Rafters navigate the Smith River in Montana on June 9, 2020. (Photo: Kevin Duggan/Fort Collins Coloradoan)
Breaking quarantine isn’t a great idea during a pandemic. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
And for me, that means getting outside and on a river.
A couple of weeks ago, Lisa and I and some rafting friends broke quarantine in Colorado and headed to central Montana to float the Smith River. We had a highly sought-after permit to float the river for five days.
We felt safe going to Montana, even though we’re all 60ish years old and at somewhat heightened risk for COVID-19. The counties we would drive/float through had few cases. Everyone in our group was healthy and had followed “safer-at-home” protocols for nearly three months.
We drove straight through to the little town of White Sulphur Springs. We had limited contact with others along the way: During brief stops for food or gas, we wore face coverings and kept away from other people.
This drew judgmental glances from a few fellow travelers who were not wearing masks, although no one said anything. In Wyoming, workers behind the counters at convenience stores wore face coverings, even though most of their customers didn’t.
Once we reached Montana, the masks became few and far between. We saw signs urging people to take precautions, but they didn’t seem to have much effect.
We had dinner in a brewery/bar in White Sulphur Springs in which no one, including ourselves, bothered to cover up. The virus has been a rare thing in Meagher County – so far.
At the river put-in site Monday morning, the ranger who checked us in joked about us being “high-risk Coloradans.” But he didn’t wear a mask and neither did the dozens of people waiting to start floating downstream.
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We were outdoors, keeping to ourselves, and we felt safe enough.
The river was lovely. Things started out kind of rough, with a lot of rain and even some hail pounding us as we floated along the first day. We all got wet and cold.
That night, we were grateful to have hot soup for dinner and to find comfort in warm sleeping bags.
As the week went on, the weather dried out and warmed up. By Thursday, it was downright hot.
The scenery was gorgeous, with towering limestone cliffs mixing with lush forests along the river. Hillsides and meadows were intensely green.
We saw birds ranging from swallows darting in and out of tiny mud nests on cliffs to bald eagles guarding a nest that looked big enough to hold a small sedan.
We watched a beaver drag a willow branch a long way upstream and then expertly cross the river at the top of a rapid to reach its home on the other side.
All was peaceful. We were unplugged from the internet and the news cycle and surrounded by nature. The trip was the perfect tonic for these troubled times.
On the way home, we drove through Yellowstone National Park after staying the night in a campground outside Livingston, Montana.
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Quite a few people were in Yellowstone – tourists from all over the country judging by the license plates on their cars – but not nearly as many as one would expect for a Saturday in June.
The parking lots at geysers and other attractions were a quarter full. Some folks walking around wore masks, others didn’t. Once again, we kept our distance from others.
Soon we were back in Fort Collins, where the COVID-19 numbers are going down but not going away. It was time to be more cautious again.
For me, that meant going back into quarantine and spending my work days in the basement of my home.
When I venture into public places, which I don’t expect to do often, I will wear a face covering.
I think it’s OK to take risks, such as going out into the wild once in a while. But overall, I’m not big on risky behavior.
So, until this pandemic passes, I’ll keep doing what I have to do to keep myself and others safe.
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at email@example.com. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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