Saturday, March 28, 2020

Using outdoor skills during the coronavirus outbreak

(The following is from Backcountry Journal, a weekly newsletter by Adirondack Explorer multimedia reporter Mike Lynch.)

Getting through the coming weeks and months is going to be challenging as the coronavirus spreads, and being prepared as you navigate through this new world is going to be important. It’s not too late to get organized for dealing with it, and you can use your outdoor skills to help you get through it, even if most of your time in the near future is spent inside.

People who hike, camp, paddle, fish and hunt develop survival and organization skills through these activities. Now is the time to put those to use. Here are some thoughts about how you can do that, framing this upcoming journey as a backcountry trip.

Create short and long-term plans

  • If you’re a backcountry user, you are always planning trips, analyzing what food you need, where to get water, how long it will take to hike a mountain, etc. Put those skills to work and plan how to get through these times. Unlike other journeys you’ve taken, the destination for this journey will be marked by dates in time, not geography. Have both a short-term plan for the immediate circumstances and a long-range one that may take you to a point in time 12 to 18 months down the line, or even further into the future. Many experts have said this pandemic could continue to return in waves until a vaccine is created and enough people build up immunity. Read this article in the Atlantic for a long-term perspective on the pandemic.

Food supply

  • Make sure you have a good variety of food, including some staples – pasta, rice, etc. – that could get you through a period when you can’t get to the grocery store, if you get sick, or whatever.
  • Storing your food properly will be important this spring. You’re going to be especially pissed off if some mice eat through your new loaf of bread. Consider putting some of your staples in a plastic bin or set those mouse traps. Maybe you could put that bear-resistant canister or food storage barrel for canoe trips to work in your house.
  • Despite being told to stay home, you should still make sure you’re eating as healthy as possible in order to keep your immune system strong. Here’s a good column by Yvona Fast about that topic.
  • Maybe start an indoor garden with something simple like herbs. It will be rewarding to eat food you’ve grown yourself while giving you something to do. Think about starting an outdoor garden in the summer.
  • Get creative. If you’ve ever camped, you likely mixed together a variety of leftovers you wouldn’t normally at home. Put that hot sauce to work!


  • The water supply seems safe now, and hopefully will remain that way. But you’re always recommended to have some on hand in case of an emergency, even if that means just filling up your water bottles, empty 2-liter bottles or whatever. Maybe it’s time to locate that hiking or camping water filter and make sure it’s in working order in case you need to use it down the line.


  • There’s a reason outdoor gear stores carry hand sanitizer. For any outdoors person, having proper hygiene is essential to staying healthy. In the woods, you don’t want to get any germs into your system. That’s, of course, super imperative in this case. So wash your hands repeatedly, before meals, after possible exposure to germs, and whenever it seems appropriate.
  • Don’t touch your face. You don’t want those germs to get near places, such as your mouth, nose, eyes, where they can infect you.
  • Use soap and water first. Hand sanitizer when that’s not available.
  • Clean surfaces in your house if it’s possibility they are contaminated.

Social distancing

  • People who spend time in the woods away from society should be adept at this. A lot of outdoors people go in the woods to get away from other people. Now you just have to do it on a daily basis. When you do encounter people outside your household, health officials are recommending that you stay at least 6 feet away from them in order to avoid breathing in airborne germs from coughs, sneezes, and potentially even ordinary breathing from others.


  • Figure out ways to exercise in your house or near your home. It will help you stay healthy, reduce stress and boost your immune system.

Expedition behavior

  • Read up on expedition behavior, which was developed for people going on extended adventures in groups. We’re all going to be at our best to overcome this pandemic. Expedition behavior includes remaining calm, positive, and contributing to the greater good of your community.  You can read about expedition behavior here.

