Why Stay Off the Trails

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EOTB has been keeping our membership informed about what we are doing, but we haven’t really articulated why. The focus of this post is to look beyond the formal regulations and consider other factors.

Click here for details regarding our response and schedule changes.

We’re not going to get into a legal debate on how the Ontario Declaration of Emergency applies to off-roading. While it may be possible to go off-roading while complying with the letter of the laws enacted by the declaration, that isn’t the only consideration.

Let’s start by considering the recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada¬†and consider how they apply in the context of off-roading.

What does physical distancing mean?

According to the Public Health Agency, this means making changes to your everyday routines in order to minimize close contact with others including:

Avoiding crowded places and gatherings

While in general, our trails can seem to be wide open spaces rather than crowded place, we are generally confined to a narrow path and we usually frequent them in groups also known as gatherings. It is also common to run into other groups along the way. We have a limited number of trails available, and they’re bound to get busy if everyone starts heading out.

Avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes

I think it’s reasonable to assume we can forego handshakes.

Limiting contact with people at higher risk

Those people at higher risk, should know to stay home, assuming they are aware of their elevated risk. This means relying on everyone to use good judgement.

Keeping a distance of at least 2 arms length from others, as much as possible

In terms of maintaining 2m distance, we spend a good part of the day in our own vehicles, so it seems reasonable. Except when we do the driver’s meeting, when we’re spotting each other through obstacles, or performing an extraction. And I almost forgot: If a vehicle breaks down or someone is injured (more on this later).

This also would mean no borrowing tools, air compressors, tire gauges or extraction gear. BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything).

Here’s how you can practise physical distancing

We’ve left off a few suggestions from the original list, as they’re not contextually relevant. You can view the full list here.

Greet with a wave instead of a handshake, kiss or a hug.

Most of us are Jeep owners, which means we’ve got the waving thing down pat. Next question.

Stay home as much as possible, including for meals and entertainment

Unless you live in a hermit cottage somewhere along the trail, heading to the trail is in direct contradiction with this recommendation.

Conduct virtual meetings

The club has begun making good use of virtual meetings. We’ve conducted board meetings, trail leader training, and even a virtual wing night. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out how to hold virtual trail runs. We’ve found it difficult to keep mud off the camera.

Injuries and other worst case scenarios

Injuries on the trail are rare, but not unheard of. In normal times, stabilizing an injured person and calling emergency services would be stressful enough. Right now, though, there are other potential stressors:

  1. While on the trail, there is always the possibility of an injury occurring at the same time as a localized outbreak in the same region served by the people we are calling. The extra load on emergency services may delay or prevent them from responding.
  2. Staying home and staying safe at home helps reduce the load on emergency services and makes them closer at hand if nearby victims who may be suffering from apoxia, or difficulty breathing, or systemic inflammation, or all three need their assistance.
  3. The presentation and progress of Covid-19 is unusual, in that infected persons can function near normally for long periods and suddenly collapse, either because they cannot breathe or because of hypoxia or apoxia. Even after weeks of social distancing, someone could come on a trail run with a mild case that goes full bore in the woods. If someone cannot breathe at home, they are far more likely to be reached by emergency services than someone out on the trail.

Perception

Putting aside the real and perceived risks outlined above, we also have to consider how the general public and public officials perceive our sport. There is a perception that we are yahoos that head out on the trail, digging up the earth and cutting down forests. That perception may not be fair, but it exists and unfortunately, there are a handful of people that do not practice responsible off-roading practices and we all wear that stigma.

We don’t need to take any actions that are going to lend credibility to that false negative image.

The Bottom Line

We don’t want to come across as pessimistic or doomsayers, but these possibilities exist and are higher than they were “before”. We know that Emergency Services are being strained near our trails. Regional health units have reported localized outbreaks in Smith Falls, Perth, Carleton Place, Almonte, Renfrew and Arnprior.

When evaluating risk, one guesstimates the impact of an event (how serious is it if someone cannot breathe, e.g.) and weights that with the likelihood (how likely is it that a driver or passenger will collapse from apoxia, e.g.). Under normal circumstances, that likelihood is very low, so the overall risk is low, even if the impact is high. Right now, though, we don’t know what the likelihoods are – this is a new disease and it is still surprising the researchers that make it their focus.

All in all, we feel that it is sensible and prudent club policy to put the season on hold until this pandemic is either resolved or at least better understood, with appropriate public policy in place.

We hope you understand.