2020: COVID, disappointment, and giving fewer f****

My statements have only been based on my experiences. They are facts. – Person on an outdoor forum 

.  .  . 

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.  -Carl Sagan, Wonder and Skepticism 

A bald guy from Italy ranting and using his hands to make a point. Some cultural echoes stay stronger than others..

I had a long screed typed. But decided it’s not worth putting it out there. The angry Italian mayor sums up my feelings well. The dichotomy between a person and their “facts” vs. the reality of traveling also puts my feelings on this subject into sharp relief.

People are irresponsible, often put their personal interests first, and do things as long as it does not inconvenience them.  For every person I think is trying to do the right thing by their personal ethics (truly isolating by driving, caching supplies, self-contained activities), many give lip service to it instead and end up posing photos of themselves hitching into town because they want milkshakes.  Very easy to ignore something inconvenient when your privilege allows you these choices in life.

Taking a vacation does not show your courage. It shows your friggin’ privilege. Try being a nurse, a grocery store worker, or a parcel delivery person instead if you want to show courage and resilience. This certificate is the “participation trophy” that many of the COVID disbelievers often mock.

The lack of leadership in our community among the outdoor participants, so-called influencers, well-known outdoor sites, and even many outdoor organizations is appalling.

Why this lack of leadership?

Because some people think COVID is not an issue, financial interests, or because their wants outweigh others’ needs.    Often outright ignoring suggestions for safe travel, cheering on illegal acts, and celebrating privileged people choosing to take a long-distance vacation over the simple act of staying home and exploring their backyard.

But it ends up being like wrestling with a pig if you raise questions about ethics and challenge this lack of leadership – You both get dirty, and the pig likes it!    

I’m done with pig wrestling in 2021.

Original source unknown

Instead, I’ll be like the ever-patient, joyous, and cheerful Joan. – Celebrating what’s good and focusing on what I can change.

And that means our shared lives.

And that typically means enjoying what’s in our backyard.

And it’s no surprise Joan introduced me to this song that’s a little goofy, joyful, and focusing on the good things in life.


I give fewer f**** about the outdoor community. But certainly not about the important things in my life (family, friends, Joan, and my personal ethics.)

On a similar, if more gentle, note, Joan has some excellent thoughts on how to enjoy your local area.

And with that, time for the year in review.

COVID changed many of our outdoor plans this year for Joan and me. Joan did not complete the PCT this year, and I shelved a planned walk across New England in the fall. We even decided not to do some further afield things such as the Uintas or exploring my old haunts in the Boulder area. The ethical thing for us meant outdoor pursuits within a tank of gas. When it is 100 miles round-trip just for me to do jury duty in our county seat, two-hundred miles one-way is not too far afield.

Years ago, we both decided separately that regular access to the outdoors as a value over higher-paying careers and other paths in life we could have taken. When I showed up on Joan’s doorstep over three years ago on a Utah walk, I did not know our paths would join here in Moab.

And because of these life choices, we are very fortunate this year. Though Moab at peak tourist season itself is slightly reminiscent of where we lived previously (Atlanta, DC, or the Colorado Front Range), it’s a small bubble of traffic in an otherwise wide-open area. We never lacked for places to camp, hike, or backpack away from people.

For partially economic reasons and partially ethical reasons, I picked up an IT gig again.

At one point in the recent past, I started making this “outdoors thing” provide a living of sorts. But, well, COVID changed it.  Local guiding dried up for a bit, classes canceled, and so did potential writing gigs.  I needed a paycheck.    Just as importantly, I don’t think it is ethical to encourage long-distance travel for what amounts of a vacation.  Due to some other choices I made in life, I have a portable skillset that means I never lack for a job.  If I don’t make the money I made in the Boulder-Denver area, my current gig is much more laid back; I don’t work weekends or holidays, and (most importantly) I don’t have any on-call rotations.

Just as I stop wrestling with pigs, I think I’ve become comfortable as a respected outdoors person in a niche community. I don’t particularly appreciate chasing jobs, scrambling for gigs, and playing the influencer game. It’s good being a well-respected session player.   I can pick up an occasional outdoor gig if I want, write what I want, and well, see above about giving fewer f****. 🙂   I’ve been trying to find a balance. At this point in my life, I am very happy and found what works for us.

That means I can do what is most important – get out as much as we can on as many trips as possible and often with Joan. Based on the photo collections, I don’t think 90 bag nights is an improbable number for this past year. And even more for Joan.

I loved my longer walks, but these shorter trips add so much richness to our lives.

So, we kept it local for us.

Among the highlights:

  • Two trips to The Maze. One of the most storied places in the southwest, and a local trip for us.

The scenery, walking old travel paths, and seeing where other cultures lived long before us all being a mix that makes this area so special.

  • The local mountains of the Abajos and the La Sals are places where we enjoyed more of the nooks and crannies that many people don’t see.

  • We went to nearby Colorado and the San Juan mountains in particular.  These mountains are closer to us now than when I lived in Boulder. We could get up there on a Friday by 4 or 5 PM, hike in during the long summer days, and have a full weekend exploring what many consider the most scenic mountains in Colorado.

