Should I Stay or Should I Go? Thru-Hiking During a Pandemic
Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional. All opinions expressed in this post are my own. I highly encourage readers to do their own research on the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world has entered into an unprecedented global crisis. As a result, it is my opinion that this pandemic calls for all of us to consider unprecedented sacrifices for the safety of the world at large.
Over the past few days, I have been obsessively contemplating postponing my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail due to the coronavirus outbreak. Many of you may believe that to consider such a drastic measure is an overreaction. In fact, many of the people on the various thru-hiking forums and Facebook groups I’m a part of would agree with you.
I understand and anticipate the backlash this post might get, but just like when I made the choice to commit to this thru-hike, I have to follow my instincts. I cannot for the life of me quell the gut feeling that I have a moral responsibility to weigh every possible impact my decision to embark on this journey might have on myself and those around me.
As I mentioned in the disclaimer, I am not an expert. You should not take anything written in this post as professional advice. Rather than reiterating the facts and figures myself, here are some helpful and informative resources that I’ve used to get educated these past few days:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Coronavirus Guidelines for America (via White House), CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction podcast, CNN Live Coronavirus Updates, Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s COVID-19 Plan.
A Moral Duty
I believe we all have a moral duty to look after each other through this global crisis. If I were to continue my pursuit of this thru-hike, it would be for selfish reasons. In my head, I keep telling myself that I’ve spent too much time, energy, and money preparing for this journey to abandon it. For over a year, I planned my life around the idea that I would be spending half of 2020 out in the woods. I changed my school schedule because of it, I got a second job because of it, and I overcame countless anxiety attacks because of it. How can I throw all of that away?
The simple answer is this: for me, there is no other responsible option.
Risk Vs. Reward
Not many would deny that the middle of the woods might be a relatively safe place to be during this pandemic. I don’t dispute that. Hiking in the great outdoors, away from big groups of people, sounds like a really good idea. But the logistics of a long-distance, cross-country trek are what have me worried.
I am scheduled to fly into Atlanta later this week. I will be coming into contact with hundreds if not thousands of people in the airports, on the plane, and on the public transport and shuttle I plan on taking to get me to Amicalola Falls. The chances of my contracting the virus amid those throngs of people are impossible for me to deny.
Now, I’m a relatively healthy 21-year-old guy. I don’t anticipate exhibiting any life-threatening symptoms as a result of this possible contraction. It is extremely likely I could contract the virus and not even realize it. But others aren’t so lucky. Although my life might not be at risk if I catch this disease, I could pass it along to those who are more vulnerable.
This puts my fellow hikers at risk. It also puts every person I come into contact with during my resupplies in town at risk. The potential of spreading this virus to these small communities, and the possibility of exhausting their resources should I be forced to self-quarantine in one of them, is not a risk I’m willing to take.
The time has come to put the needs and safety of others above my personal dreams and desires. As difficult as it is, I am postponing my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail until further notice. There is still a possibility I will head out to the trail in a few weeks, but I’d rather act with extreme caution than with unnecessary risk.
Let me end this by imploring any of you who don’t understand my concerns to take some time to contemplate my perspective. I am not making this decision out of fear, panic, or as the result of misinformation.
I am making this decision due to a genuine, necessary concern for the health and safety of other hikers, trail angels, and citizens of the various towns along the trail. It would never sit right with me if I prioritized my personal goals over the well-being of others in a time of crisis. The Appalachian Trail will still be there in the years to come. And I will be more than ready to meet it when the time is right.
From My Ears to Yours
I know this is an overwhelming time for all of us. We will get through this together. That is the only way forward.
If you only listen to one song today, let it be this classic.
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