Screen Time

These are some strange times we live in. Despite only being a quarter of the way through 2020, this is likely to be the statement of the year. COVID-19 as we have all learned is a highly contagious virus that has all but brought the world to a standstill. Health experts say that one of the best courses of action to combat the rapid spread of the virus is to stay home. For active types such as myself this has been a serious shift in mindset and calendar. Like most I enjoy a lazy Sunday hunkered down with an endless pot of coffee and a book, but any more than that (perhaps due to the quantity of coffee consumed) and I start to get antsy.  

Thankfully we live in a technological age that is well suited for the requirements of the social distancing lifestyle. Personally, I’ve found all this technology to be a double edge sword. Sure, I would much rather be shut in these days trying to decide between Tiger King or Ozark (both, you’re right) then back in the ‘80s when we were beholden to the TVguide and sitcom re-runs. But I can only take so much glow of the electronic devices. Like right now, as I write this I have my desktop, a laptop, and my phone right next to me in the same room as the Roku enabled TV – not currently on.  

Honestly there isn’t that much difference staring at a screen for 40 hours a week at the office versus the same thing at home. Well, the cloths and office furniture are more comfortable, and the coffee is way better. The biggest difference though is the beloved weekend. What is normally a spring calendar full of races, travel, and outdoor adventures has been wiped clean and replaced with more home projects, more movie streaming, and…why not? another beer, please. I fully realize this is a pretty privileged and trivial problem in the larger context of the world right now, but it is a pretty dramatic departure from the norm and for me personally one that’s been messing with my head. 

The issue really is that the stay-at-home order has caused a consolidation of outdoor activity. Combined with temptations of warmer weather and the local trails and rivers have begun looking like ant farms. Really the opposite of what we’re hoping to achieve and not my favorite conditions for enjoying solitude. So this last Sunday with an increasing urge to get out and low motivation to navigate the masses, Dana and I decided to take our quarantine on the road. I know what you’re thinking – but Neil, they say you should stay in place. True, however my parameters for this drive were to stay relatively local and not require interaction with people or essential services (see gas stations and diners).  

Glowing laptop in hand I looked east of town, scrolling along the map line delineating Blacks Creek Road. To date, neither Dana or I had spent any time in this area and I knew it only as a popular moto/atv destination in the Danskin mountains. Moving farther along the map, I saw the road winding its way out to the South Fork of the Boise River. Normally a popular fishing destination, I knew that the river would be closed through April affording us an opportunity to check out the canyon without constantly dodging RVs and boat trailers. The drive seemed to fit the bill – new location, interesting scenery, close to town. 

Camera and snacks packed, we hopped in the truck and headed east along the highway for 15 minutes to the Blacks Creek Road exist. Off the highway our eyes began scanning the landscape taking in the new scenery – rolling hills of high sage, a few farms and ranches, and the occasional candidate site for a meth lab. Pavement gave way to hard packed dirt as we drove higher into the hills. We passed by several trailheads full of trailers, bikes, and UTVs enjoying the sunshine and dry trail conditions of this popular off-road area. In the distance the snow-capped summits of the distant Soldier and Smoky mountains peaked out between the light green hills. Around one last bend and we began a steep climb to the high volcanic bluffs above the South Fork. 

Once on the plateau the real treat began as the road wound its way along the rim providing equally spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and bluffs with the deep basalt canyon below. We made multiple stops to check out hundred-foot waterfalls, a safer option than rubber necking around steep one lane switchbacks. Around one bend we passed by a working ranch complete with irrigated pasture, wondering how many years of hard work went into scratching out adequate pastures from the basalt and sage filled landscape. Watching the road disappear around another bend I asked Dana- keep going? Looking over I could see the eager curiosity in her eyes wanting to know just as much as I did what lay ahead. Sure! was the reply and onward we went. 

As we climbed over a small pass, the basalt canyons gave way to a high valley and signs of civilization. We passed several private lanes and seasonal cabins, coming to the crossroad hamlet of Praire, which consisted of a stop sign, a general store/gas station, and adjoining “motor-court”. Our wandering itch scratched and our bellies reminding us that we were coming up on supper time, we decided this little outpost was a good turning point. The sign indicated we were about equal distance from an out and back to a loop through Mountain Home. Despite the seeming remoteness of our current location we were less than 50 miles from home in either direction. We opted for the out and back as there were several spots we wanted to stop at and see from a different point of view. Swapping driver and passenger seats we made our way back from whence we came.  

Descending off the plateau and past the trailheads we recounted our favorite spots and the disbelief that a place so wide open was so close to home. Equally impressive was the fact that neither of us had explored the area before. Usually time behind the wheel is a utilitarian endeavor intended for the purpose of reaching a destination, be it a camping trip or running race. However, with the severity of the current state and the need hunker down many of our usual activities were off the table, leading to a massive increase in screen time. Though the Sunday drive was for the most part us isolating inside spending yet more time sitting on our butts, I’ll take this kind of screen time any day. 

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