  • And though the state line divides Colorado and Utah, it is an artificial division of the Colorado Plateau itself. Parts of Colorado on the other side of the plateau often beckon. And make for interesting destinations. And many times less crowded than Moab proper.

We’ll see what happens in 2021. But considering we are leaving for a four-day trip tomorrow fewer than two-hours away, I suspect we’ll see just as many great local trips with nights under the stars, in the canyons, and over the mountains.

The Kia is Dead, Long Live the Tacoma

In other news, the trusty Kia went kaput this year. As someone in the comments suggested, we poured a quart of oil for it.

In northern Nevada

In the summer, we purchased a new-to-us Tacoma, and we expect many years of use of it to get up the rocky roads, and soft sand found all over our high desert home.

And spend more than a few nights in the back before a backpacking trip.

Joan wanted a foam mat for the tailgate. And the “Live, Laugh, Love” one is delightfully cheesy. And good advice for everyone!

This website and other media

I’ve written less this year because I’ve been less motivated to write.  Not that I don’t enjoy it, but I tend to enjoy the think pieces that fewer people read, but I find satisfying.   If I’ve been more prolific, perhaps my numbers would be up, but well, not the main interest in my life at this point.

The most popular of these articles and one that’s barely even in the top twenty of most-viewed articles is my Musings on Backpacking Consumerism.

This is interesting because here are the top 20 articles from this site for 2020 as of 23-Dec-2020:

The Colorado Trail article has more than twice the amount of views vs. the “Musings on Backpacking Consumerism.”

Almost all evergreen content. A mixture of practical, aspirational, and gear oriented. Only the one on blaze orange clothing updated substantially for this past year. And all articles, except for the last one on the list, I wrote before 2020.

The favorite article I wrote this year and the one I am most proud of is how I think outdoor recreation is becoming more and more the province of fewer people due to economics more than anything. Topics I’ve touched upon a lot this year for reasons stated towards the start of this article.

Less on the social aspects but more on the environmental aspects, I wrote a new article about campfires and updated another one on climate change and its impact on outdoor recreation.  We can polish turds, but the climate’s changing. And we need to think about how we’ll proceed with our outdoor recreation going in the years ahead.

Joan’s articles struck a chord with many people. Her one on hiking solo and another for techniques for dealing with Reynaud’s Syndrome seemed particularly well received. Joan’s experienced and unique perspective is one I hope she can share more of in 2021.

Instagram is where I’ve had consistent growth. I love taking photos and writing a little bit about them.  The photos seemed well-received, and I get about equal messaging and inquiries from the Instagram account as I do from this website.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Paul Mags (@pmagsco)

Because of a side project, I started doing some YouTube videos Joan and I share a small home, so the spare bedroom wears many hats as a gear room,  guest bedroom, sewing room,  and a workout room.

Bottom of this list? A recording studio.

Writing and processing photos is something easily done without disrupting our daily routine. Videos? Not-so-much.  But the few I’ve done sparked some interest esp the gear ones.  I’ll probably do some more videos, but they aren’t my main interest. They are work. And I’d instead do other things. 🙂

The one on the cooler is my favorite as it is me being a sarcastic, opinionated bastard. Which is what I am, after all.

And the one on a question I receive sometimes. Much to my chagrin.

Looking ahead?

Our modest home does include an incredible view from the front yard. And that also makes us happy.

Don’t know.

I do know it will involve fewer rants and hopefully just as much outdoor time.  If I can pay my bills, save some money, and get out on weekends with Joan frequently, I am a content person.

If getting outside as much as possible is the goal, I achieved what I want out of life in 2020.  I don’t expect 2021 to be any different.

Happy Trails!

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3 years ago

I have enjoyed all of your articles, including the more opinionated ones. Even if I don’t always agree, they always offer a well thought out perspective that at least makes me pause and think. Have a great 2021 and hi to Joan!

3 years ago

Cheers to a great 2021 for you Paul. And no graduation parties or I’ll send in the cops with a flamethrower.

3 years ago

Lots of good stuff in this post. Thanks.

3 years ago

Joan’s article on solo backpacking gave me the confidence to go out there on my own; so thank you. I have read it many times to keep myself motivated.
Paul- I enjoy your articles as well. Keep writing. I find your honesty refreshing.

3 years ago
Reply to  Linda

Linda, I’m so glad you went out there on your own and that you found my article to be useful! Wonderful!

3 years ago

The conflicts over the recommendation to end thru-hikes of the AT in 2020 have been ugly, causing me to withdraw from Facebook AT groups. I get being upset; I lost a year where I had a reasonable shot at completing my AT section hike. Being past 60, it was a year I couldn’t afford to lose. It was a reasonable recommendation, made by reasonable people in the face of unknowns. The conflict bared an ugly side of our community I wish I hadn’t seen. Also, I share your concern about hiking and backpacking becoming even more limited to the most… Read more »