Choosing to Stay Home

As I sit here considering all the posts I had planned for this month and beyond – gear reviews, trail reviews, my camper van adventure to the southwest U.S. – those things all seem a bit trite. I know I will get back to them, but for now I’m carefully considering the words I want to put out into the world. I think HONESTY and KINDNESS is what we are all looking for right now more than anything. So that’s the approach I will take. I know that you may not agree with me. That’s ok. I hope you’ll stick with me, perhaps finding something that resonates for you. So here goes.

A sculpture of a pair of legs sticking out of a ventilation chimney on a building against a blue sky with clouds.

The past few days have been hard. I took my last hike on a week ago. #14 of my 52 Hike Challenge. Just a little over 2 miles at one of my favorite nearby parks. I knew I needed to get outside, away from social media and the exploding news of COVID-19. I needed fresh air and dirt under my feet.

I got in my car and went to my favorite local park. With all that had been exploding in the news, I wanted to not venture too far out. The company I work for had given the employees complete decision making in going to full-time work-from-home status and I’d jumped on it. The less I was out traveling around via transit, interacting with colleagues and generally putting myself out in the community, the less likely I would be either a carrier or transmitter of the virus. Because even then, seven days ago, we knew so little.

As I arrived at the park, there was a steady stream of cars. Others like me trying to get out and enjoy the beautiful day. The parking lot where I would normally hike from was overflowing with people. I wasn’t in the mood to be surrounded by lots of people. Too many thoughts swirling in my head. So I found a small, empty lot that would put me on a trail that is typically less traveled. I needed the space – both physical and mental.

For the most part the trail was empty. I picked up garbage along the way. The park has been doing quite a bit of tree removal and trail maintenance so there were wide swaths where garbage had blown in from the nearby highway. Each time I passed any hikers, we gave each other a wide berth even though this was well before the term “social distancing” had really taken hold.

As I walked I knew that I would be making a decision for the indefinite future that would be hard, but doing so would hopefully make a difference in the world. This would be my last hike of this kind for a while. Perhaps a long while.

Seeing the influx of visitors to a park at the front of what has now been a rolling increase in requests to limit our interactions with others in an effort to “flatten the curve” in the spread of this deadly virus sealed my decision. In order for me to hike in places that are relatively remote, I usually have to drive at least 30 minutes, sometimes more to get away from the crowds. I might have to stop at a gas station or need help if my car broke down. The idea of staying home, even then seemed like a good thing to me. Fewer touchpoint for everyone. Now, for the most part, our elected officials across the country have asked us to do this very thing.

I come from a family of servant leaders. It’s never been more clear to me until recently. In fact I did’t really realize it until the past few years. From the days of my dad’s military service, to the more recent time between my mom’s bout with the flu and her death. My being a volunteer with my professional association, in Scouting and with Women Who Hike. My family is one that believes that in selfless acts we contribute to the world being a better place for everyone. It’s not about me. It’s about you and you and you. Because I really like the world with you in it.

The idea of selfless sacrifice is hard. I’m not good at it all the time. But I try. Each time I do succeed, I learn something. You see, the beauty in putting others first is that someone will put you first as well. If we all did it we’d all be better off.

So as I sit here writing this, thinking about all the trails out there to be explored and my dashed plans of adventure, I’m also thinking more about the people who live in those places that I am just passing through. Those people who have made the commitment to make their home in a place that is more remote. They chose to live with fewer amenities. They chose to live in places where the closest emergency services could be an hour away on a good day. The places where the local hospital only has a handful of ICU units for its small population. Where the grocery store owner might also be the volunteer fire chief.

These are the places where life and death decisions are acute. They rely on tourism for the income it brings. But right now they know that along with that comes the chance that those same valuable financial resources you bring, could also occupy a bed in a medial facility that one of their own may desperately need.

They are torn because they need you and they want you to stay away. Right now though, the need to have you stay away is winning out. Because they love their families and will put them first.

Checkout this post by Pattie Gonia about a recent visit to Moab
(before the area was shut down to outside visitors).
It says pretty much all you need to know about my perspective:

A screen shot of a post by Pattie Gonia, hiking persona and outdoors advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the outdoors community. The image is of photographer Wyn Wiley in the desert near Moab, Utah with the word hi repeated across the bottom of the image.

“what I did wasn’t ok and i’m telling you so you don’t do the same with COVID-19.”

Pattie Gonia

Photo of Ruth with a black hat on and the sun shining on her smiling face.

I’m now living with the choice to keep my hiking the small concrete walk in around my house and the dirt of the backyard. It’s not easy. I’d rather be moving over the earth, views changing by the mile. I’d rather be exploring new trails and on a camper van adventure across the country. But I believe, or at least hope, my decision is temporary.

People have lots of reasons why they take a break from the trail. To me, giving up the time hiking will hopefully be less of a heartache as the months ahead unfold. I will never know for sure if my choice to stay home for now will have made a difference. What I do know is that it feels like a small thing I can do and is something I can live with for now. That’s enough for me.

Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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