I started my thru-hike on March 5. I have been waiting for this day for a year and was ready to hit the ground running. Little did I know that a global pandemic would cause me to get off trail.
When I started the AT, the coronavirus was just starting to become a bigger deal in the US but it wasn’t too big of a deal yet. Things were still open and running like normal. It only took two weeks before things started shutting down and causing chaos.
Being out in the woods for two weeks, we are very disconnected from the reality that is going on in the real world. We didn’t realize how much this virus was taking over everything. We knew it was serious but didn’t realize how serious. When I was in town in Hiawassee on March 14, everything was still open and running like normal. People were hoarding food and toilet paper, but that was it. By the time I crossed into North Carolina on March 16, multiple states had already started shutting things down. My home state of Texas had shut down schools, restaurants, and most nonessential services. Along the trail, hostels and shuttles were starting to shut down, restaurants weren’t allowing dine-in service and were now takeout only.
The next day, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) put out a notice asking hikers to postpone their thru-hike. I was baffled. I was distraught. I had no idea what to do. On one hand, I felt I was safer out on the trail since I wouldn’t really be in contact with the outside world. On the other hand, I wanted to respect the ATC organization’s request to go home and wait it out. I knew that I would have to go into town every few days to get a resupply of food and that would mean being in contact with multiple people. I would risk being infected or if I did have the virus with no symptoms, risk infecting people in town. I would also be taking resources from a small town that already had limited resources for themselves.
I debated about what to do for hours. I consulted my fellow hikers on trail, my dad, and hikers online. It was a mixture of responses. “No stay! It’ll be fine, you’re safer on trail than at home.” “Yes! Get off before it gets worse.”
After lots of back and forth, on March 17, I decided to postpone my thru-hike until this is all over. My mom offered to come get me from Franklin, North Carolina. An almost 18-hour drive from our hometown in Texas. Instead of being exposed to tons of people at the airport, I said yes and we made a road trip back home. It was the hardest decision, but I knew this was the best decision for everyone.
So, what is my plan now? I’m fortunate enough to have many options to choose from depending on what is going on with COVID-19. If I can come back and continue NOBO in a few weeks, then I will do that. If I have to wait until this summer, then I will attempt a SOBO hike. (Not my first option, but it’s an option). If the virus is still causing shutdowns and craziness well into the summer, then I will just come back in 2021 and attempt a NOBO hike.
I’m pretty fortunate to be able to be flexible with my decision regarding this hike and I’m very thankful for that. I know some people are devastated because this was their only shot at thru-hiking the AT. I hope those people don’t give up on their dream.
I’ve been home for a few days and within those few days, so much has happened along the AT. Shelters, camping areas, and privies were shut down in Maryland, New Jersey, and more. Many states have shut down restaurants and bars and are allowing takeout only. Many state parks are shutting down. The latest being the ATC has asked all hikers, day and thru-hikers, to stay off the Appalachian Trail. With all this news, I feel like I made the correct decision in coming home. Once the AT announced that we should get off, I felt like it was my duty to respect the organization that does everything it can to protect the AT. Now that they don’t want anybody on the AT, I 100% know I made the correct decision.
As for my plans between now and getting back on trail, I honestly don’t really know. My county just issued a stay-at-home order so that limits my options. There are parks and trails where I live that aren’t heavily traveled so I could go hiking and get stronger for my thru-hike. I’ll do what I can while on lockdown. So until then… Be strong. Don’t give up. Stay safe. Happy trails.