“A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way.” – Allan King
Acknowledging The Suck
There has emerged a great suckling sound rising over hill and dale. Something between the whiffling gaseous pop preceding your boot being slurped off by two feet of liquified clay and the raspberryesque kiss of a clogged drains sudden vortex of suckage; The line clears and all the backed-up water, much like your 2021 thru-hiking dreams, vanishes down the pipes.
Have you heard it?
Don’t Despair Dirtbags
My Appalachian Trail thru-hike has once again felt the sucking kiss of death because of the pandemic. For the second year in a row, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has recommended thru-hikers cancel or change their hike. This didn’t come as a surprise, considering most of the northeast has put a ban on overnight camping for the foreseeable future.
Though all is not lost my fellow dirtbags. With the exception of recluses living under a rock, we’re now familiar with the risks associated with Covid. All you need to decide is what course of action is best for you.
Do you Cancel, Change, or Continue your hike as planned?
The most obvious course of action is to ask yourself, should I cancel my hike? The answer will not be the same for all of us and will be unique to each hiker. For myself, I need to take into consideration I’ve newly arrived on the threshold of stage three kidney disease.
I also chose the A.T. specifically for its social environment. My decision based on my needs and reasons for hiking this trail has been that I will cancel my 2021 A.T. thru-hike.
So now what?
There is a chaotic beauty to change, and a wealth of adventure to discover in sudden twists and roads less traveled. Some of my best adventures only came into being because plans had to change, went wildly wrong, or took sudden, unexpected, yet fortuitous turns.
I once took a month-long road trip through Germany. Every day we would wake up and choose a random road, then explore whatever we found at the end. One day we found ourselves far from anywhere trying to get to a town the roadsigns had been calling “Umleitung”.
We had been driving for hours, the night was falling, and a biblical deluge had caught us. As we drove by another, yet strangely familiar Umleitung sign, it suddenly dawned on us. We had been going in circles.
In front of us lay a road to nowhere, and neither of us was motivated to give it another go. To our right was an overgrown road heading off into some hills. With nothing to lose, we swung right and followed the lane which encircled a hill, dead-ending at the wooden gates of some sort of manor.
In for a dime, in for a dollar; we got out of the car and ran through the doors.
Burg Eltz, Germany. We actually stayed in Colmburg, but this is a good representation. The Colmburg photos are in an album in a crawl space somewhere in Utah.__________Photo courtesy of canstock/Deviousrlm
It was a castle. A fully operational castle complete with a chapel and hidden coves that welcomed outside guests. As luck would have it, they had one room left, and dinner was just about ready.
The feast of hot bread, fresh veggies, and venison was one for the books. Desert was nothing less than every pastry I’ve ever heard of and done to perfection. The castle was medieval perfection as well, it even had a resident ghost.
To date, that night was the most memorable of any night I’ve ever had.
During checkout, we inquired how we could get to the elusive town of Umleitung. In hindsight, we should have spent more time reviewing the various German road signs.
Umleitung isn’t in fact a town, but a familiar road sign simply stating “Detour”.
Now that my A.T. thru-hike is on the back burner, I can choose to see a sign reading “Dead End”, or one adventurously shouting “Detour”!
I have embraced this change of plans rather than an abrupt end and will go where the wind (and logic) blows me. Because my needs require I keep my distance from the masses, I will spend the next few weeks mapping out hikes and sourcing out possible volunteer opportunities. Both need to be remote, hard to access, or undiscovered.
Choosing to Continue
Now that I’ve chosen to continue hiking this year, albeit completely differently than I had planned, my course is set.
What about everyone else?
Some people will be determined to do an A.T. thru-hike regardless of Covid, which is their prerogative. They can help keep themselves and others safe by following the guidelines the CDC and the A.T.C. have issued to limit transmission.
So continuing is possible, and I’m sure the trail towns could use the income hikers bring… just be sure money is all you leave behind.
Try your hand at trail angel lumberjacking. Beards and plaid required._________Photo courtesy of canstock/aetb
For those still on the fence, or with limited time available to hit the trail, consider volunteering.
Our public trails have experienced a lot of delayed maintenance issues coupled with excessive use over the last year. If thru-hiking during a pandemic makes you uneasy, yet you need to work out pent-up 2020 energy, consider volunteering for a local trail crew.
Most states recruit local crews who maintain our public lands, and I think trail volunteers are trail angels of the highest order. I challenge everyone to volunteer and give back something to our trails in 2021. Why not? (That makes you a superhero in my book.)
Here & Now
I am currently in the Florida panhandle on the Georgia line living in my RV. In a day or so, I expect I’ll be pulling anchor and traveling along the Gulf of Mexico until February blows over. I’ve got a few hikes that have caught my interest in this general region, but I need to get on them soon to avoid the crowds.
Once I’m on the trail, I expect I’ll have sorted where the year will find me later on. I’ll drop a line then and let y’all know.
Have you altered your own thru-hike plans this year? What trail were/are you going to be hiking? What was behind your decision to cancel, continue, or embrace the adventure of changing plans at the last minute? Will you be volunteering?
I would love to hear what other people are doing!