How It Feels Postponing Your Thru-Hike

I was less than 30 days away from embarking on the AT when the news came. April 15, 2020, was my start date. John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads was constantly streaming in my apartment in preparation.

For the past three years, I had been meticulously planning, researching, and awaiting this exciting day. It was all encompassing. It was a part of my identity. However, I was devastated to announce that I would be postponing my AT thru-hike for another year. Receiving the email from the ATC about COVID-19 and their request on March 17 broke a piece of my soul.

The feelings I had reading the email is hard to explain. I quit my job for this trail. I got out of my lease, and sold all of my furniture. I essentially became homeless, because I knew the trail was going to be my home for the foreseeable future. With that being said, feelings of defeat, fear, and panic started to set in moments after I read the words in bold “please postpone your thru-hike.”

My stream of consciousness went something like this:

This can’t be happening.

Do I wait out the virus and still go?

Am I really going to have to wait another year?

Is it really that bad?

Will people hate me if I go?

This sucks.

What am I going to do for another year?

I have to move back in with my parents.

I’m homeless and jobless.

Where will I work?

What will I do?

No, I’ll still go!

Yes, I’m still going.

But it won’t be the same.

Let me see what the other hikers are doing.

I can’t believe this is happening.

I can’t go and get stranded.

Do I go and see how far I’ll get?

I can’t go. It’s not safe!

Nope. I’m not going and risking it.

Am I being too dramatic?

At least I have my family. I am lucky.

This can’t be happening.

Feeling Lost in Life

My dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail has ended up controlling many aspects of my life. For me personally, I planned to complete the AT before I started my “life,” if that is what we want to call it. I can’t speak for any other young person (I’m 26) who has had to postpone the trail as well, but I decided long ago that after graduating from college, I wanted to work for a few years to see what industry I enjoyed being in, hike the AT, and then decide on a career path and begin my stage of “settling in.”

I am a very organized person, and I had it all planned out. I know what I want to do for a career, so putting off the AT for an entire year feels like I am essentially wasting another year of my life. I did not (and still do not) want to start my desired career, get stuck in a routine, and feel like the AT will never be achievable. I feel like I’ve been waiting for so long to do this that I haven’t been able to do what I truly want in life. I’ve been doing odd jobs here and there to pass the time for the glory that was going to be the AT.

Because taking 4-6 months off of a career type job does not seem plausible for me at the moment. AT 2020 has been the ultimate motivator for me. It was my endgame for this chapter in my life. So, to have it slip away based on unforeseeable circumstances that you can do nothing to change is a heartbreak that is truly unimaginable. However, I want to complete the AT when I know that the population surrounding the trail and the other hikers will be OK. I want to attend Trail Days. I want to enjoy the company of other hikers. I want that social aspect as well as alone time in this experience. And I know that I do NOT want COVID-19 to take control of my life any more than it has.

Looking on the Bright Side

As of right now, I am still processing many emotions that come with this news and announcement of postponing my hike. Letting go of expectations and the excitement that was so close to becoming a reality is a new feeling for me.

However, I may be another year older when I complete the AT, but I will be much wiser and will have a newfound appreciation for the journey, because it can so easily be taken away at any moment. I am grateful for my health, which is allowing me to be able to complete this journey one day, my family (who will end up housing me), and my patience, which has been greatly tested in the midst of all this madness.

The trail will still be there for me when I finally get there. The hikers I will met will help me find gratitude in the midst of all of this madness. And I wish all the other hikers a clear head going through all of these emotions. You are not alone.

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Comments 6

  • Les Mahoney : Apr 22nd

    Hi Sydney,

    My start date was April 15th as well… so i feel your pain and share it. I am fortunate that i can be in a holding pattern for a time, and still hope to get out there, but if June 1st rolls around and i still can’t start, what then? Fyi, i was going to flip flop from harpers north and then harpers south, so my timeline is somewhat different than a traditional nobo… drop a line if you would like to discuss/commiserate. Les

    • Skully (Kirk Bland) : May 8th

      I was on trail when everything went down and it was heartbreaking to leave, but it had to be done, just for protection of the community. We’ll see how it goes later, but I look at it as a delay, nothing more. YMMV

  • Christine Taylor : Apr 23rd

    I’m 30 years older then you but we are going through the same feelings. I thru hiked the AT in 2016 and have since been working for the money to do the PCT this year. Every decision I have made regarding work and how I spend my money has all been based on THE PLAN. Well life handed us all a new plan. Hopefully we will all be more grateful for our hikes next year. Good luck and good health.

  • Rick Williams : Apr 27th

    Don’t give up the dream/ hike for a caeer .I am 68 and began work the day after college graduation. Worked 43 years in my field before retirement. My point is that, in the end, I never would have missed 2 or 3 years of work ( the money or the advancements) . I did miss some adventures I always wanted to do.

  • Jacob Woods : Apr 28th

    Great read!! It feels so hard to say goodbye to the AT when its right in front of you, but it’ll always be there waiting for your adventure. If anything all of this craziness will make your eventual thru-hike even more special.

  • Emily B. : Jun 11th

    It feels better knowing that other people feel the same way I am feeling. I am also 26 and was thinking basically the same thoughts. How upset I was that these circumstances would push my life back an entire year. I have quit my job. Was ready for my adventure and then excited to come home to my husband and start a family. But now it’s all on hold and everyday that goes by waiting feels like a waste.


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