Amid conflicting social distancing messaging, here’s why I’m not hiking during coronavirus

Living with a rambunctious pack of dogs helps one develop a sense of humor and an ability to appreciate the lighter side of life.

If you take yourself too seriously, you might see an occasional poo-poo in the kitchen or a butt-sniffing incident in front of company you’re trying to impress as disasters instead of the disarming stagings of canine commedia dell’arte that they are. Dogs throw a wrench in our most cherished routines and possessions.

The peed-on pillow, the dug-up garden and the change in plans brought on by a trailside skunk encounter are disruptions made to bolster our resilience.

Ironically, through their inconsistency, dogs send a consistent message: The only thing we can control is our own behavior. That’s a good concept to embrace during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Because of conflicting messaging, coronavirus stay-at-home orders have been particularly trying and confusing for hikers. We’re being told to both stay home and go out and hike because it’s “safe.”

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The mantra of “practicing social distancing” is proving to be just a catch phrase as parking lots at popular trailheads are crammed full while vehicles circling like vultures wait for spaces. Social media is replete with visuals of large groups congregating and cars parked bumper-to-bumper along forest service roads near “remote” trails where “nobody goes.”

Trail closures and restrictions that began as precautions are now necessities to protect public health.

My personal decision to avoid hiking hot spots has been met with ambivalence. It’s not lost on me that many hikers refer to my reviews when researching trail destinations, and I am well aware that that comes with responsibility.

These past weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed with requests for suggestions about where to go to escape the crowds and questions about why I have not posted any new hike reviews. Truth is, I’m in a sort of Catch-22 situation. Here’s why.

Like many bloggers, I get dozens of pitches from marketers offering free products and services in exchange for promoting everything from trail foods and gear to free trips to outdoor vacation destinations. I do not accept any of these perks, preferring to keep this blog non-commercial.

The coronavirus stay-at-home orders have changed the tone of the messages that land in my inboxes. A few weeks ago, the drift was all about “stay home and stay safe,” “we’re in this together,” “let’s care for each other” and “please stay away from small towns to stem the spread of the virus.”

But recently, the lovefest took a disturbing turn. My email was rushed with pleas from small businesses and communities to “send hikers to them” and a swell of “we’re open for business” reminders. Clearly, the novelty of the novel virus has lost its panache.

This came at the end of a week where I watched two of my favorite restaurants shut down for good and heard that one of the services I use for my dogs is on the verge of going under as well.

It’s heart-wrenching. The Catch-22 is this: If I start directing hikers to small communities that depend on tourism to survive in a time when visitors are vectors of disease, will it be welcome relief or a health hazard? There is not yet enough data to decide.

In time, there may be some humor to be found in this historic episode of pandemonium. But right now, even when surrounded by six dogs vying for lap time, it’s not funny. It’s just confusing.

Since dog is my co-pilot, I’ve decided that the best way to bring the pandemic to heel is to sit and stay.

Get inspiration for future hikes at Mare Czinar's blog,

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