During their three months at Fort Clatsop, the members of the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reworked their journals, labored meticulously drawing maps, and to pass the time produced an ample supply of moccasins for the return trip back east.

March 13, 1806, “I this day took an account of the number of pairs of moccasins each man in the party had; and found the whole to be 338 pairs. This stock was not provided without great labor, as the most of them are made of the skins of elk. Each man has also a sufficient quantity of patch-leather. Some of the men went out to look for the lost canoe and killed two elk.” — Patrick Gass 

Fort Clatsop

Life at Fort Clatsop on the south shore of the Columbia River, near modern-day Astoria, Oregon was unbearably dull for the explorers who just the year before had crossed mountains and shot rapids. The weather was depressing and the days were monotonous as often noted several times in their journals. “Not anything transpired during this day worthy of particular notice,” wrote Lewis. It was a place they just couldn’t wait to leave.

March 3, 1806, “No movement of the party today worthy of notice. Everything moves on in the old way and we are counting the days which separate us from the 1st of April, & which bind us to Fort Clatsop.” — Meriwether Lewis

We don’t have to go very far to see the parallels between our exploring counterparts of over 200 years ago and today’s outdoor enthusiasts waiting out the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. As of this writing, state parks in many states are closed under the guidance on social distancing. Public health officials have raised alarms about people congregating in outdoor spaces like beaches, climbing areas, trailheads, and some popular river accesses leading to in some cases, these areas being shut down by local authorities.

“These are crazy, uncertain times,” wrote California based paddler Cate Hawthorne in her blog Woman on the Water, “I feel very fortunate to have a comfortable home, agreeable partner for sheltering in place, lots of projects, and lots of good books to read. What has been difficult for me is the economic uncertainty and not being able to play outside (hike, bike, kayak, camp).”

For the most part, I’ve heeded universal rules that everyone should know by now, wash your hands, stay six feet apart from one another, avoid crowds, and stay local. Like the explorers at Fort Clatsop, I’ve found some diversion to my day with trips in my own neighborhood, all the while looking eastward toward the Sierra. Especially disappointed in missing my annual springtime events and trips, but I’ll take refuge in my small solo outings or with my close paddling friends to my local river and lake.

Locked gates and kayak carts

With California state parks gates locked water access has been limited my neighborhood’s Lake Natoma. Area paddlers park outside the gate and cart in their SUPS, kayaks, and canoes past the gates and signs to ghost town parking lots and boat access. Once on the water, a sense of normalcy occurs.

“Such a nice afternoon on the water!” wrote a Facebook friend, “Distancing of course with a few friends! So nice to get out of the house as I was cooped up sick over a week ago. Needed some vitamin D and connection. Thankful!”

Sunshine and water are good medicine. Wisconsin based paddler Shari Gasper felt that same rejuvenation just by getting back on to her lake recently.
“It just felt great to be outdoors and physically active,” she wrote in her blog, Two Orange Kayaks, ” We were a quiet trio on an almost empty lake, not coming into contact with other people, enjoying a day that felt nearly “normal” during the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. The time on the water made me feel energized and hopeful that I can endure another month of social distancing—if I have kayaking as my escape from the day-to-day monotony.”

As with the explorers of the Corps of Discovery, we are counting the days until the restrictions are lifted and we can all travel far from homes. With so much uncertainty and so many changes in our lives these days, it’s a relief to know the lakes and rivers will be there waiting for summer adventures. Yes, we’ll all have to act responsibly by prioritizing the health and well-being of others when we get there by practicing the guidance of social distancing. And if we do, everyone will be able to enjoy the sunshine and beauty of the summer season. But until then, we’ll have to wait.

March 20, 1806, “The rain rendered our departure so uncertain that we declined this measure for the present. nothing remarkable happened during the day. we have yet several days provision on hand, which we hope will be sufficient to subsist us during the time we are compelled by the weather to remain at this place.” — Meriwether Lewis

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