The Chair

Life lessons at Kayostia Beach

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I was backpacking on the Olympic Coast last week (social distancing indeed) with two companions. The weather was stormy—howling wind and sideways rain—when we arrived at Kayostia Beach, near the Norwegian Memorial, 10 miles from the closest National Park trailhead.

We had the beach to ourselves.

We set about establishing a camp in the contorted trees, strung a tarp and coaxed a smoky fire to life beneath it. The evening was somewhat challenging, as we hunkered down on wet beach logs, occupied with trying to stay dry and avoiding smoke inhalation. Comfort was scarce.

The next day, the rain stopped, the sky cleared and things were decidedly more palatable. We spent the day hiking on the beach, exploring tide pools, examining the flotsam and jetsam, and watching clouds move across the sky like an airborne armada.

My friend Jesse discovered a broken chair washed up on the beach—the kind of chair that might once have been in a middle-school cafeteria. No legs, just a one-piece seat and back, weathered and beaten by the waves.

That evening, I sat beside the campfire—less smoky now that the wood had dried somewhat—in this chair in the sand, leaning it against a log, exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to sit comfortably beside the warm fire. My back, which had been complaining after carrying my pack and balancing on drift logs, felt great. I was genuinely joyous to be able to relax in what seemed like luxury to me; a chair! I lingered long into the night, enjoying the comfort and listening to the music of the waves.

I thought about this today in light of the current coronavirus situation. It occurs to me that comfort and contentment are extremely relative. When we are surrounded by creature comforts, as we are in our day-to-day lives, we take much for granted. But when some of these accoutrements are gone, we gain the ability to appreciate some of the things that otherwise escape our notice and discover (or rediscover) the joy of simple pleasures. Like a broken cafeteria chair, for instance.

The situation we find ourselves in is certainly fraught with difficulty and uncertainty, but maybe we can find some solace in the opportunity to discover gratitude in aspects of our lives we ordinarily take for granted.

In my life, I have seen how hardships and deprivations have offered unexpected opportunities and new perspectives. Definitely not the kind of lessons we would choose, but lessons nonetheless. At the end of the day, perhaps we’ll emerge from this dark episode with a deeper sense of what’s important.

Please note that in an attempt to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the state government announced Sun., March 22 that all state campgrounds will be closed through April 30. No new campers will be allowed onto Washington State Parks and Recreation, Department of Fish and Wildlife, or Department of Natural Resources lands.


Hints on Hiking from the Washington Trails Association

As a nonprofit supported by hikers like you, we know the immense value of getting outside. We know the physical and mental benefits of being in nature are vital right now.

But in order to protect our community and ourselves, it’s important to be discerning about when and how we choose to leave our homes. With that in mind, following are some suggestions to help you get outside responsibly. The situation is changing quickly, and some of these recommendations might change under the shelter-in-place order. Take a community-centered approach to your outdoor time and check current guidelines and local restriction orders before getting outside. For now, consider the following:

Try to stay local. In Washington, we are lucky to have so many trails and green spaces close to home, some of them in the middle of towns and cities. Let’s all keep our rural neighbors safer by sticking close to home, especially if you are in a major population center in the middle of an outbreak.

Try lesser-traveled trails. Do your best to avoid trails where the main attraction is a viewpoint or other area that would serve as a likely gathering point for many people. (For example, don’t hike to Rattlesnake Ledge or Oyster Dome).

Some green spaces and parks in urban areas may not be big enough to safely accommodate visitors at peak times. Go during off hours or take a walk around your neighborhood instead. If we want to continue to have access to parks, it’s important crowds not gather.

Before you leave. Verify the area you are going to is open. Most neighborhood parks and green spaces will be open. Some other lands and facilities have already closed. Plan on any ranger stations, park buildings, restrooms and facilities to be closed.

This is the rare time we’d advise against transit or carpooling. Driving to the trailhead? Practice social distancing. Plan to hike with people you are already in physical contact with, such as your family or housemates. This is not the best time to meet up with a friend.

Think ahead about what you’ll need so you won’t have to stop for supplies. While we often encourage hikers to shop local and contribute to the recreation economy in rural communities, doing so right now could deplete the resources of smaller communities. Gas up before you go, bring all the food you need and be prepared to follow Leave No Trace principles, including properly dealing with human waste.

Have a backup plan in mind. If you arrive at a park or trailhead and things look crowded, come back later or try someplace new rather than put each other at risk. There’s room for all of us. We’ve got this, if we work together.

On trails and in parks, give each other at least six feet at all times. Give people space when you meet them on trail. That means in parking lots or other gathering areas, but it also means on the trail. When you see approaching hikers, look for a spot where you can get off trail and maintain six-plus feet of distance. It may feel weird, but these are weird times and it’s important to keep everyone safe.

Respect any trail or facility closures. And remember, have a backup plan before you leave, in case you arrive to find an area closed or crowded.

Be extra cautious. Emergency responders are very busy. Please don’t take any risks that might mean you need rescue or health care.

Avoid touching your face and be aware of surfaces that are likely to be touched by many people, such as railings.

Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you eat, and avoid sharing water bottles or snacks.

Pack out your trash and any toilet paper. That means taking it home with you. This is always our advice, but it will take all of us doing a little extra to keep our trails in good shape right now.

For additional tips and updates from the Washington Trail Association, go to http://www.wta.org.

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