COVID-19, I’m Taking What Ya Give Me

My friends, we are living in a strange time.

Just last week, I was gearing up to head west to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with my best friend, her partner and her dog, Lily. As of this week, I have decided to stay back while my trail fam pushes on and makes the trek out west, hopefully to have a successful thru-hike.

I wanted to share the impact the virus has had on my life and mental health. And while I am sad not to be joining my friends this summer, I know that I am making the right decision for me.

Last year, I attempted to thru-hike the AT, northbound. The Appalachian Trail has been a dream of mine for some time. I am not one to fail at things, so I thought I would have no problem with the trail.

After completing 700 miles on the AT, I had to get off because I was very sick. I have anxiety, and last summer it reached a point of no return. For my overall wellbeing and safety, I had to end my thru-hike.

If you’ve ever thru-hiked or attempted to do so, I am sure you can understand just how devastating a time this was for me. I felt betrayed by both my body and mind, but I had to listen to myself and realize that in my state, it would not be safe for me to continue on.

Since getting off the AT, I’ve learned a lot about my mental health and what it means to me. I have changed a great deal in the last year, and I know this because of my response to COVID-19.

Up until just a few days ago, I still planned to head west to hike the PCT. But as each day passed, my anxiety began to flare and grow. I found myself crying in my car, feeling agitated and having trouble sleeping. I thought that it was the stress of the virus. After all, things have been hard. We never saw this coming.

Each day businesses close, people get laid off, more people get sick, the economy continues to crash, and hikers are asked to stay off the trail. And each day, we sit at home and watch it all happen because that is what we are asked to do.

I began to see people putting their lives on hold. I saw hikers choosing to postpone/ cancel their hikes. I saw things changing, I was afraid of what was to come, and I thought I could hide from it all by being on trail.

Ultimately, the fear of not going outweighed the fear of staying behind.

Fear. That was making my choice as to whether I should stay or go. I was beginning to feel the way I did last summer, and that is when I knew what I needed do.

There’s a lot that goes into planning a thru-hike, but fear should not be a part of it. Yes, there are many unknowns surrounding the trail, but they are normal and to be expected.

My fear about heading to the PCT was different because I don’t know that the future holds. We now live in a time where things change drastically on a daily basis. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring let alone next week.

Also. Thru-hiking should be the best time of your life. Obviously, not everyday on trail is going to be rainbows and sunshine, but taking five to six months off from society is a big choice, and a great one at that. It’s one you should go into feeling good, not stressed. And with everything going on, I do not feel good about making this major life change right now.

All of this helped me realize that the fear of going actually outweighed the fear of staying behind.

So in a bit of a twisted way, I am grateful for COVID-19. Not for all of the pain and suffering that is going on, but for the fact that we have time. Time to really think about who we are and what we want. Time to reflect on the type of people we want to be.

And on a side note, I would like to share just how sad I am about the way I see fellow hikers speaking to one another. Some are choosing to continue on the trail, and while it may seem like the wrong thing to do, it is their choice and needs to be respected. Just as those choosing to stay back need to be respected as well. In a time where the world is being ripped to shreds, our community should stick together. The virus is the enemy, not each other.

If it weren’t for this bizarre time, I would not have made this decision. But because of where we are in the world right now, I was able to find some clarity amongst the unknown.

So I won’t hike the PCT this summer, and that’s okay.

For now I’m gonna stay home. I’ll deliver groceries, and I’ll sleep in late. I’ll watch too much TV and I’ll have coffee with my parents. I’ll go for a run, I’ll try to eat more fruits and veggies. I’ll Face-Time my niece and read her stories before bedtime. I’ll manage.

And I’ll get ready for whatever comes next.

I have the inspired idea to re-attempt the AT this year, if everything calms down. But who knows what will happen.

Until then, I’m sending all my love and good vibes your way. Stay healthy and blessed, y’all.

Kel

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