Here We Go Again

After months of researching, planning, and psyching myself up for a 2020 Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike, I called off my hike within weeks of my departure. It had quickly become clear that COVID was to be taken seriously and not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) sent an email to all registered hikers asking everyone to get off the trail. Hikers who started in February and early March frantically searched for ways to get home safely. No matter what you had going on, I think we all remember this period as a time of confusion and shock.

Canceled or on hold?

With my plans canceled and no end to the pandemic in sight, I hit the breaks on all AT prep. I was disappointed and discouraged. There was so much uncertainty, and frankly, bigger problems in the world that I did not want to spend another ounce of effort on plans for a thru-hike that may never happen. I spent my summer adjusting to my “new normal,” working from home, learning how to cook, and watching Tiger King. The AT went from being a constant topic of discussion to a rare one. I did not know when I’d be able to hike or if I’d even want to hike when it was safe to do so.

ALight at the End of the Tunnel

Throughout December, January, and February, I remained hesitant to revisit thru-hiking plans. Yes, there was a vaccine, but the timing of the rollout was unclear. Cases dropped sharply, but then they flattened out. The media celebrated progress, but also reiterated that remaining cautious was more important than ever. With all this confusion, would anybody actually be out on the trail?

Ultimately, this was an important factor for me. I expected and was happy to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of other hikers, staff, and volunteers. However, I was not okay with spending months alone in the woods. The AT is known for being a social trail, and this is exactly what made me feel comfortable hiking it alone. For me, it was important to know that at a minimum, I would see some familiar faces day-to-day. Fortunately, there were plenty of people still planning to hike.

I did consider delaying my thru-hike further, but both personally and professionally, a 2022 thru-hike was going to be significantly more difficult to make happen.

Recommitting to the Trail

I am starting the AT in mid-April. It was not until about 3 weeks ago that I gathered the courage to set a date and buy my plane ticket to Atlanta. Since then, I have been busy! I thought I was close to ready last year, but there have been lots of changes and new additions. Beyond that, I seemed to have forgotten some of the more tactical things I learned last spring. For example, I keep waking up to google “What should I do if a snake bites me?” and other similar questions in the middle of the night. All the panic aside, I think I’m about 95% as ready as I was ever going to be… and I’ve still got a few days left.

At the end of the day, I’m just happy that this is finally happening. Until next time!

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Comments 4

  • Ralph B. Mahon : Apr 10th

    Please don’t mistake my comment as being a “smartazz”
    But why is hiking in the wilderness more hazardous than being anywhere else?
    You take the same precautions as you would anytime you are around others.
    Bring a mask, six feet apart, when around others.
    If anything, you are better off hiking than being anyplace else.

    • Gabrielle : Apr 11th

      Hi Ralph – here’s my perspective. Last spring, there were a lot of unknowns about how the virus spreads. Thru and section hiking can result in close proximity between hikers who then need to visit trail adjacent towns to resupply. This seemed especially risky when no vaccine was available for the most vulnerable and hospital beds were limited. In alignment with your comment, I currently think it’s possible to have to have a safe thru hike while taking precautions and using common sense.

      • Ralph B. Mahon : Apr 11th

        Right, use precautions.
        Even if you don’t hike. You go to food stores, gas stations, etc.
        I think a lot of the violence you see now is from people being confined, isolated.
        I live to hike with my dogs, be outside, enjoying nature.

  • Deadpool : Apr 19th

    How many hikers were registered when you got to GA and have you all heard any numbers regarding estimates for thru-hikers this year? I am wondering if Covid will keep it low or will hikers like yourself who had to push to this year will increase the number of thru-hikers. Have fun!


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