Sports

Matt Dickerson: All this distancing is making things crowded

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. I bolted upright, fumbled for my iPhone on the nightstand, and shut it off as quickly as I could, hoping to avoid waking my wife. Before I could even stand up, I heard a high wind whipping through the trees outside. The turkeys were not going to be out and about much this morning, I thought. They certainly won’t be very vocal in these conditions. They will cautious, not likely to respond to any call I made. I almost abandoned my plans and put my head back down. I’d be asleep again moments after I pulled the covers back up.
But I knew it might be the only morning of the week that my schedule was flexible enough to spend a couple hours sitting in my turkey tent before work. Besides, whether its fishing, turkey hunting or deer hunting that I set an early alarm for, there is almost always a sleepy voice in my head telling me to pull the covers back up, roll over and go back to sleep. Sometimes I listen. But some of the times that I listen, I regret listening.
Thirty minutes later I was walking toward my tent, and by about an hour before sunrise I had a hen decoy out. I nestled down into on my chair, pulled my camo hood over my ears to protect them from the 39-degree air, and waited for the legal hunting day to begin.
April and May are usually busy travel months for me. I often have three or four weekend-long conferences to attend. And as the college semester enters its second half, my teaching work usually intensifies also. So most years I don’t get out fishing much in April or early May. In making the significant understatement that “this year is different,” I should point out that it’s not that I’m less busy. Teaching remotely has proved far more time-consuming. I’ve had to put considerably more effort into preparing my classes. I’ve offered more office hours to accommodate students who are now spread all over the world: some six hours ahead of me in Europe, some four hours behind in Hawaii, and several in Japan or China 11 and 12 hours off from the Vermont time zone. I’ve also had many more weekly meetings to fill my schedule.
The weekend travel, on the other hand, has all been canceled. All of the conferences I usual attend fell to COVID-19. And so despite being even busier during the week, my weekends have been a little more open and I’ve gotten out on the stream and in the woods more often than most years, even if the outings have been short. I’ve also gotten my bike out of the garage earlier in the year. I am not a winter biker. I’m not even a spring biker. Give me 60-degree weather when I bike, and I’m happy. But with the gyms closed, and no opportunities for competitive sports, I’ve been desperate for any form of exercise—desperate enough to don fleece gloves and a wool face covering and go biking when the temperatures have been only in the 40s.
I don’t say that to boast. I have friends who bike in all sorts of weather. If they can go fat biking in January when it’s 10 degrees out, a 35-degree day isn’t going to slow them down. I’m not one of those people. I’m soft. A fair-weather biker. Sometimes, as I’ve already confessed, I’m a turn-the-alarm-off-and-fall-back-to-sleep sort of hunter and angler. But not this year.
And here is where this is all going. Every time I’ve been out, whether fishing or biking, I’ve noticed many others with the same ideas. It seems that every time I pass a parking lot by the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury) it’s full of cars. People are getting outdoors, and making use of the many opportunities that Addison County and rural Vermont offers. One family who are close friends of ours walked the entire TAM in one day. That’s a full 18 miles. I can’t remember ever taking an 18-mile walk in one day in my life. But this is the sort of situation that would inspire one.
Many fishing access spots on the local rivers have also been full of cars. Which means that the rivers have been full of anglers. All of the social distancing — and the difficult reality that COVID-19 has put many people out of work — has made things quite crowded. But while in years past I would have been annoyed at finding other anglers at my favorite spots, this year I have actually appreciated the fact that people are finding something meaningful to do in a difficult time. Indeed, getting outside is not merely meaningful; I think it’s necessary for our health. 
I still had my turkey hunting tent to myself. Not even the turkeys came near me. They followed social distancing protocol and kept a long way from my decoy. But next time I see somebody parked at my favorite fishing spot, I will be able with full sincerity to wish them success and delight. From six feet away, of course. 

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