Sunday, March 22, 2020

Safely Finding Corona Therapy In Red River Gorge (Plus 15 Tips)

All I saw was icky germs with hiking poles, no way. No way we're hitting this trail. The pit welled in my stomach. We drove over 2 hours. Headed to Double Arch, my spouse and I turned off Mountain Parkway in Red River Gorge, flipped the 4-Runner into 4WD, made the left onto the potholed gravel Tunnel Ridge Road and, 2 miles in, as we passed the satellite lot for Gray's Arch we were stopped cold. The gate to drive the next 3 miles onward to the Double Arch Trailhead was closed! It wasn't only us. Cars and people were everywhere, groups of four, six, twelve! This isn't social distancing. I felt sad, scared...a little sick. We came here hoping to get outside, and find a little Corona-therapy, but we weren't alone. A sort of sanctuary, for the first time in a long time, I was grateful for our big dumb metal box on wheels.

 I imagined people touching the same stair railings and wet rocks, and being forced to be too close at some of Kentucky's most beautiful vistas and waterfalls. Pristine wilderness spoiled by a pandemic, what an odd juxtaposition. No way Joe Biker. Too many people, too little trail. With COVID-19 concerns we were left with two choices, walk an extra 6 miles on a dirt road to get to the less popular 6.5 mile hike we had planned, or leave and find someplace else even less, I guess, desirable. If only we had packed extra PB&Js and Luna bars. If only we brought some bikes to ride past the gate. Deflated, underprepared for a 12+ mile hike, we chose to leave.

The All Trails app is a reliable resource. It pinpoints other trails and hikes nearby your location. Anything near Natural Bridge, the jewel of the gorge, was out of the question. It'd be crawling with snotty kids and people looking for the biggest bang for the least amount of effort. If Gray's arch was a tell tale, it would be a normal Saturday at Natural Bridge, which features even more skinny trails, common surfaces and claustrophobic spaces. I zoomed and pinched. Just down the road was a stretch of the Sheltowee Trail which led to Whittleton Arch, 4.6 miles round trip. Not quite as long as we had hoped, but with no parking lot and very little signage to an unassuming trail, it seemed pretty good. So, mental note, find boring looking, remote, hard to access places to enjoy the outdoors.

Only 2 other cars lined the road at the trailhead, both 4-Runners, which made me smile. We put on our boots and fixed the scarves we brought to pull up before passing others. Along with snacks, we packed hand sanitizer and wipes in our bags. We wore gloves. I tried my best to hike on the slippery mossy rocks without touching trees or common surfaces others may have touched. Then tried not to touch my face when my nose got runny in the low 40 degree temps. It's hard. I'm glad we planned. We only passed 3 other families or couples on the entire route. Thankfully everyone yielded and afforded others a wide berth. A mile or so in, my shoulders relaxed. I sighed. My spouse pointed out a giant bolder smothered in day glow green moss. I looked up and squinted in the sun. With the smush of our boots in the mud and the gurgle of the adjacent creek, we finally found the sense of peace and normalcy we sought. And for three hours, it was sublime. 
1) Abide by local laws regarding travel restrictions.
2) Find the most out of way trail you can.
3) Hike very early or very late. Midday is the most crowded time of day.
4) Hike alone or only with people you live with. If necessary, split in pairs which makes it easier to pass on a trail.
5) Have a 2nd or 3rd choice in case your first trail head feels uncomfortable.
6) Be self supporting. Pack more food, water, clothes and first aid than usual.
7) Wear gloves and something to pull up over nose, mouth and ears.
8) Don't touch common surfaces like railings, rocks, trees, benches and picnic tables.
9) Pack hand sanitizer and wipes and keep them easily accessible.
10) Yield to others and give them a wide berth.
11) Don't crowd vistas. Enjoy your time and move on.
12) Keep your dog and children in check.
13) Pack food and drink for the trip to and from your trail to limit public stops.
14) Wear gloves and wipe down gas pumps if you need to stop for fuel.
15) Stay away from public restrooms. Bring your own trail TP.

No comments: