Author’s note: This open letter was written in the context of Phase 1 of B.C.’s Restart Plan, which ended May 18, 2020.
To my fellow hikers:
As we begin this long weekend, I have to admit I’m really disappointed by the apparent selfishness on display by many in the hiking community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Too many of us are asking “What loopholes can I find in the various public health advisories to justify my next hike?” instead of “What can I do to help limit the number of people who will die from coronavirus disease?”
Many hikers are laser-focused on the 2-metre (6-feet) rule, ignoring other equally important aspects of physical and social distancing. For instance, some hikers insist on continuing to meet up with groups of people (from multiple households and cities) at remote trailheads.
Never mind the fact that search and rescue teams have advised hikers to be extra cautious so as to keep their volunteers safe and to not add stress to the health-care system during a crisis. That communities such as Squamish and Pemberton have requested out-of-towners stay away to protect the locals. That the B.C. government has asked hikers to “do their part and not venture into the wilderness at this time.”
I know we’re all struggling to adapt to this new reality — and it isn’t easy. Some of you have lost jobs, are dealing with childcare or mental health struggles, or are worried about the future. If you’re like me, hiking fills many of your physical, social, psychological, and spiritual needs. Hell, I’m supposed to be researching my next hiking guidebook.
However, the sacrifice we are being asked to make as hikers is minor in comparison to what’s at stake, particularly for the vulnerable and marginalized people among us. Clearly, any weakening of our collective efforts to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) will also prolong the need for widespread park, trail, and campsite closures.
We’re all wondering: How long will the first wave last? When will physical and social distancing measures be relaxed? How many people will die?
One notable thing about this crisis is we’ve all been repeatedly informed what we can do to help. You can literally stay home, order Chinese take-out, watch your favourite camping horror movie (any recommendations?), and do your part.
It’s really this simple:
- Stay the F home
- Don’t hang out with people you don’t live with
- Avoid non-essential travel
- Get outdoors in your neighbourhood for exercise
- Keep your distance from people outside your household
- Wash your hands
Remember: We’re all in this together. Your favourite hike isn’t going anywhere.
I look forward to seeing you on the trails — as soon as it’s responsible to do so.
Author, 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia
This article appeared in the Georgia Straight on April 10, 2020.
Pique Newsmagazine published an abridged version as a letter to the editor on April 16, 2020 (page 8).
8 thoughts on “Hikers, please stay the F home”
Stephen, I appreciate that your concern is well-placed, but I think you’re being alarmist. I fully accept the seriousness of the pandemic, but at present, a blanket ban on hiking or other low-risk outdoor activities is neither supported by our public health officials nor likely to help flatten the curve. This is borne out in the very public health announcements you’ve linked to in your article, and a little dose of common sense.
The BC public safety bulletin you linked to states:
• Getting outside for fresh air and exercise is important – so long as family can keep a safe distance of at least two meters from others outside their household.
• Some parks and beaches have closed because they’re too busy. There are many other quieter outdoor spaces to enjoy, so long as everyone can keep a safe physical distance.
• Being outdoors, walking pets and physical activities, such as going for a bike ride are all safe, so long as a safe physical distance is maintained.
There’s no mention of a prohibition on hiking or other low-risk outdoor activities here. Instead, there is an explicit endorsement of partaking in outdoor activities, as long as crowded places are avoided and safe physical distance is maintained.
Given what we know about transmission of the virus, this is perfectly sensible advice. Why would the act of walking in the woods be any more risky than walking in one’s own neighborhood? It goes without saying that there’s generally a lower density of people in the areas where we hike compared with urban areas. It may even be easier to maintain social distancing on a quiet trail than on a sidewalk in a densely-populated or high-traffic area like Stanley Park, which may well be “in the neighborhood” for the 50,000 or so Vancouverites living in the west end. What I take from the current science on transmission vis-à-vis outdoor recreation is that travel, gatherings and crowds are to be avoided, hygiene and distancing maintained, but otherwise have at it: outdoor rec is low-risk and good for mental and physical well-being when done properly.
