by Steve Moon
Is it possible to conduct Bigfoot research safely during a national health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic? It can be, and there are reasons why you may even want to. Casual visitors to parks and natural areas are less numerous during a national emergency. At the time of this writing we are experiencing a severe national health emergency. It is severe enough that most states have issued a stay-at-home order. When this occurs there isn’t much that you can do as far as field research goes. But in the state of Iowa we don’t currently have such an order, and we’re free to wander. Should we? If you proceed with caution, and coordinate with your research partners, it can be done safely.
Large expeditions involving as many as thirty or forty people have become very common, and are quite popular. Organized expeditions have become a hallmark of Bigfoot research organizations. Many will conduct one or two each year, but some organizations, such as the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) will conduct a dozen or more across the United States. I have conducted several of these large expeditions, and they can be extremely productive and satisfying. During a national emergency of any kind, and particularly during a national health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, large expeditions are a bad idea. There are too many people involved to conduct them safely.
I will often solo camp in parks and natural areas when conducting research. I enjoy soloing, and have done it dozens of times. But it’s not always the most productive way to do research. A small group of people can accomplish much more than one person can, typically, and even two people in the field can be more effective than one. I find that I’m likely to turn in early when I solo. If I’m with another person, or a small group of people, I tend to stay up much later. However, the larger the group the more difficult it becomes to safely conduct research during a health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of three or four people can conduct research safely during a period of emergency. Much larger than that and it’s probably a bad idea.
How to conduct research safely during a health crisis:
If you don’t feel one-hundred percent, and it’s something other than your typical allergy attack, stay at home. There is no good reason to be around other people if you think you may be ill. This is standard procedure for our research group during the best of times. Stay home. If you do venture out with a few friends for a night or two of research, here are a few things you can do to keep it safe.
Face masks are often recommended during a health crisis to minimize disease transmission between individuals. If you are in a camping area with one or more research partners, it’s not a bad idea to wear one of these. When preparing food it should be considered mandatory, because it’s nearly impossible to be safe around food items that are to be consumed by a group without wearing a face mask. If you are off walking in the woods a face mask should be considered optional. Obviously, if no one is around, you are safe. As soon as another person joins you in the woods, wear a face mask. If you are conducting research with one or more people at night, wear a face mask. You don’t always know how close you are to your partners, and people tend to bunch up in the dark.
Hand cleanliness is an obvious precaution, but you need to do some planning in order to incorporate hand washing into your research regimen. Bring plenty of water and soap. Bottled water works very well for a group of people, because each person has their own bottle of water as needed. Similarly, each person should use their own personal stash of hand soap and hand sanitizer. It’s a bad idea to share these items because they will quickly become contaminated.
Meals are important. We need good food, and lots of it, when conducting an overnight or multiple day investigation. But food preparation can result in cross-contamination between individuals. On a recent overnight investigation, two of us used our own spatulas when preparing our burgers over the fire. Having separate condiments for each individual may be wasteful and expensive, but tissue or paper towels can be used to handle these as needed. A personal dispenser of hand sanitizer should be considered a necessity, and used frequently when preparing food. We love to eat in local restaurants, especially for breakfast. This may not be possible during a national emergency, but if these places are open for business, don’t do it. Prepare your own food. Plan on a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, or something else that’s easy. You spend more time on site being productive researchers this way, and it’s not necessary to sit in close proximity to your friends or to strangers.
Tents should be separated by ten feet or more when setting up camp. There are numerous good reasons to do this besides health issues. Some of us snore, and that can disrupt the sleep of others. My personal preference is to pitch my tent several hundred feet from any other tent, typically in the woods within reasonable walking distance of a fire ring or other center of group activity. This can be a very productive strategy. An audio recorder deployed near one tent will pick up more sounds from the surrounding soundscape, and less from humans, when tents are separated by a good distance from one another.
Night hiking is something that we commonly do when conducting research in any given area. At night a group tends to hike so that members are within close proximity to one another. The tendency is to be “whisper close” when on night hikes. Whispering allows everyone a chance to hear sounds of interest. But with practice a small group can communicate without being loud, and without being right on top of each other. Try to keep a distance of ten feet or more between each person on a night hike. This will mean speaking a little louder so-as to be heard by the group. It also requires that each person have, and depending on the trail you are on, use a red light continuously while hiking. Using a light will mean that you miss out on subtle visual clues in the landscape, such as eyeglow, so it’s important to remember to stop periodically and turn out all lights, and look and listen, and do it often. We like to stop a few times, for as much as twenty or thirty minutes each time, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say it’s a really good thing to do.
Travel to and from the research area should be done separately. Don’t offer a ride to your buddy during a health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a really bad idea, because you obviously are going to be spending time in close proximity to one another during the trip. If your research area is many miles of travel away for each investigator, and you could easily carpool, don’t do it. If this means finding a place that’s closer and more convenient for all involved, that’s not a bad thing. Pick a place you haven’t investigated before. See how close to home you can be and still find a viable research area to exploit. This is one of my favorite things to do. I love to “squatch local”, and do so often.
Restroom facilities can be modern with running water, a pit toilet, or nothing at all. The bottom line here is to bring your own toilet paper. Whether you have facilities handy or walk into the woods with a trowel in hand to bury waste, take your own toilet paper, soap and sanitizer with you.
Should you do research during times of crisis, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic? That is entirely your decision. We are not advocating that you do. We just want to make sure that if you do, you do it in a manner that is safe for you and your research partners. It can be done safely, and it can be a productive strategy. Be safe, look out for one another, and live to squatch another day.