The Three C’s of Pandemic Thru-Hiking

“A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way.” – Allan King


Acknowledging The Suck

There has emerged a great suckling sound rising over hill and dale. Something between the whiffling gaseous pop preceding your boot being slurped off by two feet of liquified clay and the raspberryesque kiss of a clogged drains sudden vortex of suckage; The line clears and all the backed-up water, much like your 2021 thru-hiking dreams, vanishes down the pipes.

Have you heard it?

OVER IT. __________Photo courtesy of canstock/smrm1977.

Don’t Despair Dirtbags

My Appalachian Trail thru-hike has once again felt the sucking kiss of death because of the pandemic. For the second year in a row, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has recommended thru-hikers cancel or change their hike. This didn’t come as a surprise, considering most of the northeast has put a ban on overnight camping for the foreseeable future.

Though all is not lost my fellow dirtbags. With the exception of recluses living under a rock, we’re now familiar with the risks associated with Covid. All you need to decide is what course of action is best for you.

Do you Cancel, Change, or Continue your hike as planned?

Why Cancel?

The most obvious course of action is to ask yourself, should I cancel my hike? The answer will not be the same for all of us and will be unique to each hiker. For myself, I need to take into consideration I’ve newly arrived on the threshold of stage three kidney disease.

I also chose the A.T. specifically for its social environment. My decision based on my needs and reasons for hiking this trail has been that I will cancel my 2021 A.T. thru-hike.

So now what?

Beauty in chaos. Sunset over Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming 2020.

Changing Perspective

There is a chaotic beauty to change, and a wealth of adventure to discover in sudden twists and roads less traveled. Some of my best adventures only came into being because plans had to change, went wildly wrong, or took sudden, unexpected, yet fortuitous turns.

I once took a month-long road trip through Germany. Every day we would wake up and choose a random road, then explore whatever we found at the end. One day we found ourselves far from anywhere trying to get to a town the roadsigns had been calling “Umleitung”.

We had been driving for hours, the night was falling, and a biblical deluge had caught us. As we drove by another, yet strangely familiar Umleitung sign, it suddenly dawned on us. We had been going in circles.

In front of us lay a road to nowhere, and neither of us was motivated to give it another go. To our right was an overgrown road heading off into some hills. With nothing to lose, we swung right and followed the lane which encircled a hill, dead-ending at the wooden gates of some sort of manor.

In for a dime, in for a dollar; we got out of the car and ran through the doors.

Burg Eltz, Germany. We actually stayed in Colmburg, but this is a good representation. The Colmburg photos are in an album in a crawl space somewhere in Utah.__________Photo courtesy of canstock/Deviousrlm

It was a castle. A fully operational castle complete with a chapel and hidden coves that welcomed outside guests. As luck would have it, they had one room left, and dinner was just about ready.

The feast of hot bread, fresh veggies, and venison was one for the books.  Desert was nothing less than every pastry I’ve ever heard of and done to perfection. The castle was medieval perfection as well, it even had a resident ghost.

To date, that night was the most memorable of any night I’ve ever had.

During checkout, we inquired how we could get to the elusive town of Umleitung. In hindsight, we should have spent more time reviewing the various German road signs.

Umleitung isn’t in fact a town, but a familiar road sign simply stating “Detour”.

Now that my A.T. thru-hike is on the back burner, I can choose to see a sign reading “Dead End”, or one adventurously shouting “Detour”!

I have embraced this change of plans rather than an abrupt end and will go where the wind (and logic) blows me. Because my needs require I keep my distance from the masses, I will spend the next few weeks mapping out hikes and sourcing out possible volunteer opportunities. Both need to be remote, hard to access, or undiscovered.

Choosing to Continue

Now that I’ve chosen to continue hiking this year, albeit completely differently than I had planned, my course is set.

What about everyone else?

Some people will be determined to do an A.T. thru-hike regardless of Covid, which is their prerogative. They can help keep themselves and others safe by following the guidelines the CDC and the A.T.C. have issued to limit transmission.

So continuing is possible, and I’m sure the trail towns could use the income hikers bring… just be sure money is all you leave behind.

Try your hand at trail angel lumberjacking. Beards and plaid required._________Photo courtesy of canstock/aetb

For those still on the fence, or with limited time available to hit the trail, consider volunteering.

Our public trails have experienced a lot of delayed maintenance issues coupled with excessive use over the last year. If thru-hiking during a pandemic makes you uneasy, yet you need to work out pent-up 2020 energy, consider volunteering for a local trail crew.

Most states recruit local crews who maintain our public lands, and I think trail volunteers are trail angels of the highest order. I challenge everyone to volunteer and give back something to our trails in 2021. Why not? (That makes you a superhero in my book.)

It’s always 5:00 in the gulf._________Photo courtesy of canstock/infinity3d

Here & Now

I am currently in the Florida panhandle on the Georgia line living in my RV. In a day or so, I expect I’ll be pulling anchor and traveling along the Gulf of Mexico until February blows over. I’ve got a few hikes that have caught my interest in this general region, but I need to get on them soon to avoid the crowds.

Once I’m on the trail, I expect I’ll have sorted where the year will find me later on. I’ll drop a line then and let y’all know.


