Pandemic tips for your favorite forms of Bend outdoor play
If there’s one thing the pandemic hammered home, it’s how scrumptious fresh air can be.
Folks who once claimed couch potato thrones found freedom on trails and bike paths, while companies peddling outdoor gear saw record surges in demand.
While COVID got people playing outside, that doesn’t mean anything goes in the great outdoors. From minimizing your environmental footprint to following statewide travel advisories, it’s on all of us to do our part to protect ourselves, each other, and our wild places.
Here are a few tips for doing that whether you’re strapping on skis or a bike helmet.
Even before COVID hit, hiking was one of the most popular Bend activities (not to mention one of the most visited pages on Visit Bend’s website).
The basics are still the same: Pack plenty of water, dog doo bags if needed, and the rest of the ten essentials before you head out. These days, it’s smart to add extra hand sanitizer and a mask for moments you might pass someone closely on the trails.
That’s especially important if you’re someplace like Pilot Butte State Park where the first section of trail is too narrow to safely keep six feet of distance from those huffing up the hill. Signs direct you to mask up, so keep one in your pocket and swap a friendly wave for your usual smile as you pass other hikers.
Bend Parks and Rec took extra steps at the start of the pandemic to widen trails in some of Bend’s most popular parks. Watch for those sweet little side paths in spots like Pine Nursery and Juniper Park, and use the extra room to keep a safe bit of space between you and someone strolling at a different speed.
Most high-elevation hikes are still too snowy this time of year, which means many of us are making do with low-elevation trails. Check out this roundup featuring some of my favorite winter hikes, and consider going earlier in the day when there’s less traffic on the trails.
As you might imagine, a parks and rec district conscientious enough to widen park trails in pandemic times is also super-cautious about ice skating at The Pavilion.
Central Oregon’s only NHL-sized ice sheet hosts hockey, skate lessons, and public skate sessions, but use is more limited during COVID.
For starters, public skate sessions are by reservation only—no drop-ins allowed. Plan ahead if you hope to hit the ice on a weekend, since those slots fill up fast. Even spectators need reservations, since space is more limited in seating areas, too.
Face coverings are required at all times, and both skaters and spectators are asked to maintain six feet of distance from others.
Groups are limited to six people from two households, and the locker rooms and changing areas aren’t available (though don’t worry—restrooms are still open, so no need to don diapers before your skate date).
Rental skates are still available, but helmets and skate assists aren’t. If you want to protect your noggin, bring a helmet from home. Since food and beverage service is temporarily unavailable, you’ll also want to bring your own water bottle.
More questions? Odds are good they’re answered in the FAQ section. And keep an eye on the Pavilion schedule, since they’ll switch to ice-free activities at that point.
I’m not saying there’s a psychic on the team that dreamed up the Cascades Gravel Scenic Bikeway, but there’s something uncanny about a system of socially distanced bike trails launching shortly before COVID hit.
Gravel cycling combines both road and mountain biking with awesome views, less traffic, and routes along unpaved roads. Perfect for pandemic times!
Oregon’s first gravel scenic bikeway includes six different routes ranging from shorter, flatter, beginner-level rides, to more technical or longer gravel and mixed-surface rides. Visit Bend partnered with Dirty Freehub to create a collection of maps, cue sheets, and ride descriptions to help you explore some of the area’s less traveled trails by bike. Some even permit eBikes, and the fact that you’re biking on wide, seldom-used Forest Service roads means you’ll have plenty of wide open space to yourself.
Check out the Cascades Gravel Scenic Bikeway page to learn more about the routes and what sort of equipment you’ll need (hint: if it has two tires, you’re probably good, since gravel cycling can be done with a road or mountain bike).
Okay, so what if peddling around the neighborhood with the kids is more your speed? Be mindful about heading out at peak times, and leave plenty of space between your family and others out enjoying warm spring weather. For a brush up on cycling tips for roads, trails, and more, check out this post.
As far as COVID safety goes, packing hand sanitizer and a mask is a smart move. You never know when you’ll need another cyclist’s assistance with a flat tire or when a trail might narrow to bring you in close proximity with other riders.
Be mindful of the fact that springtime can bring extra moisture, so steer clear of mountain bike trails if things are even slightly muddy. You don’t want to be the jerk who leaves a path of ruts that’ll jar other cyclists through next Christmas. Don’t ride off trail, either, though it’s okay to step carefully aside when bikes or hikers are coming at you.
Things look a lot different this season at Central Oregon’s ski resorts, though there’s still plenty of winter fun to be had.
Mt. Bachelor made the call to shift to a reservation-based system for parking. Availability is limited, and if you don’t have parking reserved ahead of time, you’ll be turned away.
One upside of having boards strapped to your feet is that physical distancing happens naturally in lift lines. That said, you’ll notice extra precautions like increased signage and extended maze designs to keep lift lines safe. Guests are asked to self-group to load chairlifts with their traveling party, and no one will be asked to ride a chairlift with someone they don’t know.
Masks are required not only in lift lines and when loading or exiting a lift, but also in parking lots, base areas, ticket and rental lines, and indoors except while seated to eat or drink.
Speaking of food, guests are encouraged to base themselves out of their personal vehicles with picnic lunches or takeout meals. There are several food carts at West Village and Sunrise base areas, as well as some outdoor dining. For more info on pandemic protocols at Mt. Bachelor, check out this page.
Over at Hoodoo, the smaller scale of operations makes for slightly simpler COVID protocols. Face coverings are required in any shared space when you’re within six feet of another person. That includes lines for lift tickets, rentals, or food and beverage. A face covering needs to be an actual mask or buff, so no, you can’t just hold your coat sleeve over your face and call it good.
There are no parking limits, though on rare days they reach capacity at Hoodoo, you might be asked to wait in your vehicle while they track down a spot for you.
The lodge is off-limits except to employees, though you can buy food and drinks at walk-up windows. Just like at Bachelor, folks are encouraged to use personal vehicles as staging areas for meals and clothing changes. For more details, visit their COVID pages.
Oh, and no matter where you’re skiing or boarding, it’s smart to have a good pair of well-fitted goggles to avoid fogging when you’ve got your buff or mask pulled up over your nose.
As I researched this section of the blog post, I came across more references to “snot rockets” than I ever cared to see. You’re welcome for that visual.
While the outdoors offer ample space and fresh air to keep your COVID risk low, flying spit and snot does boost the risk factor a bit. Take care to keep your distance from others, and avoid running in groups. For an extra precaution, time your runs for off-peak times like early morning or late evening.
While most science shows face coverings aren’t super-helpful in situations where they’ll just end up soaked by exhalations or sweat, keep one handy for emergency situations or moments you might have to swing by a store for a drink.
Stay home if you feel sick or show any symptoms of COVID infection. This goes without saying for all outdoorsy pursuits, but especially ones involving heavy breathing or the aforementioned snot rockets.
For tips on trail running around Bend, including some of the top spots to try it, go here.
Uh….I’ve got nothing. Mix it with sanitizer, maybe?
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