GetOut! (But pick the right time to go)

The weekend is almost upon us. Not something that normally needs pointing out on a Friday, but then these aren’t normal times. But one thing does remain oddly normal: the natural world. And this weekend’s forecast lives up to the adage for the just-ended month of March: In like a lion, out like a lamb. On the weekend horizon, sunny skies, temperatures around 70, and spring thrumming along as usual.

And therein lies something of a conundrum in these days of sheltering in place. We are required to stay home, with certain exceptions, one of which is exercise. So it’s OK to get out, as long as you do so and keep your distance from your fellow humans, that distance being a minimum of 6 feet. It’s also good to go where you’re least likely to find crowds of people (thus violating the gang of 10 rule). And to not go far from home. With more and more people seeking relief in the outdoors, especially with good weather, that’s been a problem, with more and more trails being closed (see Wednesday’s post here).

Thus, for the last couple weeks, we have altered our focus from exploring the region at large to exploring the region that is your neighborhood. In fact, we’re working on a guide to Exploring Your Neighborhood, which we hoped to have available today but won’t be available until Monday. It will include some information that’s appeared in this space. All of it is geared toward helping you maintain your physical and mental health by giving you some guidance for exploring what’s within walking distance of your front door.

Today, we share a chapter from the guide on the best times to get out and explore while avoiding your neighbors.

When’s the best time to be out (and avoid the neighbors)?

“When’s the best time to be out (and avoid the neighbors)” — it sounds so … uncivil.  And yet, your neighbors will thank you for it.

The best time to get out is always a consideration, pandemics aside. Now that keeping clear of others is essential, it’s the paramount consideration. Some thoughts on getting out and exploring your neighborhood during these days of social distancing.

Early morning. Mornings, especially during the work week, are typically a busy time to be out, with strollers, joggers, dog walkers and others getting their workout in before work. Now, with not many of us working, there’s not as much incentive to get up early (at least there won’t be until the days begin heating up). Thus, morning is now the prime time to be outside. Advantages:

  • Fewer people, as discussed above
  • Cooler. Shortly after sunrise is typically the coolest part of the day
  • The friendliest time of day for allergy sufferers. Pollen levels are their lowest at dawn
  • You’re assured of getting at least one workout a day if you go early

If you’re not used to being up first thing, take heart. The recent switch to Daylight Saving Times means you aren’t getting up as early as you would at other times of the year. Sunrise in Raleigh, N.C., is at 6:58 a.m. on April 1, 6:21 a.m. on May 1, and at 5:59 on June 1. Keep in mind that twilight begins about a half hour before sunrise, so you’ll have sufficient light well before official sunup.

Safety: If you go out early, wear reflective clothing so you’re easier to see by any passing cars. If you’re worried about being out when few others are, stick to more populated areas; if you get into trouble, you’re more likely to get help.

Night. As the days get warmer late evening into night becomes a more popular options. A few thoughts on being out at night.

The world changes at night. Frogs, crickets, owls and other small critters fill the night with a cacophony of soothing sound that make you realize not all of the world is out of kilter. No wonder so many relaxation tapes rely on the sounds of the dark to help you take the edge off. A few things to consider walking at night: 

  • Stick to well-lit locations. For safety reasons, it’s better that you be visible.
  • Take a headlamp or flashlight. Even if your path is well-lit, you will run into dark spots; you’ll be glad you’ve got the extra illumination. Outdoor GearLab gives its recommendations for the best headlamps here. Keep in mind that these recommendations are for hikers and backpackers, and a key consideration is weight; a lightweight headlamp will cost more. That said, their Best Headlamp for General Purpose Use was less than $15. You don’t need a headlamp that can light up a football stadium. 
  • Walk facing traffic. Especially if you’re walking on the side of a road, and even if you’re on a sidewalk. If a driver you’re sharing the road with gets distracted and veers from his lane, you’ll be able to see and react. This said …
  • Avoid walking along a road with no sidewalk. Even in a quiet neighborhood, walking on the road leaves you exposed.
  • Keep your focus within the next 15 feet. While moving, your eyes should be on what’s coming up immediately.

In the rain. How’s that? you ask. Walk in the rain? Yup, in the rain. For one, you obviously won’t run into many folks out exploring in the rain. And that’s only because they aren’t equipped to do so. Now, rain gear can be expensive: a good Goretex rain coat can cost $350 or more, rain pants likewise. And such gear might be necessary if you’re backpacking across Columbia or Papua New Guinea. But if you’re just going out in your neighborhood for a half hour or so, a lightweight poncho, or inexpensive (around $20) Frog Toggs will do.

And why walk in the rain? As we mentioned, you’ll be alone. But there’s also an intimate connection to be forged with the outdoor world in the cozy confines of a light rain. Your world is reduced to your immediate surroundings. Fewer distracting noises penetrate the gentle thrumming of the rain. Your world is visually reduced, forcing you to focus on what’s immediately around you. Basically, it’s just you in your rain bubble. 

And isn’t that the perfect place to be right now?

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