On March 23rd, I spoke on the phone with Sandra Riches, the BC AdventureSmart executive director and coordinator. She's also a director-at-large for BCSARA (BC Search and Rescue Association).

It's an unprecedented time, and we need to support each other. Here are some important thoughts for explorers wondering about hiking, social distancing and more:

 

(Explore staff) Q: What is the perspective from BC AdventureSmart when it comes to outdoor adventure right now?

 

(Sandra) A: Our focus is conservative decision-making and to really understand when it’s not time to go. That’s right now.

We know everyone still needs fresh air and to care for their physical and mental health. After all, our tagline is “get informed and go outdoors.” That could still apply, but with a lot of conservative decision-making.

In addition to our regular message of following the three T’s, we are now—based on the unsettling times—needing to have everyone understand that practicing safe social distancing is critical. We all need to tread lightly and not push our outdoor recreation limits.

This applies to experienced outdoor enthusiasts as well as those who are spending more time at home and may consider exploring trails and areas they haven’t before. New explorers might think, “now I have all this time, I’m going to go try this trail I haven’t mountain biked, hiked or climbed before.” This poses a challenge, as they may not know what to be prepared for in the new environment.

On the other side, more experienced outdoor users typically push their limits, go farther, go faster and go higher—they’re very driven people—and now we’re asking them to pull back on the reins. We’re asking them to go down to first gear, instead of being in fifth gear.

Mentally and physically, it’s a challenge to slow down and reduce, minimize or stop recreating as we used to.

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We preach conservative decision-making and knowing when not to go in the winter with avalanche conditions. Sometimes, the best trip plan is no trip at all. You wouldn’t go on an adventure when avalanche conditions were unstable. Right now, our system is unstable. Our health care system is stressed. This trickles down to many industries, including outdoor recreation, and my 2,500 friends on the on the 79 search-and-rescue teams in BC that normally respond to over 1,700 calls a year.

Now, more people are out exploring. If a newbie decides to ride an unknown trail and slips and falls, even if it’s not a severe incident, it pulls out the search and rescue in that region, which takes away from the system altogether. If they have to go to the hospital, it further strains the already overwhelmed [health care] system.

 

"You wouldn’t go on an adventure when avalanche conditions were unstable. Right now, our system is unstable."

 

Q: You’ve mentioned social distancing, which is a new thing for Canadian explorers. Is there an emphasis on avoiding popular, crowded trails, or how to navigate that while still getting fresh air?

 

A: I’ve been recommending to stay local. After the influx of outdoor users over the past weekend, we could see that a lot of people went outside their immediate neighbourhood. The Sea to Sky corridor is one example. Towns like Pemberton are asking people not to come.

We understand that people need to get outside for fresh air, and I’m a huge advocate for it. But stay local, don’t go far. And choose areas where you can stay away from crowds. No area should be crowded anymore. This is the responsibility of every single individual.

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People still have to file a trip plan. Let someone know where you are. We’re encouraging the use of our AdventureSmart Trip Plan App. It’s free of charge and helps SAR if they need to help you. We’re asking that you have the mental and physical training to complete the areas that are still open. Be prepared; always take the essentials with you. You can still trip and get hurt or fall off your bike locally.

 

"Stay local, don’t go far."

 

Q: How does this affect SAR? Are they still responding to as many calls?

 

A: BCSARA is still available 24/7, free of charge. The number to call is 911. However, volunteers have concerns for their own personal safety. Like facing hazardous avalanche conditions, they are trained to only go in when it’s safe for them to do so.

It’s important to note that quite a few of the volunteers are teachers, lawyers, grocery store workers, nurses and doctors. These are essential professions. This could slightly lessen available responders.

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Q: For a lot of explorers, their lifestyles are changing drastically. What materials and resources do you have for explorers staying home more than usual?

 

A: Our face-to-face presentations are currently on hold across the country. We’re going to continue to do our best at what we normally do, but in creative ways.

We have online resources. For kids, we have fun, educational programs that are totally free. You'll find colouring pages, puzzles, word searches, videos, even an origami fold-up game. There’s a program for adults as well!

For Trip Plan Tuesday, I’ll be talking about how to plan in these new times. Check out our Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram for updates.

 

photoBC AdventureSmart