The coronavirus has drastically changed the evaluation of risk for the solo adventurer

I hesitate to admit to some of the outdoor adventures that I have pursued alone. By admitting to them I fear misunderstanding and judgement will follow from those who would say that I took an unacceptable risk going solo. I take exception to that.

Now, mantras of late such as “do it alone for now, do it together later” tend to encourage going it alone. But it gets more confusing from there.

New paradigm of consequences
solo hiker
A solo hiker explores rock formations near Moab, Utah.Robert Stump

Solo adventure used to be about managing one’s own destiny. Risk calculations were central to the adventurer. The likelihood of bad things happening often decreases when doing things solo, although the consequences can be far more extreme. An entire science exists behind risk management and how people, in groups or solo, play into it with all their related human factors.

The avid solo adventurer develops an acute awareness of risk and consequences. For some, the rewards of solo adventure outweigh the consequences of being hurt or dying alone in the wilderness. People sometimes find it difficult to comprehend the fulfilment a soloist can get from accomplishing something risky. That a higher level of risk is not only acceptable, but desirable, to the solo adventurer.

Risk versus reward
solo bikepacker
A solo bikepacker rides Engineer Pass north of Silverton, Colorado.

The acceptance of higher risk for the solo adventurer often stems from selfish reasons. It’s easy to be selfish about the risk, since most of the risk is on the soloist anyway. A soloist comes to find a personal balance of risk versus reward, factoring in whomever else might be impacted.

The simple, undeniable fact is that while risk can be mitigated it can never be eliminated. Solo adventurers know this as well if not better than anyone. I would argue that, through the solo experience, adventurers gain the ability to fine-tune the matrix of likelihood and consequences to arrive at an acceptable level of risk. A risk that seems much higher than if it were considered in another context. We get it wrong sometimes, whether alone or not − we are, after all, human.

Everything has changed
solo runner
A solo runner traverses the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado.Robert Stump

However, now with coronavirus on the scene, everything has changed with evaluating risk.

I would have been watching the SNOTEL curves around this time, looking for isothermal conditions and the opportunity to ski prime spring corn on a stable snowpack. Some of us may have been watching the curve in river flows, looking for that peak of optimal boating conditions. Maybe we would have been watching the temperature trends, looking for the optimal time to get out to bike in the desert.

Now, we are all watching a different curve, looking for the peak that might signal that the worst of the Coronavirus is behind us.

The new normal
solo backpacker
A solo backpacker explores the West Needle Mountains in Colorado.Robert Stump

Social distancing has become the norm. Social isolation is the single most effective defense against the risk of spreading COVID-19. Somebody might think that little has changed for the person who usually goes it alone anyway.

Sadly, that is not the case.

The consequences of any action now in some way involves everyone, even when alone. Even minimal involvement of a rescue effort or a medical treatment detracts from a response that is desperately needed for victims of the pandemic. Travel beyond one’s local area increases the risk of spreading the virus. We have little individual power to manage the risk posed by the virus except to reduce the likelihood of contracting and spreading it. Any action taken alone must now consider everyone else on a higher level.

While COVID-19 pushes us apart, it also pushes us together

Solo adventure was a selfish adventure, and now it is a group adventure, too. The risk evaluation for going it solo must now be considered in more of a group context.

Because it is the responsible thing to do, solo adventurers must now realize a much lower level of acceptable risk. With the entire planet involved, the consequences are higher than ever.

Sure, while in the field adventuring solo certainly reduces the likelihood of spreading the virus. However, aside from the consequences of a solo mishap, the simple act of stopping to fuel the van can increase the risk of contact with the contagion.

A New Learning Curve
solo photographer
A solo photographer turns his lens to Engineer Mountain in Colorado.Robert Stump

The avid solo adventurer accustomed to managing a higher level of risk must think beyond one’s self and consider others. The balance of the needs of the many against personal fulfillment changes daily with the evolution of COVID-19. The curves we’ve become accustomed to watching for opportunities to adventure now include a learning curve – learning how to live with this virus.

The new normal makes our usual adventures anything but normal. The concept of solo adventure is forever changed. Perhaps there is no such thing as solo adventure anymore, unless you live in the middle of nowhere and no aspect of your life, whatsoever, has any influence on another’s life. For everyone else, the risk matrix is changed, and we are all in it together, solo or not.

ROBERT STUMP is an outdoor enthusiast, photographer, writer, and a proponent of solo adventuring whenever possible.