Wilderness rating

  • When you’re on a long-distance trip in a wilderness area, the degree of difficulty for your activity of choice – whether it’s climbing, paddling, or hiking – is always higher than when you’re deep in the woods and far from emergency services. Right now, everyone should consider they are living in a remote wilderness setting and there is potential they will have to self-rescue or take care of themselves if a medical issue arises. Hospitals are full or filling up, and health professionals will already be overburdened in dealing with coronavirus patients. There’s a chance you’ll be on your own out there. Be prepared for that mentally and eliminate risks in your activities that could require you to get care that doesn’t exist. Be cautious when choosing your activities.

Keep a journal

  • Trail journals are fun to read after hiking or camping trips. In this case, keeping a journal could save someone’s life. If you do get coronavirus, medical professionals will ask you where you’ve been and who you have encountered so that people who have been exposed to coronavirus can be aware of that fact. If you keep a journal, you’ll have that information readily available. It’s also therapeutic to keep a journal.


  • Give yourself a mental break from the daily news about the pandemic by reading a book rather than just spending spare time on social media, where there is an endless amount of stories about coronavirus being posted.

Other potential threats

  • If you do go outside, don’t get complete tunnel vision about coronavirus to the point that you forget about other potential threats, such as ticks carrying Lyme and other diseases.  Take precautions to avoid getting them on your body when you go outside. Do tick checks. You don’t want to go to the doctor for any reason right now.

First-aid kit

  • If you haven’t done this already, get on it. You need to have Tylenol, cough medicine, and whatever else you think your body will need to fight coronavirus.

Use your brain

  • One final suggestion: use your HEAD. People that are 60 and 70 and 80 years old have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, climbed the 46 High Peaks, and paddled the Northern Forest Canoe Trail while physically superior 20-year-olds have failed. Why? Because they used their brains to figure out how to do it safely and intelligently. You’ve been told what is safe to do: Stay home as much as possible and avoid people outside your household through social distancing. If you do have to go out, take proper precautions. Stick to that advice and make smart decisions.

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Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues.

Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine.

From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake.

Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at [email protected]

16 Responses

  1. Sandor says:

    We dont need NJ/NYC infected coronavirus residents trying to escape the pandemic by coming to the ADKS. Stay HOME!!Our no backbone Gov. needs to cordon off upstate from the same people who took no measures to halt the spread.Ignorance is not an excuse!

    • Boreas says:

      There is no escaping the pandemic. CV19 is already here and is “community spread”. That means if you become infected tomorrow, you won’t know who gave it to you. You may not even know you are infected for over a week. People in our counties already have been exposed. People who are still working in critical jobs are as likely to spread CV19 as people from downstate. Do we shun them as well?

      Yes, we all should be restricting unnecessary travel – both to protect ourselves and others. But also, take a step back and view people as people and not simply rats fleeing a burning ship.

      • Hoffman Notch says:

        Boreas and Suzanne,

        So you are both going to ignore the fact that NYC/NJ is quickly becoming (if not already) the largest epicenter for the virus worldwide. If you own a home in the ADKs you need to leave it closed up until things start to go the other direction. Don’t bring it from the city to an area than CANNOT handle a large outbreak of this virus. Your sentencing the elderly to death in hospitals with very few beds…Hell…NYC Doesn’t even have enough resources to deal with the numbers. Most of the areas in the ADK’s have to travel at length just to get to a hospital. Yes it is a community spread virus…THAT’S WHY YOU STAY AWAY FROM COMMUNITIES OUTSIDE YOUR OWN! That includes summer homes if you currently reside in or near the city.

        • Suzanne says:

          Our house is seasonal and closed up until Memorial Day, so we are not ignoring any facts. I am actually one of the “elderly,” BTW, and am staying in place in NYC as a responsible person should do. Please spare me your righteous wrath.

        • Boreas says:

          What you are ignoring:

          Not every seasonal homeowner in the area lives in the epicenter. Many do, but many don’t.

          Not all of these homeowners are infected, nor do they all travel weekly between here and the epicenter. Some actually use advised contagion precautions and common sense.

