Walking up the trail, I spied a large group with several adults as well as two small kids. None of them wore masks.

As we neared each other, it seemed like a game of chicken.

Should we just keep proceeding towards each other on the narrow, single-track trail?

As we got close to 15 feet apart, I veered off the side of the trail into the brush, dragging Logan with me. Bryon followed behind, towing Shawnee. I pulled up my bandana to cover my nose and mouth and turned away from the group.

They continued up the trail, the two little boys skipping ahead.

After they passed, we got back on the trail, proceeding towards the Buttes.

This is hiking in the Coronvirus era.

Wanting to get out and do a hike, but no encounter hundreds of people, we’d chosen a destination way out in northeastern Colorado.

Six years ago, we’ve visited the Pawnee Buttes in the Pawnee National Grassland, and enjoyed a quite hike with plenty of solitude.

With the day dawning cold and sunny in Nederland, it seemed like the perfect destination on Memorial Day.

But apparently, we weren’t the only ones longing for outdoor recreation. When we arrived, we found 25 cars in the parking lot.

Still, we hoped that some were simply picknicking and that the rest were spread out along the 2.5 mile trail.

The first half-mile brought a lot of weaving and dodging as we did our best to follow social distancing. During the 1.5 hour hike, we only saw four other people even pretending to use a mask.

I can see that hiking is going to be going to be challenging over the next three months.

Veering off the trail into the brush makes me feel guilty. As a Park Ranger schooled in Leave No Trace ideals, I know it’s not good the tall grass prairie ecosystem. Trodding over the tender shrubs and wildflowers is the opposite of Leave No Trace. And while it may not seem so terrible today, I can only imagine the effects over the course of a summer.

But the other option jeopardizes my health. Even though I worse my bandana as a face covering, that protects other people from me. Every time I pass in close proximity of those unmasked faces, it potentially exposes me.

As someone with an autoimmune disorder who takes immune-suppressing medication, it scares me. I am in what is considered the “vulnerable” population even though I don’t look like it.

I love hiking. Part of the reason we chose to live in Nederland was having access to incredible trails to hike close to our home.

But I can see this is going to be a balancing act for the next several months. I’m also guessing there won’t be much hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness on the weekends. With 400 people hiking to Lake Isabelle on a busy Saturday, it’s a risk I just can’t take.

What is they say about finding the trail off the beaten path?

That will be my quest in the weeks to come.