Call to the wild: Great outdoors an escape in tough times
Jim Klug's office phone rings off the hook with anxious anglers inquiring about the status of their upcoming fly-fishing trips.
It's a stressful time for the co-owner of a fishing travel company as he postpones and re-books international and domestic expeditions due the coronavirus pandemic.
The best way for him to slip away from the stress — even if for a brief moment — is to follow a bit of his own advice: Go fish.
Whether it's reeling in trout, hiking, snow activities (until the snow melts, of course) or any other endeavor, the call from the wild delivers a much-needed respite in these turbulent times.
Typically open — although national parks are increasingly limiting access and more shelter-at-home orders are being issued — the great outdoors provides a natural way to social distance.
“They may close the borders. The may close the amusements and the sports stadiums and any places that lots and lots of people gather. But they're not going to close the great outdoors and not going to close the rivers and streams," said Klug, founder of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures in Montana. “It's something that always brings inner peace and calmness.”
In New England, where backwoods skiing and hiking to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) are almost a way of life for hardier residents, the trails are more crowded than ever. Hikers report they are seeing plenty of newcomers who are hitting the outdoors due to gym closures.
Those remote places? Not so remote right now. Many seasoned hikers are getting annoyed that their prized spots are getting overrun.
Then again, everyone has the same thought — get a breath of fresh air.
“It's to get that sunlight, some vitamin D. I know it will make me feel better. I feel rested,”said Ryan Smith, the 37-year-old owner of a media company from Peabody, Massachusetts, on why he is still taking day hikes with his wife, Jennifer, along trails on the North Shore of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
Emily Davenport, who normally works as a wilderness guide for the Appalachian Mountain Club, has been canceling group hikes she leads until at least the end of April. She's still hitting the trails in the White Mountains near her home in Conway, New Hampshire, for day hikes, either alone or with a friend. For the 30-year-old, it's a chance to recharge and escape the cabin fever that so many people working from home are feeling.
"It's a place that I feel safe. It's familiar and you do get away," Davenport said, adding that her day hikes of five to eight miles are critical for her mental and physical health. “You can kind of unplug and not look at the (computer) screen and look at the all the news that is anxiety-inducing.”
Skiers and snowboarders, meanwhile, are finding ways to hit the slopes with many ski resorts now closed in the wake of the new coronavirus.
Drew Anderson, a freelance videographer from Denver, was at his condo in Silverthorne, Colorado, with the intent of spending a week — maybe longer — getting in some turns on the slopes. But then resorts shut down.
Plan B: back-country skiing.
He's been hiking to the top of Buffalo Mountain — about a three-hour trek — and then skiing down. Anderson and his wife have also been taking their 4-year-old son sledding and hiking.
"The vibe up here in the mountains seems pretty happy," Anderson said. “Everyone seems to be in a good mood. We're in the mountains and that makes everyone a little bit happier.”
For those not well-versed in back-country activities, though, an important message: Check the avalanche report for the area. An avalanche is always a concern this time of year on any snow-covered slope 30 degrees or steeper.
“Anyone who travels in the back country, snow bikers, skiers, snowshoers, anyone that wants to recreate on snow-covered slopes needs to be aware of avalanches,” said Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
In New England, the AMC's Four Thousand Footer Committee is calling on hikers to avoid difficult trails and stay close to home. Most are heeding that advice, though one hiker descending Mount Washington last Sunday fell about 200 feet (60.9 meters) and had to be rescued.
New Hampshire's leading conservation groups on Friday also urged hikers to avoid the most popular spots so they comply with the federal guidelines on social distancing. They urged them to focus, instead, on the 190 quiet, conserved forests at 100 towns across the state.
“I've shut down back-country skiing or going any further into the back country for now,” Smith said. “Right now, I don't want to put others at risk by going further into the back country and making it harder for any sort of emergency responders to come out and get me who might be going through their own struggles. I want those people to rest and sleep and not worry about me.”
More and more parks are starting to close. The National Park Service is making constant decisions on modifying operations on a park-by-park basis to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which for most people causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Recently, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks closed their gates. I n a joint statement, Yellowstone superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton acting superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said the parks will reopen "as quickly and safely as possible.”
Even if you can't escape to the wild, there are ways to glimpse the great outdoors courtesy of virtual content from the Park Service. It includes:
— Watching wildlife and National Mall Cherry Blossom Webcams
— A virtual tour of Yellowstone
— The J ohn Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon
For Klug, there's nothing more relaxing than stepping into a river with his fishing rod.
"Six feet of social distancing? On the river, you can have six miles," Klug said. “We're the sport that originated social distancing.”
Usually, this is a busy time for Klug with anglers planning fly-fishing excursions to Mexico, Belize, Bahamas or Cuba.
Now, clients are calling to reschedule their trips.
In the meantime, local fishing spots work well.
"People are racing to the next, great thrilling, adventure-seeking destination,” Klug said. "We're flying over these areas in order to reach those ‘Instagrammable,’ exotic-type places.
“We forget how amazing everything is right here in our own backyard.”
Graham reported from Denver and Casey reported from Boston.