With the pandemic still running rampant, even the best laid plans for the trip of a lifetime aren’t safe; but there’s hope
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley”. ~Robert Burns
The above quote is taken from the poem “To a Mouse” by the Scotsman Robert Burns. Roughly translated from his native tongue it means the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I can think of no better verse to sum up the past year. The poem reads as an apology letter to a mouse whose home Burns destroys while plowing a field. “To a Mouse,” though, is actually an allegory with the takeaway being that no matter how much planning and effort one puts into meeting an objective, it can be denied without warning.
Like many of you, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed many a plan I had my heart set on completing. One objective in particular stands out for the countless hours of training and preparation put towards accomplishing. Prior to the pandemic, I had been working toward a life-long dream of summiting Washington’s Mount Rainier. To help meet this lofty goal, I recruited the services of Colorado Mountain School, based out of Boulder, Colorado, to learn the critical skills necessary.
Through the tutelage of their guides, I had started ice climbing and mountaineering in and around Rocky Mountain National Park in preparation. With the onset of the pandemic, though, my hard work seemed to evaporate before my eyes as the mountain was shut down and guide services were indefinitely suspended. What followed was overwhelming disappointment and a crushing sense of frustration.
A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that since the pandemic’s onset, depression among adults in the United States has tripled. Experts have attributed this to the many effects of social isolation and restrictions brought on by the pandemic, one aspect of a complex of emotions labelled pandemic fatigue, commonly known as “COVID fatigue.” In my practice of medicine, I have also seen this steady rise in cases of depression through the course of the year.
Depression can manifest itself in various ways, and as medical providers we are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms in our patients. As an individual, though, I tend to have little insight into my own mental well-being, and it took several months to identify these characteristics within myself. Cognitive scientists suggest connecting with people, albeit virtually, who have common goals and setbacks to ease the burden of COVID fatigue.
Joining groups such as the Colorado Mountain Club, whose virtual meetings and lectures connect people with similar interests or aspirations, can help individuals realize they are not alone. Facebook groups are another virtual way to share your experiences and learn from others. One called Training for Alpinism, is a venue for members to connect and discuss in an open forum specific training methods for the demands mountaineering places on our bodies. Finally, reputable YouTube channels, such as the one hosted by the British Mountaineering Council, provide in depth skill training that can be practiced at home or in the surrounding foothills.
Regardless of the aspiration or objective that you have been forced to shelf during the pandemic, it is important to remain connected and keep perspective in check. Looking back at the past year, as we now have both feet firmly planted in 2021, I realize there is much to be grateful for. I am married to a wonderful person who stands by me through all my hair-brained schemes and is my consummate adventure companion. We are the parents of an amazing one-year-old son, who pushes us to be better people on a daily basis. Most importantly, my “quaranteam” is healthy amidst the tragic loss of life this past year has brought.
With the widespread distribution of vaccines, hope is on the horizon. While I hesitate to make solid plans for the near future, my spirit has been buoyed as I prepare for what lies ahead. I remain optimistic my plans will come to fruition. If they don’t, though, and the pandemic, or some other obstacle presents itself, that is alright. My experiences this past year have taught me to stay connected, remain flexible, and to be grateful for everything I have. The mountains will always be there.
MIKE DEETER lives in Northern Colorado with his family where he works as a physician assistant. When he isn’t working he enjoys spending time in the backcountry, photographing, and writing.