The Whys of the Wise: Postponing My PCT Thru-Hike

After much deliberation Rachael and I made the crushing decision to postpone our thru hike of the PCT until next year. Let’s talk about why.

Isn’t hiking alone in the woods the safest place to be?

For me, a young and healthy person alone in the woods, the risk of harm from COVID-19 is relatively low. But slowly we started to realize that this isn’t about us. This is about the communities that we rely on for resupply. We planned to stop for resupply in 34+ trail towns along the Pacific Crest Trail. A typical resupply entails entering these towns to get groceries for our next stretch of hiking, enjoying a hot shower at an inn, doing laundry, and a lot of pizza and beer. Hiking could keep us in a safe social distance in the woods, but resupply would put us into direct contact with hundreds of hikers and small-town residents. These remote locations have limited access to medical care and if their residents became infected it could mean several hours to drive to a hospital.

We started to see small town governments begging nonresidents to stay away to protect their communities. This is what ultimately drove our decision to reconsider. (See the requests of the following towns; Mammoth Lakes, Inyo County, Bishop, Truckee). The fact of the matter is that thru-hiking is nonessential travel. We can’t reconcile the idea of our hike being more important than the health of the communities along the PCT.

My why for trekking

My “why” or reason for trekking is the same reason I won’t be going on trail this year. I am inspired by the cancer patients I care for as a nurse. Seeing the ways cancer affects people’s lives has long encouraged me to get out and live as much as possible while I am healthy and able. As a nurse who cares for immunosuppressed high risk people I can’t justify a hike that could put those same people more at risk.

We are postponing to 2021. So, what now?

I acknowledge that I am very blessed to have a flexible career and lifestyle. Yesterday we called off our trip and canceled our flights, travel insurance, and other reservations. I applied to a few jobs in different states and today I accepted a job offer from OHSU with an asap start date and found an adorable cottage to live in. Rachael has an interview for remote work with REI and will be focusing on her freelance illustration career. We will move to Portland on Sunday, March 22, our previous PCT permit start date. It isn’t what we planned, but it certainly will be an adventure.

We are in the process of sorting out which of our resupply foods won’t expire before we hike next year. Rachael and I will either eat or donate the rest of our meticulously planned hiker box food. We 1,000% plan on applying for PCT permits for 2021 and will continue to explore the great outdoors closer to “home.”

The brighter side of things

Here is a list of bright sides to keep me from crying:

  1. I have an amazingly supportive partner who has made this decision much, much easier.
  2. PCT 2021 will have more trail angels and open restaurants.
  3. It is easy for me to get a job that makes me happy and allows me to travel.
  4. I have a lot of good snacks if the grocery store is running low on my favorites.
  5. I get to use all the hand sanitizers I stashed in my boxes.
  6. Portland has tons of great fly fishing which is a socially isolated activity that I actually enjoy.
  7. I will be working three days a week, which leaves more time for adventure, books, and cat cuddles.
  8. I am moving to a cyclist-friendly city.
  9. My family and I are still healthy and well.
  10. More time to obsess about gear lists and all things PCT.

Until next year you can expect to find me on my bike, on the trails, or fishing a stream. You can wave hello from the appropriate social distance.

Additional peace of mind

It turns out the Pacific Crest Trail Association agrees with our decision. While drafting this post I received an email from the Pacific Crest Trail Association formally asking all thru-hikers to cancel their trips. I feel peace knowing that I made this decision before it was made for me.

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