How Does the Outdoor Community Stay Inspired During Social Distancing?

Editor’s note: After a great deal of careful consideration, we temporarily closed our retail stores nationwide. Please consult the CDC or your state health department for advice related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on symptoms, testing and how to protect yourself and others during social distancing. Follow local guidelines regarding travel, and check access to local, state and national parks before you visit. Remember that outdoor recreation has inherent risks; don’t attempt activities beyond your experience and skill level. Your actions may present risk not only to you, but the local community during these challenging times. 

Ive been climbing the walls. After staying at home for nearly a month, Im antsy, annoyed and worried about a range of things, from my faraway father’s laxness about social distancing to my income. Most of my outlets for working through stress—namely big outdoor missions—are unavailable right now. If, like me, you’re someone who thrives on being outside, these are trying times, in so many ways. To stay inspired, I reached out to some of my favorite artists, activists and athletes who are getting creative about sheltering in place, and finding ways to stay happy, healthy and engaged. Here’s what they’re sharing, how they’re social distancing and what you can gain. 


Anna Brones 

A photo of a quick sketch Anna Brones completed as part of her daily creative challenge series

Artist Anna Brones has launched the Creative Fuel Challenge to keep outdoor audiences inspired. This sketch is in response from Week 10: Change Perspective. (Photo Courtesy: Anna Brones)

At a time when we’re getting a lot of our news and inspiration from screens, cookbook author, bike advocate, papercut artist and general polymath Anna Brones is sending out a series of daily prompts that don’t involve a computer at all. Her Creative Fuel Challenge includes a range of exercises, like blind contour drawing and snapping photos of everyday household items.It feels like it could be a time for people to incorporate a creative practice,” she says. “Art is a way of processing, and a way to feel better. When I papercut, that’s the only time when my brain turns off.” She keeps her prompts simple and steers clear of complicated materials, as she wants audiences to focus on process rather than product. “Constraints breed creativity, and I just want people to allow themselves to play,” she says.  To learn more about the Creative Fuel Challenge, click here.

MaryEllen Hackett  

A watercolor painting by MaryEllen Hackett

MaryEllen Hackett launched the Leave No Place Gallery amid COVID-19 to shine a spotlight on landscape artists she admires. Sticks and Stones is one of her own paintings. (Photo Courtesy: MaryEllen Hackett)

For years, artist and former park ranger MaryEllen Hackett wanted to found a brick-and-mortar art gallery, but the task seemed daunting—she’d need studio space to pull in artists, and stellar artists to afford a beautiful space. But Hackett’s perspective shifted when COVID-19 hit and so many of us started spending more time online. In early April, she formed the Leave No Place Gallery, an Instagram-based gallery where she highlights the work of landscape artists she admires. It gives her peers a platform to sell their work, with a percentage of sales helping to raise money for nonprofits—from search-and-rescue operations to local food banks that are struggling. “Social media has been a way to share art, and I’m hoping it motivates artists to keep making work and pursuing the artist thing. It’s validation and motivation,” she says. To learn more about Hackett, visit her website


Pattie Gonia  

Pattie Gonia gets creative with how to vacuum

In addition to continuing her advocacy work with a forthcoming Earth Day video, Pattie Gonia gets creative with maintaining her space during social distancing. (Photo Courtesy: Wyn Wiley)

Pattie Gonia, the alter ego of professional photographer Wyn Wiley, says she’s mourning the loss of her normal connection points during social distancing, but she’s simultaneously channeling her energy into making a crowdsourced Earth Day video, which she plans to release on Instagram on April 22. She’s asked members of her audience to submit letters of hope for humanity, and the responses—in multiple languages from folks in myriad countries—have so far been flooding in. “I’m not just gonna sit on my ass. I want to give my community an outlet,” she says. “It feels important to think about: What can hope look like? Joy and hope are a radical act.” 

As for Wiley, he says there are two ways he’s thinking about connecting while staying home. The first is figuring out how to be OK with hibernating: “You’re home for the biggest chunk of time,” he says. “How do you create a sustainable life?” The second is to prioritize small but significant actions like composting, getting outside (even for remote calls) and stepping away from the internet. Beyond these tips, he’s eager to hear what others are doing. Follow Pattie Gonia on Instagram to share your advice. 

Katie Boué 

“As an outdoor professional who spends my entire career encouraging folks to get outside, pivoting to a message of  ‘please stay home’ has been bizarre and uncomfortable,” says Katie Boué, outdoor activist and founder of the Outdoor Advocacy Project. Instead, she’s focusing on sharing two messages. First: Not being outdoors is the most important  thing recreationists can do right now, even if it feels personally painful. Second: We need to engage in digital advocacy to help protect our public lands, even if we can’t be recreating on them. “I have always believed in the power of social media to do good—and I am more resolute in that than ever,” she says. “It all ties back to what matters most to me: acting in compassionate community, leading with empathy and taking informed action. This is social media’s time to shine.” To learn more about the causes Boué advocates for, follow her on Instagram.

