Over the past few weeks, just about every last person on Earth has been touched by the coronavirus pandemic in one way or the other. One exception, however, is the people who voluntarily disconnected — by going on extended hiking trips, for example — before COVID-19 became a pandemic. Those people are re-entering a world that they likely never could have imagined.
California man Mason Thomas and his girlfriend, Kate Condino, left civilization in mid-February for a 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, as Fresno’s KFSN-TV reports..
At the time, the narrative of the coronavirus pandemic was largely limited to stories coming out of Asia. Words and phrases like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” hadn’t yet entered the country’s vocabulary.
For the next 25 days, Thomas and Condino, and the rest of their companions, would be completely off the grid. No 24-hour news feeds, no contact with their families back home, only each other to talk to. They spent 25 days not knowing that a global pandemic was affecting thousands and impacting everyday life.
“The first message I get is from my mom and she says, you need to call me now,” Thomas said.
The first human they spoke with told them what had happened.
“He goes, ‘OK’ and kind of rolls his eyes and sighs. ‘The world is going crazy, you’ve got a lot to hear. The stock market crashed, toilet paper is out everywhere, Italy closed its borders, the NBA isn’t doing games anymore.’ And it was like, whoa!”
Russian photographer Max Avdeev had a similar experience. In late February, he set off for Russia’s remote north, to get some pictures, go snowmobiling, hobnob with tribal reindeer herders, and disconnect for a few days.
When he returned to cell phone range, as Buzzfeed News reported, his phone blew up.
Another friend told him to take two pictures of himself, one before he read the news, and one after.
Among other things, he learned that Russia’s economy, like that of many countries, is in a tailspin. Thousands were dying of the pandemic across the world. People were locking themselves away in isolation.
“I left the world unattended for 10 days and it was enough for it to fall apart — just in 10 f*cking days,” he said.
In California, Condino said that her trip off-the-grid allowed her to “steal” some special time even as the world around her crumbled. She said she has no regrets. And in Moscow, Avdeev says that, for now, he’s focusing on sorting through his photos and trying to find a restaurant in the city that’s still open.