Tom Kelly: Searching for adventure
My wife Carole and I walked down what I call the pioneer road, just a set of seeming wagon tracks through the sagebrush up a small bluff behind our Silver Creek home. A herd of two dozen elk had come to visit while out in the distance the clouds danced along the ridgeline.
The noise of I-80 was ever-present, a welcoming sound now of transcontinental semi trucks keeping our supply chains alive. Down below was a neighbor walking his dog. A few more came bounding through the sage to greet us.
Just a week earlier I had quickly moved past my sadness of the lifts stopping to think ahead to our next spring adventure. For those who know us, we don’t sit around much. I’m usually up on the mountain skiing, planning a hike or loading the family into one of the Jeeps for the Moab desert.
So when the resorts closed, I immediately began my Airbnb search for a trip to Torrey or Escalante. I fantasized about a Jeep ride through Waterpocket Fold to the Burr Trail, or hiking the Zebra slot canyon off Hole in the Rock Road. I even took our 2002 Jeep Wrangler in for a new transmission and clutch to be sure we were ready to take the grandkids to Easter Jeep Safari in Moab.
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One afternoon I did some cleanup in the garage, strapping up a half-dozen pairs of Rossignol alpine skis but leaving my lightweight Atomic touring setup out and ready. There were still lots of days left in the backcountry.
That all changed for me over the next few days.
I first listened to the comments — no, heartfelt pleas, actually — of Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus as she sought to protect her town. It was one thing for Summit County to impose restrictions at the end of our biggest tourist season. She was doing it at the front end. It resonated with me and I felt a little selfish for wanting to invade others’ space for my own personal recreating.
The Easter Jeep Safari was canceled for the first time in 53 years. Organizers cited the closure of hotels and restaurants by Moab and Grand County, instead of what might have been the more socially appropriate concern for participants’ own health and welfare.
Then a friend of mine with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance talked to me about the challenges of climbers congegrating at climbing crags. #EmptytheCrags became a mantra to get climbers to understand the need to stay away right now. Yet, they still came.
]Park City’s famed alpine mountaineer Caroline Gleich, a formidable voice in the backcountry space, took to her blog to talk about backcountry skiing in a coronavirus world. A sheriff of one county in neighboring Colorado outright banned all backcountry activity for fear it would tax their meager search/rescue and medical resources during a time they needed to be focused on coronavirus.
We all saw vivid images of crowded beaches in Florida and California and wondered why people seemed so unconcerned. Our own beach story played out on Guardsman Pass and in the Cottonwood Canyons, as hundreds of cars streamed up to backcountry access points last weekend.
I am an adventurer. I love challenges. I love to travel. I love being out in the great wide open with no one around. There are plenty of ways to still do that now. But what struck me most this week was not that I couldn’t do that. But what was the right way to do it?
If you’re thinking about that innocuous trip to someone else’s small town without sufficient medical support in the desert, well, maybe think twice. If you do decide to venture into the backcountry for exercise and adventure, think about the impact you could have on strained medical resources if you get hurt. Stay within your ability level.
So, for me right now, my adventure is a late afternoon hike down to the barn and along the pioneer road. It’s an opportunity to take a walk with my wife and sometimes our granddaughter’s pug, Ollie. It’s saying hi to neighbors doing the same thing.
I’m sure at some point I’ll strap on the skins for a safe and simple journey, or hop into the snowshoes for an easy sojourn through the woods. Maybe we’ll take the Jeep for a simple day trip around Summit County or to the remote West Desert.
Over the course of our coming weeks or months, we’ll find ways to enjoy our environment. But just give it all some thought before you embark on your adventure. Make sure it’s right for others.
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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With ski season over, Tom Kelly signs off for now. “Like a ride up a chairlift,” he writes, “I hope that you’ve enjoyed your conversation with me this season.”