Don’t do what we did. We tried to play it safe, but others didn’t.
We haven’t been paying any attention to the calendar lately, because one day is the same as the next. But there’s a downside to being oblivious to the fact that when May ends on a Sunday, Memorial Day is earlier than usual. We had crafted plans for a camping trip where we could look for morels; setting up our lone tent away from a campground seemed pretty safe.
A friend shared the news of the three day weekend with us. My first thought was to reschedule our trip, but my husband is rarely dissuaded when he has his mind set on something. I gave in. We made plans to leave our blue bubble of Seattle on Friday. As we gathered our camping gear, we began to realize that we were in no shape to carry out our plan.
Still wanting to go out, we scaled back and thought we’d devised a plan that would still be safe. We made motel reservations after reading online that that each room was deep cleaned between visitors. We took all our food, so there’d be no need to go to a grocery store or cafe. Aside from putting gas in the car, the plan still seemed safe to us. But we soon realized that every camper in the state had put a bull’s eye on this weekend.
Our destination was Cle Elum, WA, the first stop in eastern Washington. If you’re not familiar with Washington state, you may not know about our Cascade Divide. Vegetation changes on the east side of the mountains, and the culture does, too. As we merged onto I-90, we were aware that there was almost normal Friday afternoon traffic. That’s an exaggeration, but there was a lot more more traffic than we’ve seen recently. The farther east we got, the more the freeway was filled with RVs. When we exited into Cle Elum, we couldn’t help but notice the lineups at the gas stations. We were clearly not the only people anxious to be “out.”
We wore our face coverings as we checked in to the motel but immediately saw that the staff did not. We took off for morel country, but quickly noticed that the woods were full of RVs, most of whom came with dirt bikes in tow. Groups of up to a dozen RVs were set up next to each other. No masks, no social distancing. Yes, these folks were outdoors, which is healthier than being in a group indoors, but mixing so many family groups likely arriving with different levels of virus exposure seemed unwise to us. Results of mixing it up this weekend will surely give us more information about what’s safe and what isn’t.
Partly because the woods were so full of people that we couldn’t search in many areas, we only found a few morels. Gradually, our whole adventure began to seem unwise. Our motel was clearly not adhering to the policies stated on the corporate website, e.g. requiring masks for employees, perhaps not deep-cleaning rooms between visitors (there was no signage to this effect), etc. So instead of three nights, we abandoned our adventure after two.
The psychological boost of being out in the woods was evident as we witnessed the varied shades of green of the vegetation showing its progress from dormant to fully leafed out. The roadsides were graced with red-flowering currant and an abundance of serviceberry. Does with their fauns cautiously crossed in front of us. The woodsy aroma was delightful.
It was a challenge to process the conflicting emotions brought about by breathing in the fresh woodsy air while watching the gatherings of people clearly ignoring any and all guidelines intended to limit the spread of Covid-19. Once we were home, I went to the state and county websites to see what the guidance had been for people anxious to get outdoors. In fairness, people who wanted to comply with guidance would have had trouble figuring out what they could do and where they could do it.
One giant problem became obvious with Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” policy. It says we can go outside for walks or exercise, but should stay close to home. We clearly missed that “stay close to home” when we made our plans. We’d heard that State Parks are open for day use, so to us that meant that driving to a State Park was OK, but it seems that’s only OK if you live near one.
Another problem crops up as the state tries to navigate a phased approach to reopening that will vary by county. I suspect we are not the only people who didn’t understand the need to check county guidance as we dreamt of driving over county lines. Kittitas County, where Cle Elum is located, issued a Press Release on May 21 “asking tourists to not visit Kittitas County at this time.” Further, “There is absolutely no overnight camping anywhere in Kittitas County at this time.” Ha! Yeah, no one saw that bit.
I think that perhaps the county was not really serious when it issued the Press Release one day before a three day weekend. We saw no signage of any kind anywhere about the “no camping anywhere” policy. We saw no county vehicles cruising the backroads telling people to go home. We saw no posters at the gas stations about the “no camping” policy. My guess is that county officials, who are anxious to move to Phase 2 of reopening, simply wanted to impress the state that they are “seriously” trying to keep the virus at bay.
Based on what we witnessed in the backwoods of Kittitas County, I’m thinking people just conducted a great experiment, but that it will take at least two weeks to begin to see the results. Will the fresh air overcome the dangers of mixing too many families together for a long weekend? People across the country were conducting similar experiments. Can’t wait to see what happens.