(Written for the Paddler newsletter of the Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association)
For many of us, paddling is more than a hobby, and the folks we paddle with are more than friends. We are part of an amazing community, and like everything else, this community has been turned upside-down by COVID-19.
It has been 19-months since this pandemic began, and social distancing and masking have become facts of life. We now have effective vaccines to stop the spread of this deadly virus, so things should be getting back to normal, but it hasn’t worked out that way. In many parts of the country hospitals are full, and people continue to die as the Delta variant continues to spread. Tragically, COVID-19 has killed more than 600,000 Americans – more deaths than in all the wars of the 20th century combined.
I have received the coronavirus vaccine, and my family has a well. We should be fine, right? It doesn’t feel that way. Even for the vaccinated there is a small risk of break-through infections, and an even smaller risk of serious illness. I also worry about others – kids under 12 who can’t receive the vaccine, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, and adults who choose not to get vaccinated. What if I spread it to them?
Even though I am vaccinated I still take steps to protect myself and others. I still wear a mask, maintain social distancing and limit my time indoors – especially in close quarters around large groups. Am I overreacting? Maybe, but it is clear to me that this pandemic is far from over.
If we have learned anything from this pandemic, though, it is the devastating effect of social isolation and the importance of physical activity. Throughout this pandemic paddling has been a lifeline for me. Now that I live and work at home, there is no better way to escape the house than to paddle.
During the initial lock-down, I did my paddling alone and close to home. As restrictions were lifted, we started to meet in small groups for up-and-back trips that didn’t involve a shuttle, often early in the morning before the crowds filled the parking lots. Now that I am vaccinated, my trips have a more normal feel. We are outside and socially distant. If we need to shuttle, we can roll down the windows and wear masks. The risk seems relatively low.
The restrictions of the pandemic forced all of us to look at familiar places in new ways. We realized that it is not necessary to travel to enjoy a day on the water. For me, whitewater trips have taken a backseat to local flatwater trips. Crashing waves have been replaced with easy currents as we once again explore the twists and turns of nearby rivers and streams. No matter where we are it is great to be outside with friends and disconnected from depressing news and social media.
As we move forward, hopefully everyone will do their part to get COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror. In the meantime, there are trips that call us - get out there and paddle!