How Being Outdoors Has Helped Me, and Many Others, Cope with Quarantine
Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. reflects on the outdoor spaces she held dear during lockdown and the nation's collective pull towards being outside.
Flashback to late February/early March of 2020 in America. The heaviness of a new disease known as COVID-19 set in and a stay-at-home order was upon us. Some moved to quarantine with loved ones, some were stuck in abusive homes, and some were left isolated and alone. Although that order has since been lifted here for some time, our lives in quarantine still affect us today. The underlying trauma that comes with living through a pandemic is something we all handle differently, and the coping mechanisms we use are nothing short of remarkable.
At the start of the pandemic, I was a senior at Rutgers University and a double major in modern dance and sociology. Shortly after campus shut down, most of my friends evacuated to their family homes. Being from Los Angeles, I decided to stay on campus so I could continue working and spend time with my friends and boyfriend who also stayed in New Jersey. It was my senior year and I wasn’t ready to leave college life. After I heard that my roommates had left campus, I made the hasty decision to move in with my boyfriend because I did not want to quarantine alone. Living in a house with my boyfriend at the time, his best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend — who just so happened to be my best friend — was actually a pretty sweet deal.
But I was lucky and privileged to not quarantine alone or in a potentially dangerous or unhealthy situation. I remember thinking about people stuck in abusive homes and people living in homes where they did not feel safe or welcome. So yes, I was lucky. I was having fun. And I still feel guilty about that, but it’s true. When someone asks me about my memories of the first few months of quarantine, I smile.
Those three months I lived there carry some of my happiest and favorite memories, despite the tragedy that was happening around me. The four of us would study and cook elaborate meals together, and we learned to make bread together. School was mostly a joke, and we were all seniors so the senioritis was kicking in hardcore. Before the trails were shut down a few weeks into quarantine, we went hiking, camping, or backpacking every weekend.
The first two weeks of quarantine went by extremely quickly. School was on pause so our professors could figure out how to teach us through a camera. I attempted a thru-hike for the first time, although it didn’t go as planned. Then the next two and a half months moved more slowly as the reality of our new lives hit us. Staying inside with the same three people, even though I loved them all so much, was driving me a bit mad. It was the nearby park that saved me.
If I needed some space, I walked to the park. If I wanted to work out, I went to the park. If I was bored, I walked to the park. The local neighborhood park became my safe space. Hiking trails were closed for what seemed like centuries, and this park was all the greenery I had left.
Let me set the scene properly. One block away from our house was Buccleuch Park (and no, I still cannot pronounce it). There were three sections to the park: a historical section with Civil War ruins next to a gazebo where I worked out, a larger section with open space for soccer, a basketball court, and a jungle gym, and a section with a river. Each area held different meditative headquarters for me, and I am so thankful that I got to spend so much time there. I watched as the flowers bloomed, the trees grew big green leaves, and the river sped up. As the months went by and nature continued to evolve, I was reminded that we would, too. Things change, and we were all waiting for that change to come during quarantine.
But that is only my story, so I reached out to friends, family, and colleagues to hear how being outdoors helped them cope with quarantine.
Before the trails shut down, hiking seemed to be the only activity that people could do to escape their mind-numbing, boring, indoor spaces. People would go hiking to listen to birds and watch the wildlife — to remind themselves how beautiful this world is. It’s clear that we all started to realize how important our natural world is and grew a larger appreciation for the very same thing we have been destroying.
More and more people are hitting trails, going to national and state parks, and exploring parts of the world they may not have been to before. But how did people cope when the trails were shut down? Did they go to a local park like I did?
As we were all forced to stay very, very local, we started to explore the minute details of our neighborhoods, local parks, and streets. Places we had walked by millions of times became a lab for close observation to spark our minds with something new and interesting.
Now that places have opened up and many of us are vaccinated or currently in process of getting vaccinated, we can start to look back and analyze how our perceptions changed, what we now appreciate, and what kind of life we want to live moving forward. We all have our own goals and coping mechanisms to get there. I urge everyone to continue exploring locally and discovering new paths you may have not noticed before. As you prep for new adventures, locally or globally, don't forget to reach out to Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated. We'd love to help you head out with excitement and confidence.