Why I’m Getting Off the AT Amid COVID-19 Concerns
This morning after a long, difficult few days of consideration, I have made the decision to put my dreams of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail on hold. I was ~200 miles into my NOBO thru-hike, in the the Smokies at Newfound Gap. I started the trail at Amicalola on March 1, just 18 days ago.
In an email from the ATC yesterday that assured thru-hikers “We do not make this request lightly,” the AT class of 2020 was asked to end our trips. Months of planning, of hard training, of saving money, and leaving our loved ones behind are now to be put aside for the greater good. Thru-hikers, even the healthiest among us, run the risk of coming into contact with COVID-19, and with that risk comes an even greater risk of spreading it to those who are the most sensitive to it. Many of the small communities that exist off trail, including the trail angels who support us and the various shuttles, hostels, and support organization, would be damaged severely should an outbreak occur. The ATC states that this is “not an easy or small decision to make, but the impacts of potentially spreading COVID-19 during your journey are big.” Should such communities find themselves in an outbreak, they would be in far more grave danger than most due to the lack of medical infrastructure it would take to treat everyone affected.
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Hello all. As painful as this is to write, many of my fellow thru-hikers and I have made the decision to get off trail amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy issued a warning that read “we urge you to return home until these risks have passed,” and as they are one of the primary bodies that provide this amazing opportunity to hikers, I’ve decided to respect their request for the time being. The danger does not primarily lie with thru-hikers getting sick, but instead with the risk of us accidentally carrying the virus into more sensitive communities that don’t have the medical means to combat an outbreak, and it would’ve been our fault they were affected at all. I don’t want to contribute to that scenario, and neither do my peers. I promise this isn’t the end – not by a long shot. I will complete the AT, even if I need to completely restart next year from the very beginning. I will raise that funding that @thorn deserves, and I will walk every step of this 2,200 mile journey. For now I will be reaching out to local food organizations and seeing by what means I can contribute my time towards ensuring no one has to go hungry during this odd time, and I ask all young, healthy individuals also give their time in whatever manner they see fit. Much love to you all, and thank you for riding beside me these past 200 or so miles.
These statements flooded my mind as I began cycling through social media and group texts. I wanted to know where everyone in the hiking community stood on the matter. Should we stay on trail where we are safe? What could it mean if we felt OK, but found ourselves resupplying in a town where COVID-19 had been present? I soon realized that many of my fellow thru-hikers felt the same way I did. Whether or not we would be OK is of little matter. It is far more important that the communities that support not only us but thousands of other thru-hikers over the years be given the respect and consideration they deserve. The ATC and its supporters are what allow the AT to exist, and their wishes should be respected and carried out in a mature and efficient manner. We owe it to them and to ourselves as a community to do what is best for all and to act as advocates for best-use practices along the AT.
I take great pride in my trail community, and during this odd transitional period I will be assisting other hikers who are heading home by providing shuttles to the airports or car rental services in the southern parts of the AT. In my hometown, I am blessed to have worked for a community-centered family restaurant for quite some time, and I have been discussing options with them for helping get food out to community members in need. For those who are healthy and capable, I urge you to find ways to help your local communities as well, in the safest manner possible that is.
This too will pass, and the trail will still be waiting for me when the time is right. For now, I will focus on what I can do at home and one day get back on my long walk to Katahdin.
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