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Getting Nature Therapy During Uncertain Times, by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

March 25, 2020 5 min read

Getting Nature Therapy During Uncertain Times, by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

Cherry trees are in full bloom these days in Portland, OR, photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

It’s been a crazy few weeks here in the world and especially the US, and for us nature lovers who prefer to spend their time outside exploring the world being on a stay at home order only compounds the issue.  Currently, in Oregon, we have statewide “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in place, but it does allow us to go outside to get some exercise as long as we practice proper social distancing protocols, however, last weekend we had 60+ degree temps and every trailhead, beach and outdoor recreation area was flooded with people, as a result even local trails, trailheads, and state lands are now being shut down to access to protect people.  Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to practice social distancing on a trial that is only wide enough for one person and is crowded with 100’s of hikers and trail runners.

 With all this, I personally know that I need to have an escape with some hiking to not only help me stay in shape for backpacking trips later this year when it’s safe to do so but also to have that much-needed nature therapy to help manage the stress of these times.  Over the past 5 years, I have joined my good friend Liz “Snorkel” Thomas on parts of her urban thru-hikes around various cities of the US.  After those trips, I started to develop my own urban day hikes that start right out my front door, and I wanted to share my favorite local hike with you and help you figure out a plan to get some allowable hiking in yourself right now.

 

Enjoying the sunset in Denver on the Denver Urban Brew-Thru back in March of 2017, photo by Steven "Twinkle" Shattuck

The first thing to remember is you need to shift your paradigm of what to expect on the hike.  No you will not be out in the wilderness but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fulfilling experience and even get your nature fix. Get in the mindset of appreciating the little things, these could be cool trees in the neighborhood, the first spring flowers popping up, funny house displays, or even a cool historical site you never noticed before.   

 

This historical marker by my house goes unnoticed by most as they drive by, however, it is a significant spot in the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa, the ancestral land of the Cowlitz and Clackamas

Now that you have shifted your mindset it’s time to plan a route before you go.  I use Gaia GPS to do this but whatever your favorite app or even a good old fashion map you prefer to use will do.  I suggest laying out a route that will avoid people, for instance I know if I cut through my neighborhood that in 2/3 of a mile I can drop down a bluff and walk along the Willamette River for a few miles and at most I might encounter 1 or 2 other people along my route.  The route I use also has a blend of some urban hiking through the neighborhood and some natural areas along the river, well not totally natural as I do walk along the railroad corridor in my part of town, but it is a nice blend of resources and I am making the most of what is available at this time.

 

A screenshot of the last two urban day hikes I have done in my neighborhood, photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

Once you have your route mapped out, it’s time to get a few items together in your pack and then lace up those shoes and get out the door.  My typical urban day pack consists of the following items:

 

 

Urban day hiking essentials, just enough to deal with spring weather while also making sure to stay hydrated, Photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

After a few weeks of hiking variations of my route, I will build up my strength by shifting from a day pack to a full backpacking kit.  The reason for this is to help build strength in my body and to get used to carrying a pack again, bonus whenever my pack is on my back I can let my mind wander to all the amazing places I have hiked through over the years.

 

Urban Wildlife and Urban Mountain Views along the NoPo Water Tank Route, photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

I like to track my hike using my GPS app to see how fast I am going, how much elevation I have gained, etc…I make a game of this throughout the week to see if I can increase my speed on a hike, how I can add more elevation by shifting the route, or if there are areas I could explore the next day.

 

One of the more interesting gnarled trees in my area, photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

On my hike the other day I took time to appreciate the cherry blossoms in my area, gazed at very unique trees in the neighborhood, laughed at some house displays, and mostly just took time to turn off my brain and enjoy the birds as they sang along the river during my hike.  Make sure while you are out there urban day hiking to give other users plenty of space when you encounter them to practice proper social distancing.

NoPo ship years as viewed along the hike, photo by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa 

I hope that you can all find the joy of exploring right outside your own front door, for the time being, there is a lot to see if you take the time to enjoy the world at human speed.  Stay safe, stay healthy and know that the wild areas we love to explore will still be there for us when the time comes to be back out there.

 

Here are some photos of fun things seen along the hike, all photos by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

Rail Road Tracks are the gateway to nature along this hike

Nature pockets along the hike, over the years I have seen Bald Eagles and Coyotes in this area

We miss you too!!! I could really use a beer at a local watering hole right now

A resting place for weary walkers, given the guidelines I avoided taking a seat here

As they say, "Keep Portland Weird"

Has there ever been a more timely message on a yard sign?