Complications in Planning a 2021 Thru-Hike – COVID and Now the AT or the PCT Question
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had dropped plans for 2020 thru-hikes of the AT and AZT due to COVID and then extensive fire damage to the AZT that closed about 150 miles of the almost 800-mile trail in the summer that greatly impacted fall 2020 SOBO thru-hikes. In both cases, the AT and the AZT, I was respecting the requests of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Arizona Trail Association. Nether trail, to me, seemed like a viable and responsible decision for 2020 but for different reasons.
My 2020 Section Hike – A Few Weeks On the Trail During a Pandemic
In October, I did a section hike of the AT from Standing Bear to Roan Mountain, TN. I felt I was able to comply with social distancing and wearing a face mask to meet the CDC recommendations. In any case, a friend and I flew from Phoenix to Knoxville and home and hiked 152 miles without getting COVID. It is possible to backpack and avoid close contact. We did not sleep in shelters which, officially, were closed on all federal land on the AT. We got private rooms in hostels or zeroed in a motel in Hot Springs. We wore masks in shuttles.
I realize that not all backpackers have the budget to stay in hotels or in private hostel rooms. As Jen Datka pointed out in her recent blog post in The Trek, older hikers often have more financial resources than younger hikes (that and time are two of the few advantages in my opinion as a 61-year-old hiker). In reality, you can hike the AT without hostels, motels, and shuttles on the vast majority of the trail, just as you can camp at shelters without sleeping in shelters. A pandemic requires some compromise by all to stay safe, keep others safe, and still have a life. I’ve managed to do a lot during COVID without being infected by wearing masks, social distancing, not eating in restaurants, and a few other simple rules As an RN, I’ve worked around patients with infectious diseases since the 1980s and avoided them by following basic personal protection rules.
2021 Flip Flop Thru-Hike Plans
So, I decided after that section hike that I could do a pandemic-safe thru-hike. I also knew that I would have long received both COVID immunizations since I am a frontline health care worker (dose #2 in me about 6 hours ago – no side effects from first shot and, so far, none today with the second). That played a part in my thinking although I feel I still need to follow all social distancing as there is no proof yet that the vaccine will prevent those vaccinated from spreading COVID. That is totally TBD by research. Again, I do think that, with some flexibility, anyone can hike the AT and follow social distancing and wearing a face covering. It just is not difficult.
OK, I was all ready for the AT. I had considered COVID and personal responsibility carefully. I felt I could be a good citizen and social distance on the AT just like I am at home. I planned my flip-flop itinerary (start at Roan Mountain, TN and head north). I reserved a flight and hotel near Tri-Cities. I reserved a car and made plans to visit my cousin who lives near Mt. Rogers (and is an avid AT hiker). I am ready to go. My gear list perfected. Come on March 4th.
The PCT Announces 2021 Permit Lottery Last Week
Then, to kick all my plans in the butt just a bit, the Pacific Crest Trail Association announced that they would be issuing the normal number of thru-hiking permits for this year after not issuing any permits in 2020. The AT is my dream trail, but the PCT comes in a close second. I have entered the PCT lottery multiple years and never got a permit or only permits that would ensure frying in the desert were available. I live in Phoenix and fully understand the discomfort and risks of hiking in the desert when the temperature gets high. The desert heat can be deadly.
Eight Days to the PCT Permit Lottery
Here I sit, 8 days before the PCT lottery, wondering if I would cancel the AT and do the PCT if I can get a decent start date for 2021. It is a big question. To be honest, I am much more confident that I can hike the AT and social distance. It is easy to resupply on the AT, typically within a few miles of the AT at most. Hitching is convenient but it is possible to hike almost all the AT by walking to stores and using mail drops. That is far more complicated on the PCT. That is just the nature of the two trails. I think I am superstitious about shuttles and admittedly illogical, Hiking the AT will require shuttles from the airport and, realistically at other times. On my section hike, I had a dental emergency and used a shuttle. I used shuttles to and from the airport. Still shuttles feel unsafe although that might be my paranoia. There are windows in cars and vans.
- Stick with the AT that is a decades-old dream and likely much easier to do in the age of COVID-19 in a safe manner?
- Go with the PCT which has been a dream that I have not been able to get permits for over the past several years?
The lottery will answer if the PCT is even an option. My hope is that I am left with this Sophie’s choice of a decision. Part of me almost hopes I do not get a decent number in the PCT lottery. It would make this much easier, huh?
What would you do?
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