. I’ll miss the opportunity to do so in the future. If you want to stay in contact, my email is timjones603@gmail.com

I hope you stay healthy and active, and always remember: “Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!”


(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel.)

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