With the recent closures of Rumney Rocks and Pinkham Notch, and burgeoning crowds reported at popular New Hampshire parks, Governor Sununu on Friday encouraged outdoor enthusiasts to hike locally with his “Home Hike Challenge."
But on Saturday, the day after the challenge was issued, NHPR’s Sean Hurley visited the most popular hiking destination in New Hampshire - Mount Monadnock – where staff confirmed the mountain was busier than normal.
Dave Cloutier sits on the tailgate of his pick-up truck in the Monadnock parking lot airing his feet out after a day with friends Kyle Fuhs and Chris Gabbard on the mountain. "It was phenomenal," Cloutier says. "I mean getting up to the summit it was foggy. And then like once the clouds cleared, you can see for miles."
"People were respecting the social distancing, you know, moving off the path, spreading out," Kyle Fuhs says and Chris Gabbard adds, "There are some people wearing masks. Yeah, a couple of them."
The Manchester based Cloutier says he and his friends were in a kind of quarantine before the quarantine. "You know to be honest, we all been in treatment before we came here," he says, "We all live in a sober home. So you know being locked up. I mean, we've been in a community like that."
"Last weekend we went to Purgatory Falls," Gabbard says, "and that's like a smaller place and there was hundreds and hundreds of people there. It was insane."
Here as there, Gabbard took note the out-of-state license plates. "I was like, Mass car, Connecticut car, Connecticut car, Mass. I mean, this is New Hampshire," Gabbard says. "I would say it was a little more than 50 percent out-of-staters. Like look right there: Mass, Mass, Mass."
By my count, about half of the sixty or so cars in the lot have out-of-state plates.
A few minutes later, on the White Cross Trail, I meet up with Alexandra Mackenzie, Brianna Parkinson and two other friends from Providence, Rhode Island, coming down from the summit. Mackenzie said the hike made her feel better and that she "forgot about everything that's happening."
Brianna Parkinson said people are respecting the six foot social distancing, even at the summit. "They wait till you move to take your spot and everything so I think it's good," she says. "I think it's better being here than crammed like in your house, staying at home, like people are going crazy."
When I ask to take their picture, the four friends at first gather together in a group hug before springing away and calling out "six feet apart!"
Which is something I see as I head up the trail. Groups of three and four keeping their distance from strangers – but not from each other.
Jason Bull drove from Philadelphia to spend time with his girlfriend Helen Collins and her family in Connecticut. The two drove up this morning to hike the mountain.
"So I've also been self quarantining for at least two weeks," Bull says, "which was one of the prerequisites for coming to visit. So this is the first bit of nature I've had in two weeks at least. It feels really nice to be out."
When I come upon 20-year-old aspiring fireman Nick Heckman from Leominster Mass, he tells me he’s been stepping off the path a bit when people pass him – with good reason.
"I came down with like a cough, tight chest," Heckman says. "I was throwing up for like a few days. Couldn't eat. Well, I went to the doctor, and they did a strep test on me and a flu test. They're like ‘you're not positive for either of these.’ And they're like, ‘the only thing we can think of is corona virus.’ And they didn't have a test at the time because like, there was a shortage."
But Heckman thinks he knows where he got it. "My buddy's brother, this kid who tested positive for it," he says. "They shut down the Bedford High School because of it." Bedford Massachusetts, that is.
"I just got off quarantine like three days ago," Heckman tells me. He's still a little wheezy and tired. "I was in my apartment for two weeks. It almost got worse, like, in my head. Like, more than the sickness you know? Like more mental. Everyone's been like freaking out about it, you know? So I didn't really know what to do."
Heckman says his doctors told him he was free to resume his normal life. "I go out to the stores though and I try to keep my distance like shirt over the face and whatnot," he says, "but like, obviously, I try to keep it away from my parents and like everyone else."
As Heckman heads up the mountain, I see him step off into the woods and turn his face away from 70-year-old Will Brunkhorst from Hopkinton, New Hampshire who’s coming down the trail. I tell Brunkhorst the story I just heard, and he says Heckman is -"the one person that I've ever seen that has had corona. I know one other person from New York that has it."
Despite this, Brunkhorst says he was more worried about the steep summit climb than contracting Covid-19.
"I knew it would likely be crowded as it is, but certainly you have enough space and we're outside and can keep our distance," he says. "I guess it's just taking the precaution that I don't want to get hurt because there's no real rescue possibilities cause I'm 70 and I'm a little clumsier than I used to be."
Brunkhorst wasn’t aware of the possible risk until he saw a small yellow sign posted at the start of the trail, which I read off as I pass it: “Mountain patrol is unavailable this weekend and due to the current Covid-19 crisis all emergency medical services are spread thin at this time. Rescue operations will be delayed and it is strongly recommended that you do not take any risk that would require emergency services during this difficult time.”
I spoke to about 20 people as I hiked around the trails. No one had yet heard about the Governor’s Home Hike Challenge, meant to encourage them to stay around their homes - and everybody reported having a beautiful day on the mountain.