Of course traveling hours and hours to a far-away trailheads, going out during or after experiencing symptoms, or taking on especially risky or remote hikes or climbs isn’t what I’m advocating. I also recognize the need for initiatives such as closing excessively busy trails where proper social distancing is difficult, such as quarry rock. But I think whipping up hysteria and dropping clickbaity f-bombs about a certain activity like hiking that holds no inherent risks when done locally and responsibly, could well do more harm than good. This is especially true as BC may now be entering a “maintenance phase” in Covid-19 response.
If you feel I’m misinformed here I’d sincerely invite a response. Perhaps you could provide a reference to the public heath directive, epidemiological research, etc. that supports a blanket ban on hiking like what you’ve argued for in your article? Alternatively, let’s agree to submit this question to a public heath authority for an answer: CBC’s Covid-19 Q & A via COVID@cbc.ca or the CDC’s twitter @CDCofBC for instance. Looking forward to your response.
To clarify, my letter does not advocate a blanket ban on hiking.
However, I was motivated to write it by the me-first reactions of many hikers over the past week or two to stronger public health messaging and B.C. Parks closures.
As my letter notes, too many of us are asking “What loopholes can I find in the various public health advisories to justify my next hike?” instead of “What can I do to help limit the number of people who will die from coronavirus disease?”
Frustratingly, many hikers seem to consider the 2-metre rule as the be-all and end-all of responsible citizenship right now. Even as they travel a fair distance to meet up in groups.
I suspect we agree more than we disagree.
Thank you for your comment, Stefan.
Here’s a problem with this from my point of view.
I live near Mount Hood which is only an hour from Portland Oregon, a city of close to 700,000 people and more than a million if all of the surrounding urban areas are included. Since the stay at home order has been put into place there have been even more people coming up from town to find places to hike. There’s been a huge problem with traffic jams and packed parking lots at trailheads that have compelled the state and the Feds to close these areas off. Huge concentrations of people. These people are now parking along the roads in areas that they’ve never been before in areas that surround our neighborhoods. They’re still using the trails for hiking and mountain biking but parking all along the roads before the barriers. The parking is closed.
If we disregard those issues, the one that concerns me the most is that most all these people are coming from high risk areas and coming into the only store in our community for the locals to buy their necessities. Say that we got a limited supply of TP and all of these “visitors” from town bought it and left none for those that live here. The store in the cities are much more able to keep a supply of necessities than our smaller local store. And even more important, not only does this take resources that those that are affected in our area need but it also increases the chance of the folks from the city bringing the virus up to us while they shop for snacks in this low risk area from the high risk area that they’ve come from. Those that work at the store could become ill and they’re providing and essential service by working to keep the shelves stocked.
Furthermore, there have been several people get hurt and have had to have emergency service called while recreating up here during this stay at home order. There are many ways for those going out like this to harm another person. And not caring if one harms another person makes that person selfish at the very least.
Most people are imagining the situation as being one where everyone is harmlessly socially isolated in the outdoors, but that’s not the case. They’re using bathrooms, visiting stores, using vital emergency services and not simply staying in their car and just getting out to hike alone in the fresh air.
Thank you for sharing the view from Oregon.
Another thing that was pointed out to me, if you drive far out of town, you risk a car accident or breakdown. Normally, a risk we all take, but with social distancing, it’s better no one has to come rescue anyone that could have stayed in their own area.
I think the stay at home and don’t hike logic is bs. I have been an avid adventurer for 40yrs. Climbing, backpacking, kayaking, blah blah blah.
I am also a trail maintainer…
How much more social distancing can you get than being solo on a trail miles away from everyone for a week or more at a pop?
I have to laugh at folks and the “omg we are all gonna die” next great plague perspective.
The estimates for flu deaths this year in the US alone are between 20,000-40,000…
Noone bats an eye.
I have no doubt the flu was once viewed as the next great plague and now we have a season for the flu.
I’m just sitting back with my bag of popcorn watching folks lose their minds.
There is no need for bullying or harassing innocent people who are in fact acting responsibly and in the interest of public health. To conflate going outside, getting exercise, and maintaining one’s health with a public health risk is not only irresponsible but slanderous and defamatory.
Shame on you and anyone who spouts such hateful, vitiriolic nonsense.
Thank you for your heartfelt response. Did you read the whole letter though?
My letter absolutely does not conflate these priorities. As well, please consult a legal dictionary before tossing serious terms such as defamatory and slanderous around.
Comments are closed.