Winter Is Coming

Our small group of long-time friends arrived one-by-one at our remote, Idaho rendezvous spot. There was good food, cold beers, and socially-distanced catching up around the campfire late into the night. That was the last time I felt well for weeks.  

The next morning, I loaded my backpack slower than normal, fighting off crippling fatigue that even a second cup of coffee couldn’t cut through. Shortly after we started hiking, the chills started. I trudged on. 10 miles later, I couldn’t set my tent up fast enough. Nausea made skipping dinner a no-brainer. Those long, miserable hours in my sleeping bag were filled with sweating then freezing and aching in my damp bag as a cold, rainstorm unloaded on us. 

The next morning we continued on our 30-something mile loop deep in the Bitterroots, climbing steeply through cold, wet brush on unmaintained trail into the sub-alpine. I dragged behind but kept going. That night, camped beside a gorgeous off-trail lake, the chills and fever returned and I shivered off to bed without eating much. After another long, fitful night, I woke surprisingly energized. The thought of being done pressed me down the trail. Back at home, I collapsed in bed.   

I was pretty sure I knew what I had before dragging myself to urgent care in the morning. The tests were quick, and the COVID test wasn’t the deep nasal kind I’d heard about. The next two days, as I waited for results, were a blur. The COVID test came back first. Negative. I was relieved and then not surprised by my giardia diagnosis the following day. By then my wife, Shallan, had also developed symptoms. We had been drinking out of a lot of rustic campground water faucets over the summer and must have picked up the bug somewhere. I’ve had giardia three times in my life and can say it’s worth avoiding, but I’ll take a few weeks of feeling like hell any day over the suffering some COVID patients and their families have gone through. 

Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains. // Photo: Derrick Knowles

The past nine months have been an unprecedented economic and emotional ordeal, but at least huge numbers of us have enjoyed warm days outside as a refuge from the strangeness and strain of daily pandemic living. Winter is coming, though, other than the positive La Nina forecast for winter sports fans, things don’t look good. Virus cases are spiking in most states, hospitals are beginning to fill up again in places, and the grand finale of an unusually tense and potentially explosive election will go down days from the time I’m writing this.  

It’s all a bit much and anxiety and depression seem to be rampant. Fortunately, one of the most proven things to help and a safe pandemic-era activity as well is time spent outdoors. If you’re a regular Out There reader, you probably don’t give up on the outdoors when the cold weather sets in, but many people do. During these difficult next few months, when we will need community and connection with others and the outdoors like never before, do your part to encourage those who need it most to get outside and move, even if it is cold out. We will need those big sparkling winter skies, that crisp clean air, and each other more than ever. 

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