          These homeOWNERS pay the same taxes that you do, which pay for the same health and emergency services you currently use. Consider what services and how many hospital beds you would have without them in our communities. They ARE part of our communities.

          Are we making a distinction between people that head south for the winter and are due to return, people who only come here for several months in summer, or people who come up for weekends year round? All very different citizens with different situations. Snowbirds may not even have the ability to stay where they are because of contracts, etc.

          Do we know how many returning homeowners have already self-quarantined, or intend to self-quarantine once they arrive? Anybody ever talk to these people to ascertain their situation and intention? It sure doesn’t sound like it. They are often being painted by a broad brush of fear and distrust. Lets get some facts and observe the Golden Rule.

          As I said above, the virus is here and will spread just like it does elsewhere. At this point you are as likely to contract the virus in a grocery store, doctor’s office, or from your next-door neighbor as any particular seasonal homeowner. Virtually everything you buy comes from outside of our region. How safe is it? We may also begin to see what has been happening quietly downstate – patients being placed in outlying hospitals with available beds because their local hospital has no beds.

          I agree that people should stay where they are whenever possible – no argument there!! I do agree that healthcare is overwhelmed and will be even more so – I am part of that system. I live here year-round and am at high risk and could die from lack of a hospital bed. However I understand I am but one citizen that has to work with ALL other citizens to get through this. I also understand that not all citizens are in the same situation. We depend on each other. But we need to use common sense, follow guidelines, speak calmly to people, and not react simply out of fear. It is going to be a long haul.

          • Suzanne says:

            Thanks, Boreas, for your voice of reason. It is not helpful to spread fear and anger as some apparently wish to do.

    • Suzanne says:

      Sandor, has it occurred to you that many NYC residents also own summer homes in the Adirondacks and pay taxes here? This is our home as well as yours. Speaking of ignorance, your suggestion that people “took no measures to halt the spread” is just that.

      • Nora says:

        Suzanne, I agree with you, however as a permanent resident here and in a development that is made up of a tremendous amounts of second home owners, all we ask is when you arrive and then quarantine yourselves , but they are not doing that , they are out and about like nothing is wrong, they think because we are in isolated areas that we are immune, we aren’t ,nobody is , I cannot tell you how many that have come back are going back and forth between here and their NY or Jersey home and that is wrong, those folks are putting us all in jeopardy especially our elders.

        • Suzanne says:

          Nora, I agree with you. Since my family home is seasonal and closed until late May, none of us are going anywhere. We live in a very remote place out in the woods, where we tend to quarantine ourselves even in the best of times, because we enjoy the solitude. People who are living in a development or running in and out of town and going back and forth to the city should not be doing that–it is irresponsible and inconsiderate to their neighbours. Where I live (Queens, NY) streets are deserted and nobody goes out except for a quick run to the grocery store, hurrying back to the house to wash our hands. One may only hope that this will pass away sooner rather later. Best wishes to you.

  2. Sandor says:

    Thank you R.I. Gov!!! You should be re-elected and honored. Stop stupidity and death in its tracks.

  3. Sandor says:

    Thank you Nora for your honesty.

  4. Orson Phelps II says:

    My favorite outdoor activity to do during this COVID-19 epidemic is sitting at the top of mountain peaks and making up languages that are only spoken on that particular mountain For instance when I cam up with hurricanish, the language of hurricane mountain, I would follow hikers going up the mountain and demand they speak it or else I would take pictures of them and post them on a facebook group titled “Dumb hikers who know absolutely nothing about real hiking”. Also, did you know ADK police officer are supper friendly!

  5. Henry E Meguess says:

    I clicked on what I thought was something about Our rivers instead its about the far North

  6. terry v says:

    Sorry but I thought the ADKs were founded by “big City” people escaping cholera and typhoid outbreaks in the cities

    • Boreas says:

      terry v,

      Don’t forget tuberculosis – which literally created a “cottage industry” in some areas! Times and people have changed, but fear will always compete with common sense.

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