Nikki Smith 

A portrait of Irene Yee

Smith’s portrait of Irene Yee, a professional climbing photographer who, like Smith, has used her platform to celebrate climbers who haven’t been as visible in the sport. (Photo Credit: Nikki Smith)

Shooting portraits has long been a favorite part of Nikki Smith’s job. The professional climbing photographer says portraiture lets her connect with her subjects and showcase their personalities, as opposed to focusing solely on outdoor accomplishments. Unfortunately, there isn’t always an outlet for these images. People and publications often want to see action. While at home, Smith got sick of scrolling through standard stoke photos. “I was seeing post after post of climbing and I got burned-out,” she says. In response, she’s started going through her archive, posting portraits of people in the climbing community on Instagram

Smith is using the posts to highlight folks whose faces don’t always show up in climbing media. “Seventy-five percent of what I shoot now is underrepresented groups. A lot of the stuff I’ve put online are portraits of queer folk or women or people who are not white,” she says. Smith says there’s a significant amount of power in visual representation.  “I’ll get blowback sometimes from people who say, ‘Why can’t climbing just be climbing?’ But it’s always more than that. It’s the personalities and stories and what we did to get there. The people in climbing are what climbing is all about.”  See more of Smith’s portraits here.


Drew Petersen 

Skier Drew Peterson works out in the driveway of his parents' home in Summit County, Colorado, where he's currently sheltering in place. (Photo Courtesy: Drew Peterson)

Skier Drew Petersen works out in the driveway of his parents’ home in Summit County, Colorado, where he’s currently sheltering in place. (Photo Courtesy: Drew Petersen)

“I’m treating this the same as I’d treat recovery from an injury: giving myself grace, but picking myself up and avoiding the spiral the best I can,” says skier Drew Petersen, who has been sheltering at his parents’ home in Summit County, Colorado. He’s been sharing driveway workouts and tips for staying physically and mentally healthy on Instagram—the kind of content he says he wants to consume while home. “I’m looking for more than just stoke,” he says. “I don’t really care about a cool banger video right now. I want something human.” 

Peterson is working out and eating healthily, but he’s also meditating, and he’s restarted a gratitude practice that involves journaling about 10 things he’s grateful for every day. He says he’s trying to focus on the small, positive details, which can be surprising. “The other day I was out in the driveway doing a one-armed plank, and a fox came along, made eye contact, and kept trotting,” he says. “When would I ever get that at the gym?” Follow Petersen on Instagram to see how he stays active. 

Alexi Pappas 

When runner Alexi Pappas was a kid, she idolized soccer player Mia Hamm, and says she’d devour every detail she could to try to imitate her. Now, over social media, she’s trying to do the same for the next generation by sharing workouts and insights to give up-and-coming athletes something hopeful to focus on. Pappas was training for the 2020 Summer Games earlier this year, and while she can no longer continue to prepare in the same way due to their postponement, she and her coaches are sharing agility drills, core stability work and strength  training over Instagram. “We are zooming in on the types of drills that normally are easy to brush aside, but are actually super helpful for long-term durability and injury prevention,” she says. “And we are also running  when we can, making sure to be smart and responsible about maintaining safe social distance throughout.” Follow Pappas on Instagram to access all her workout suggestions.

Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet 

Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet whip up a meal in the backcountry

Photo Courtesy: Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet

For Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet, the couple who run the cooking site Fresh off the GridCOVID-19 has upended a lot. They’d been on the road in their van, heading from California to Oregon, but now they’re hunkered down in an RV park, sheltering in place. The one thing that’s stayed constant is the need to eat, so they’ve been sharing recipes and thinking about food as a positive coping mechanism. 

“Finding a recipe, prepping it, cooking it and enjoying the fruits of your labor is a pretty satisfying feedback loop, at least in our opinion,” van Vliet says—and it’s not just that. “Cooking at home during these trying times offers us something more: a feeling of control.” 

Even in socially distant times, the couple believes people can find common ground around food. “While nothing will replace the connection that comes from sitting around a table with family or friends to enjoy a meal together, social media is our best stand-in for that experience.” They love seeing audiences post photos of the food they make while distancing. For inspiration, check out their recipes on the Co-op Journal.  

How have you been staying inspired while staying at home? Let us know in the comments below.  

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