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Kayaking in the Era of Social Distancing

a man riding a motorcycle down a river

So there we were, a bunch of friends meeting at the river, hugs all around, smiles, laughter. Then we figure out which vehicles we’re taking to put-in, load boats and pile in. Excited chatter fills the car as we catchup about about our work weeks, family and that new film that just came out. We have an awesome day on the river! Such amazing whitewater, good lines, sweet boofs and one hilarious beater moment. At the takeout, the fun continues with more laughter and cold beverages. Snacks come out and hands dive into a bag of chips. More hugs and high fives. What an amazing day!

And now everything’s changed. One moment it felt as though we were making comments about how Coronavirus wasn’t an issue, that more people die from the flu. Then the next, we are told to keep six feet of distance from other people and are given a “shelter in home” directive by the state. COVID-19 has swept from country to country, state to state at an alarming pace. Essential trips like going to the grocery store and the doctors office are OK, as well as going outside for exercise. Bummer all the ski resorts are closed with all that new snow. But wait… going outside to exercise in the fresh air is given the thumbs up! So we meet at the river…


But now there is an issue – how are we supposed to maintain six feet of distance from others while driving shuttle? We say, “oh we’re not in the high-risk demographic. Let’s just go anyways, it’ll be sweet.”

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The reality of it is, it’s not sweet and it’s not OK to jump into a car with people you don’t already live with right now. We don’t know who our paddling mates will come in contact with. Maybe it’s an elderly parent, a sick child or a friend in chemo. Or maybe we have it and don’t know yet and can easily spread it to our friends. It’s so important now to think of others, our community and doing our part to help slow the spread of the virus and not overload the healthcare system more than it is. Most of us have friends that work in hospitals and doctors offices. These same friends are now only being issued one (yes one!) mask to wear for an entire 12-hour shift while being on the front lines to help the sick and injured during a global pandemic. In some cases, healthcare workers are making their own homemade cloth masks to wear in the hospital.

Scary, right?! Think about it. It could end up being you or a loved one being treated by an exhausted and now not properly protected hospital worker. The possibilities are endless.

Back to the outdoors and fresh air…

I live in a tiny town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and to be honest, what I saw this past weekend was shocking. Tourists from the cities out in droves, flooding our tiny mountain towns, drinking in the streets, shopping, hanging out in groups and generally acting like they’re on vacation. There was theft and vandalism reported at local museums, shops and inns, now closed due to COVID-19. Driving to the gas station I saw parking lots full beyond capacity and ZERO attempt to “shelter in place” or maintaining social distancing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am also outside in the fresh air, hiking, biking and kayaking. It is absolutely essential for my health and well-being. But I am staying away from other people. I’m not sharing a vehicle with friends I don’t live with (AKA anyone that’s not my husband), I’m biking my shuttle, I’m going for solo walks in the woods, I’m not giving out hugs and high fives, heck I’m not even boating or biking anything where I could potentially land myself in the hospital, adding to an already overloaded system.

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Am I stoked about this? Hells no! Do I miss hanging out with my friends, having beers and BBQ on the deck, going to rally a mission to some epic canyon? Duh, yea! One of the best parts of kayaking is the camaraderie and the community. As someone who has built an entire organization around getting people together, I am acutely aware of the ramifications of social distancing.

Recently, a friend posted a story that really resonated with me:

I have been feeling very caged in with isolation and social distancing, and my partner Joseph gave me a bear teaching:

When a bear goes in to hibernation, they do it for the health of their community and themselves. In the winter, food is scarce, hibernating allows other animals to have access to the limited resources. It slows the spread of disease and viruses among other animals during a season when immune systems are lowered, and energy is limited.

It is also a time of conserving health for the bear, a time for reflection… it is a time that allows you to renew, to undergo change, to honour your place in life and food cycles.

It is not a time for anxiety or fear. When it is time for hibernation, a bear can finally relax. All of the stress of finding food, territory, and a mate disappears. The bear believes that they have done enough and trust in themselves. They know this process is necessary and they will come out the other side renewed.

Be the bear. Stay home. Rest. Know you are doing this for something much bigger than yourself.

~Cheyanne Thomas

My crew and I have been figuring out ways to stay connected with one another while doing our part to help keep our community safe. We’ll be back shortly with more details but in the meantime paddle some flatwater, skip the BBQ, go for easy bike rides alone, don’t share shuttle rides to the river, cancel your kids’ playdates, enjoy some quiet time, get creative, learn to bake, go for solo walks, make some art, plant a garden. We are still here for you and there’s going to be plenty more shenanigans once this all blows over.

Much love, Melissa & Cali Collective


All words and images copyright California Watersport Collective 2020. All rights reserved.