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Up The Road: Heading Up The Road Again. Responsibly

Jason Hullinger

I thought I knew something about responsible travel. I’ve thought a lot about it over the years, and have tried to put those thoughts into practice. You know the gist. Avoid travel’s dark side as much as possible, the big-carbon impacts of air travel and cruise-ship tourism. The destruction of rare places, and their plants and animals. The thoughtless use or overuse of natural resources.

The corruption of other cultures. And make changes, like choosing responsible travel companies—locally owned, so your money supports the community. Choose less destructive activities and adventures. Travel lightly. Leave a small footprint.

But here we are, suddenly, in an entirely new world—the old, tired one we were trying to protect transformed by the coronavirus and its unpredictable ways. Massive infection or death for those most vulnerable, but barely a sniffle—if that—among those who always imagine themselves to be immortal, the young, who, sadly, can easily spread this deadly virus to others.

So, what is responsible travel, in the age of COVID-19? When just going to the store is a matter of life and death for someone?

Obviously, our own behavior—whether or not we wear masks, wash our hands, and manage to keep what we now call a safe “social distance” from others—has everything to do with our own health, and the health of people around us. Family and friends and absolute strangers.

Credit Lassen Volcanic National Park
Responsibility is harder on hiking trails, where we put on our masks when needed and drop them again like hot potatoes as soon as we pass each other.

In this new, unnerving world—where, for shocking numbers of people, still, basic social responsibility is trumped by the minor inconvenience of wearing a face mask—true leaders show us the way.

Barbara Jordan, who was an impressive Congresswoman from Texas, and Civil Rights leader, left many breadcrumbs behind to help mark the path. Here’s just one: “A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good,” she said.

Winston Churchill said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.”

Viktor Frankl survived Nazi death camps. His classic book on human suffering and endurance, Man’s Search for Meaning, is always a good read. Frankl once said: “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility . . . .”

What does any of that mean, though, when it comes to travel in the time of coronavirus?

We’re still trying to figure that out. That was obvious when I spent a few days at Almanor and Lassen. Responsibility was easy, sitting far apart on a log at the edge of the lake, late at night, looking up at Comet Neowise. But harder during the day, on Lassen trails. Still, without being told what to do, or how, most of us hikers kept a proper distance. We put on our masks when needed, dropping them again like hot potatoes as soon as we passed each other. And even managed polite, if distanced, small talk. Yep. We’re figuring it out.

I like the way Bob Dylan put it. “I think of a hero,” he said, “as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” So, let’s be heroes. Let’s continue to be each other’s heroes.


PC #1: Shot of Comet Neowise; photo credit and Flickr license link to Jason Hullinger

PC #2: On the trail to Brokeoff at Lassen; photo courtesy Lassen Volcanic National Park

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.