Stop Dreaming, Start Planning
When the World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a Pandemic on March 11th this year I was over 1500 miles from home with my family in California so I could train for a few hike and fly races (soon to be cancelled) and my wife and daughter could enjoy the idyllic Santa Barbara coastline. The planned month-long trip has become a yearly tradition for my family as the Santa Ynez mountains that rise out of the Pacific Ocean in early spring offer incredible paragliding and are a perfect zone to get hard vertical training miles in for the run-up to the 2021 Red Bull X-Alps, which will be my fourth.
Everything was going great until suddenly the world seemed to tilt off-axis and things quickly got very strange. I’d been warning my wife for weeks that Covid was going to be a very big deal but as it hadn’t really hit hard in the US yet and she’s better at avoiding the news and media (she has zero social media accounts or apps) than I am she wasn’t very concerned until she went to the grocery store to get a few supplies only to find total chaos. Lines wrapped around the building to get in, whole shelves completely stripped of goods, and panic was in the air.
Later that week, when restaurants were still open and well before the lockdown was implemented in California and my training had been replaced with sitting for long hours reading every update the New York Times and BBC published I got a call from a very dear friend of mine, Terry O’Connor, an ER doctor back home in Sun Valley, Idaho and the medical professional who was handling the Covid response for our small town. “Gavin, I think you need to get your family home.”
We left that afternoon. The thinking was that when things started to intensify and infections exploded places that had less population density would be safer. Sun Valley has 3500 full time residents. It’s a ski resort town, and coming across someone in our endless backcountry that stretches 400 miles to Canada happens…about never in an entire season. As communities go, we figured it would be about as safe as we could get, and having access to our vegetable garden, freezer full of hunted elk, and an overstocked pantry meant we only needed to leave the house for recreation and sun and a very rare run to the grocery store. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones who had the same thinking and a wave of locals and tourists attempting to get away from hot zones in Seattle and San Francisco also flocked back to town and brought the virus with them. By late March, our county had the highest concentration exposure of Covid-19 in the world. Yes, even higher than Wuhan, China where Covid originated.
A strict lockdown, a strong community response, and a healthy population of active people who love to ski, climb, fly fish, mountain bike and recreate in the mountains kept the death count thankfully very low and while the hospital apparently got pretty intense, we escaped the tragedy we’ve all seen across Italy, New York and other urban areas that have been so inundated.
Non-essential travel was banned, but outdoor exercise was encouraged, as long as it was self-supported. In other words- if you got in trouble in the backcountry, you were on your own. Our ski resort was of course shuttered, but our back country spring skiing conditions were perfect, the flying season was beginning, and the mountain bike trails were quickly getting tacky and perfect for long, social-distancing-approved rides. In one three day period we bagged a peak I’d never skied not far from my house, had an epic 2 hour ride on the bike and did several hike and fly missions on the outskirts of town where instead of our typical land and hitch, we just kept it mellow and landed at our cars.
Our stay at home orders relaxed about 45 days after the lockdown was put in place. Pretty much everything but grocery stores and pharmacies were closed. Town felt eery and hallowed, but the trailheads were packed. I found the sudden abundance of time one of the many silver linings in an otherwise tsunami of pain and suffering. I powered through a book project I’d been working on for most of a year; was more “present” than I’ve been in ages with my family; and even in our small rural town that is always quite alive with wildlife the number of elk, moose, wolves, coyotes, bear and birdlife seemed to skyrocket. Mother Earth seemed to be getting a much-needed respite from us pesky humans.
Most things I had planned this spring and summer have either been cancelled or have needed some heavy adaption. I’d hoped to compete in at least two hike and fly races in Europe in July and August, at least two World Cup events in Italy and Switzerland, and our US Nationals events in Oregon and Washington. These have all been cancelled. But paragliding has social distancing completely built-in. We spend all day in the air flying with no one but our thoughts for company! This new reality just needed a little (big?) change in plans.
No gym? No problem! Grab a dry bag, fill it with sand (I use 60 pounds, but listen to your back), throw it over your shoulder and stand up and lay flat as many times as you can. 10 minutes of that a few times a week will turn you into a beast. Need to hit the quads and glutes? Grab a log and do some step ups or goblet squats or push presses or just carry the thing around until you can’t hold on. No dumbells, kettle bells, or fancy machines required!
When travel restrictions eased and staying fit was sorted I sat down with my family and we re-engineered our summer plans:
Step one: rent the house for the 3 months. This took a single post on Facebook. Turns out a lot of people are looking to get out of the city and live in the mountains!
Step two: Move into our camper and hit the road! We can remain isolated and safe, my daughter gets to see a bit of the world, and I get to paraglide as much as I want as long as I can talk my wife into coming to get me if I get too far away! Hitch-hiking isn’t going to be in the cards for quite some time and we can’t all go around sharing a car to get to launch so the solution is simple. Hike to launch and fly triangles so you can land where you started!
We’re not going on a long vacation. This is now our life. My gym has been replaced with a 60 pound sand bag, the stair mill is the mountains, instead of doing laps in the pool I swim upstream in the rivers, and if we orient our travels around epic flying I’ll remain happy and my family will be none the wiser!