A month or so ago, many of us, me included, were probably paying scant attention to the word coronavirus. Then, in a seeming instant, everything about normal life changed and terms like “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” “shelter-in-place” and “flattening the curve” became part of our daily lexicon as we grapple with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s stress and anxiety enough to go around, and perhaps the only thing certain right now is more uncertainty. As far as possible, we need to take care of ourselves and each other, and do what we must to get through each day. Hopefully, you can find the time and desire to get outdoors for a hike and a dose of fresh air, blue skies and sunshine, always great medicine for the body, mind and soul.

A couple weeks back, managing agencies for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail released statements with guidelines for through and section hikers. All three subsequently requested that long-distance hikers cancel or postpone their treks to minimize the potential impact of spreading COVID-19 along the trail routes.

Here in Maine, however, hitting the trail for a hike is, at least as I am writing this, strongly encouraged, provided you follow healthy practices, some of which are very new while most are actually quite routine.

“The great outdoors is still open. Please enjoy it safely, ” Gov. Janet Mills declared in a recent statement.

“During these times, getting outside and enjoying the outdoors is a wonderful way to recharge,” echoed Commissioner Judy Camuso of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, adding, “while maintaining social distancing practices.”

Good hygiene and maintaining the appropriate social distance are central themes in this checklist of recommendations for hikers during this time of COVID-19:

Keep your hands clean. Use wet wipes and hand sanitizer. Better yet, use biodegradable soap and water to scrub your hands, well away from water sources, of course.

Don’t share anything. Your utensils, cup, bowl and water bottles are yours alone. Keep the errant fingers of others out of your GORP or Fritos bag.

Don’t touch. Keep fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth. Avoid contact with trail registers, picnic tables, benches, outhouse doors and seats, shelter surfaces, but if you can’t, wash very carefully afterward.

Cover your mouth. Properly direct your cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm or into a tissue (pack it out) or bandanna.

Keep your distance. Maintain social distance — six feet is the current directive — between you and other hikers, on the trail and at natural gathering points like trail junctions, viewpoints and rest stops. If you meet other hikers on the trail, give them space and a smile and wave.

Senior or existing medical condition? If you’re over 60 or have a chronic medical condition (say, heart disease or diabetes), you have a greater than average risk of complications from COVID-19, making it all the more critical to practice social distancing.

Feeling sick? If you know you’re sick or are feeling so, strictly avoid any contact with other hikers. Don’t go hiking in the first place, it need not be said, but if you’re already on a hike, pack it up and head for home.

Camping. Avoid trailside shelters. Dispersed camping well away from other parties is best.

Leave No Trace. You know the seven principles, so keep them in mind, especially “Dispose of Waste Properly.” Correctly handling your #2 demands the use of a backpacker trowel (new titanium models weigh a 1/4-ounce and cost less than $20).

Getting to the trail. Try to hike locally. If you’re like me, though, you want to travel farther afield, in which case carpooling is out (except with members of your own household) and taking separate cars is in.  Don’t congregate at the trailhead.

Solo hiking. Given the current circumstances, you may find yourself going hiking alone, maybe for the first time ever. Make sure you’re properly prepared and exercise due caution on the trail.

As for where to hike, Mainers are fortunate to have access to over 4 million acres of public and private conservation and recreation lands and some 2,500 miles of hiking and walking trails. Grab a guidebook and trail map off the shelf, search online or ask me for suggestions.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Contact Carey at [email protected]


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