The year 2020 and the Coronavirus outbreak that came with it have been many things to different people.For us, it’s meant a total change to the way we have been living and working for the past several years.Previous to this year, it’s fair to say that we travelled a lot.We were usually on an international trip every month to six weeks, with shorter trips around the UK in between.Beyond the fact that we travelled lots, our adventures allowed us to experience things that just don’t exist in the UK: Scorching deserts, deep snow and high altitudes.This last point – high altitudes – is worth looking at more.If you’ve followed our blog for a while, you’ll know that we spent a considerable amount of time in 2019 gearing ourselves up for the unique challenges posed by hiking and producing meaningful work at high altitude (seehereandherefor two pieces we wrote on this subject).We had planned to keep going with this in 2020, hiking higher and higher, but these plans had to be knocked back when travel restrictions were introduced earlier in the year.Simply put, there aren’t high enough mountains in the UK to get any sort of meaningful outdoors high altitude experience.Gyms have also been closed for most of the year which means that we haven’t been able to fall back on facilities that offer hypoxia training either – not to mention the associated cost with this too, especially in a year when things have been tighter.Put simply, our high altitude plans for this year became impossible to achieve.And this is just one example: towards the end of 2019 we’d sat down and discussed where we wanted to go and what we wanted to achieve this year, and it’s fair to say that most of that list has not happened.
As we begin 2021, of course we are not out of the woods, but there is most definitely light at the end of the tunnel in the form of vaccines.Beyond this, it seems that consensus is starting to (slowly!) appear between the travel industry and governments about how pre-travel testing can be utilized to minimize or eliminate mandatory periods of self-isolation when travelling internationally whilst still maintaining a responsible approach to limiting the spread of the virus. At WTM Online in November (travel industry trade show), many of the speakers were upbeat about how new technology and consistent standards could be used to open up international travel again.We generally don’t like to try to predict the future, but we think that 2021 will see the world moving from reacting to the virus to managing and controlling it.For certain, we’ll still be living with Coronavirus for some time to come, but with the right combination of treatment programs and management strategies, we’re optimistic.
Image description: A landscape image. In the centre of the frame are nut shells. These are macro close up so you can see all of the details on the shell. These are in a bed of leaves, which are orange and red and some leaves have hints of blue. There is also some green moss within the frame. The image is quite dark and the scattered foliage from the forest floor punctuate the darkness with brightness.
So, where does this leave us as we move forwards?It certainly looks like international travel will be back on the cards. But this doesn’t mean that we should just return to our old plans.We have to acknowledge that the disruption of 2020 has happened and that this will impact our plans in 2021.We believe that we need to frame anything we do in 2021 through the experiences of 2020.
We believe that we can’t simply pick up where we left off.This year has provided many setbacks and whilst you may think that no single thing has been deeply problematic for you, we have found that small problems have a way of mounting up.As we return to adventure in 2021, we think it’s vital that this is borne in mind not just for our mental but also our physical health and safety.
Image description: A landscape image. This image is of a close up section of a tree. There is an in focus area in the centre of the frame to which you can see detail in the tree – this is brown, red and yellow. There are stripes of red that run all up the tree branch as well as the contrasting grey/green of the rest of the branch. The sides of the image are darker than the tree branch in the foreground and these are out of focus.
There are several limiting factors that presented themselves as 2020 went on that we believe could conspire to negatively impact our adventure plans in 2021.As mentioned above, each of these on its own may not be a deal-breaker, but cumulatively, they can add up to present some real problems.However, once you’re aware of a problem you can always plan around it and in doing so you can mitigate any negative effect it may have.
We think Fay caught Coronavirus early on in the pandemic.This happened at a time when testing was not yet widely available so we can’t be 100% sure, however, many of the now familiar symptoms were present.Fay did take an antibody test several months later which can indicate if you’ve previously been infected, but the test was inconclusive – It was mentioned in the notes that the test could only provide reliable results if taken within a certain period of the infection.Fay fell outside that ideal time window.If Fay had Coronavirus, then it’s certain Matt had it too – though if that’s the case, it was asymptomatic for him.
