I am postponing this hike indefinitely
GA - Mile 0 - Mar 16th, 2020
As I write this I am in a hotel in Gainesville GA. I was ready to begin my hike today from Amicalola Falls. Iâd planned for 6 months seriously and many more years before that. It has been a dream of mine to thruhike the AT since I was 12 or 13. That is why it pains me to say I will be postponing this hike indefinitely.
The trail always comes with risks, but those risks are at least partially known quantities. Food drops can be planned. Gear can protect against the elements. Pacing can condition the body and help reduce injuries. In worst case scenarios, hospitals can be reached and rescue teams can be called in. However the country and the world face a major unknown risk in the coronavirus, and it is for this reason I am postponing my hike.
I initially thought if I could get on the trail in time maybe I could ride out the worst changes that came due to the coronavirus. Maybe being in a more remote area would reduce the risk of exposure and prevent me from having to deal with the kind of shutdown we are seeing now country wide. However, news in the last 24 hours regarding the coronavirus and related to the hiking community have made that seem increasingly less likely. I think like many people I thought news reports of the dangers of the coronavirus were a bit sensationalistic. And to some extent I think the headlines still play needlessly on our fears. At the same time, I have always been someone who puts faith in the reasoned opinions of scientific experts. I do not deny climate change is a real man-made threat. And it is for this same reason that I have no doubt this pandemic will get worse before it gets better. One only need look at the exponential growth of new cases to see that. And if we dont take actions collectively to stop that growth it will not stop on its own before causing major harm.
What I didnt foresee was two things. The argument that thruhikers, specifically Northbound thruhikers on the AT, could pose a substantial threat of spreading the virus amongst themselves and the local populations. And second, that parts of the infrastructure that supports thruhikers such as hostels, shuttle services, and supermarkets could be inaccessible or unusable given panic buying and the threat of a nationwide shutdown.
On the first point, I have to admit that if a case of the coronavirus were to be found in a thruhiker, the virus would undoubtedly spread like wildfire. No one who knows about the Northbound AT âbubbleâ can disagree that you will have many people in close proximity who are unable to practice regular hygiene. This is why norovirus takes the bubble every year. I also cant deny that in this scenario, I would be putting other regular people at risk in trail towns should I contract the virus myself. I initially thought the chances of anyone hiking the AT contracting the virus were low. Quite low, in fact. But again with the rising numbers and with the appeals to national unity that we all do our part, it has become hard for me to justify plowing through when I can choose to do the responsible, if painful, thing now.
On the second point, I am increasingly concerned that the changes that are being made to combat the coronavirus will heavily impact the trail. Already the ATC has closed their main office and canceled trail events. Social events like Trail Days are almost certainly going to be cancelled. Other trail conferences are suggesting hikers be ready to self-quarantine at a motel if they come into contact with others who carry the virus. Social distancing is being heavily recommended. I havent read of any major supply shortages yet or of across the board shutdowns, but some hostels have already closed and I fear the increasing infection numbers will only push more businesses to shutter and more panic buying to occur. These were events I viewed as almost impossible a couple days ago, but now see as a possibility. A National Shutdown whatever that means could make it even more difficult to travel back to my home if I did get stuck on the trail. And because this coronavirus is a crisis that has not been dealt with before, it is hard to predict what the nation and its people will do next. None of these issues may come to pass, but then again I didnt expect schools across the country to close and every major sporting event to be cancelled.
I end this post deeply disappointed. This has been one of the hardest decisions Ive had to make. I dont have a job to return to and my future is uncertain. At the same time, I know that I have to do what seems best for me and everyone around me. And I know that this is not the last time I will be on the trail. Backpacking is too much in my blood now for me to just stop. Getting back on the trail may take a couple weeks or a month. It may be later. But in trying times when things dont go as planned I often find it helpful to look to what we value to guide us. For me, Ive always wanted to live a life that felt vital and real. A life that was filled with adventure, that tested my limits, that was imbued with my dual passions of a good conversation with a fellow traveler and a good bit silence in the face of what is beautiful in this world. And though the vicissitudes of life may stop me, I also know they cant rob me of the people and things I love. Not really. And not forever. So with that, I will have to say this isnt a goodbye to you reading this or to the AT. This is just a âtill next timeâ.
GA - Mile 0 - Mar 16th, 2020