As the pandemic has progressed, one term that’s started to show up more regularly is ‘Long COVID’ – the idea that some people who have had the virus go on to suffer from long-term side effects (there’s a good primer on Long COVID on the British Heart Foundation’s websitehere).Fay has identified experiencing serval Long COVID symptoms including feeling fatigued more quickly.They are – fortunately – not life-changing, but they are there none the less and cannot be ignored.Whilst the symptoms can be sporadic, they do manifest regularly and the onset of sudden, extreme fatigue in the middle of a long-distance hike cannot be ignored.
There’s also the fact that whilst we have continued exercising through the pandemic, the kind of exercise we do has changed.Gyms have been closed here in the UK for most of the year, so the regular weight training and swimming we’d previously done is gone.Instructions to ‘stay local’ from the government meant that for several months we only had the relatively flat area around our home in London for exercise walks.And off course, it’s also been a very long time since we’ve been able to get to high mountains.Taking all of these factors together it’s safe to say that despite us keeping our activity levels up during lockdown, we can expect our first trip to altitude next year to be especially hard going.
Image description: This is a landscape image and a close up macro shot of a pattern on a tree branch. We can see lichen and mould growing on the tree and this has taken over, and takes over the whole image to create the pattern. The lichen pattern is orange with white and grey spots in a semi uniform pattern all over this flat lay view of the branch.
On top of this, we are collectively staring down amental health crisistriggered by Coronavirus.In some way, shape or form, the disruption to daily life this year has impacted everyone.Even people who may not feel this has impacted them, may well find their confidence dented in unexpected ways when they go back outdoors.Couple this with the fact that many people will likely not have been able to visit truly wild places for a long time, and may be out of practice with their hiking skills and we have a potential problem: what happens when you find yourself on a mountain ridge for the first time in over a year and the weather suddenly changes for the worst?Even those amongst us who consider themselves well experienced in the outdoors should think about this: Can you be sure that you won’t hesitate, freeze up or, at worst, have a full blown panic attack when confronted with a tricky situation for the first time in a while?
So far, this is all doom and gloom.But we do not believe the prognosis is all bad.We just need to manage our expectations as we return to adventure.For a while at least. This doesn’t mean that we have to go right back to basics, but we believe we should try to have a more sensitive, holistic approach to our trip planning next year.What that means in real terms is really taking the time to question and game out your plans for a trip: Let’s say you’re planning a hiking and mountaineering trip.In 2019, you might have had no issue planning an itinerary of tough, demanding routes.Now, though, it might be worth considering some alternatives in case your existing plans turn out to be too physically or mentally demanding once you’re on the ground.Remember that ultimately, we go outdoors to have a good time and to be safe.If there’s a chance your physical condition or an unexpected bout of anxiety could compromise either of those things, then you should be prepared to change your plans accordingly.
Image description: A landscape image. This image shows close ups of leaves on a branch and a backlit sunset in the background. Because of the backlighting, the leaves in the foreground look in shadow. They are orange and brown and there are colours of yellow and black in the sunset.
This is also a great opportunity to reacquaint yourself with your equipment: does everything still fit?Has anything deteriorated and needs replacing?Do batteries still hold their charge?Can you remember how to tie all your climbing nots or fit your crampons?Can you still do it all whilst wearing thick gloves?There are many skills we take for granted, but our proficiency in them is based on regular practice and repetition.Well, we’ve just had a year where many of those skills and previously regularly used equipment may not have had an outing.Perhaps now is a good time for a refresher?
It’s worth repeating that we’re not suggesting you go right back to basics with your outdoor ambitions – by all means, still plan your trip to the mountains and still aim to summit those challenging peaks but also be prepared to listen to yourself and respond to what your body is saying – both physically and mentally.By being more in tune with ourselves and those we travel with, we can all stay safer and enjoy our time in the outdoors more.
Image description: A landscape image. A close up of fungi growing on the side of a branch. The fungi is central in the frame and the fungi are semi circular, with a green centre and brown/white outer rim. They are attached to a tree branch which is brown and green. In the background to the top of the frame are out of focus leaves which are brown and red.