Have you altered your own thru-hike plans this year? What trail were/are you going to be hiking? What was behind your decision to cancel, continue, or embrace the adventure of changing plans at the last minute? Will you be volunteering?

I would love to hear what other people are doing!

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Comments 19

  • pearwood : Jan 26th

    I postponed. Again. I want to be able to enjoy the AT community without the pandemic hanging over us. I’ll stay in New York State for 2021. The is no end of beautiful places to backpack in state.
    My Trek blog is going to be something like, “In the meantime”.
    Steve / pearwood

    • J.D./ La Loon : Jan 27th

      I think my blog will be a bit of “In the meantime” as well. The community was the biggest reason I chose the A.T. for 2021 as well. I was being optimistic things would be a bit more under control.
      I’m going to be looking at sections of the CDT or the PCT. Honestly, I’ll probably end up doing a lot of section hikes.
      Thanks for your comment!

  • LFP2020 : Jan 27th

    I wasn’t planning to thru-hike but COVID sure as hell won’t stop me from hiking. Out in nature is the one place you don’t have to wear a mask or be consumed by paranoia. I would urge thru-hikers to go for it…. as long as you avoid the shelters, you’ll be fine.

    • J.D./ La Loon : Jan 27th

      I think hiking is one of the better ways to pass time this coming year. With the AT being the social sphere that it is, the experience I had hoped for won’t be a reality. -I hadn’t considered a shelter as an option as it was, just for the mice and snoring; I like people, but I’m not a fan of sleep deprivation.
      I look forward to hiking the AT when I can experience it the way it’s intended to be. For now I’m looking at the CDT and PCT. It’s a bit less crowded out west.
      Thanks for your input!

  • Christian : Jan 28th

    Loved that post. I am from Germany and will never be able to see one of those ‘Umleitung’ signs without thinking of this story.

    • J.D./ La Loon : Jan 28th

      Yes, not one of my finer moments.
      My brother lived in Leipzig at the time and he got a good laugh out of that one. He told me I should avoid trying to get to Ausfahrt as well.

      Loved Germany! At some point I need to get back for some hiking and döners! (Best food ever)
      :::daydreaming about all things German:::

      • Christian : Jan 31st

        Just in case you need some advice for hiking tours, let me know. We got some nice ones over here. You definitely don’t need advice for food, Döner is the best. 😂

        • J.D./ La Loon : Feb 1st

          Absolutely, that would be fantastic! Who better to know the best trails than a local? Any advice on hikes in the south? I’m really up for anything though; must see trail towns, pilgrimages, … and definitely food. Being a chef has made me a dedicated foodie.

          I’m sure others would appreciate learning about some of the hikes in Germany as well. It’s hard to get a feel for the truly spectacular German hikes from way over here in the US.

  • Shannon : Jan 29th

    Excellent post, I really enjoyed reading this! This was especially timely because I have admittedly been feeling a little down lately thinking about the year ahead with the gloomy trajectory of covid with all these new strains while also grappling with my decision to postpone my AT thru-hike. I feel as though postponing it is the right decision for me and my circumstances but can’t help to think about what I’ll be missing out on. However, I really like and admire your positive perspective and approach to this situation and will try to emulate it because our attitude and mindset is truly the only thing we have control over. I also really enjoyed your story from Germany which is proof that the best things in life are often unexpected and when we take a wrong turn or detour, ha! I’ll have to tell this story to my father who lived in Germany for a while, he’ll get a kick out of it. I hope you enjoy your hikes along the Gulf Coast, which from what I’ve heard, is a very beautiful and underrated area for hiking so I think you will enjoy it and will seek the solace you are looking for. Plus, the weather must be a heck of a lot better than it is up here! I recently moved back to Maryland from Charleston, SC, and I miss those mild, sunny coastal winters every day! Lastly, I was really hoping to get my AT fix through volunteering on the trail but when I reached out to the ATC clubs and to some other local hiking clubs in Maryland, they all said they have suspended volunteer opportunities until further notice so I am going to seek other volunteer opportunities elsewhere and if nothing else, try to do my part and pick up trash/clear paths when I am on my local trails. It’s not much, but a small way I try to give back to something that has given so much to me. Enjoy your travels and adventures, I look forward to following your detours and adventures, wherever life and your RV takes you! Glad to hear you’re making lemonade from lemons, you’ve inspired me to try to find new ways to stay involved/give back to the trail, aside from just thru-hiking!

    • J.D./ La Loon : Jan 29th

      Thank you so much for your comment, it made my day! I understand feeling down about postponing. With this being the second time, and already being out east, it was harder to do this time, though I knew there was a high probability when I regestered my hike. We can’t control the world around us, but we can control how we respond to it. I try to look at challenges with the mindset that if something happens that I don’t like, change it. If I can’t change it I can change the way I see it. The AT may be out, so I figure life is just telling me there’s something I need to learn or see somewhere else this year. As long as I’m upright and breathing there will be options.

      I’m running into the same roadblock with volunteering so I’ve taken it upon myself to better whatever trail I’m on as needed. (Pick up trash, move debris -within reason; I don’t want to mark up the trail. Report problems, etc.)

      The weather varies; warm one day, freezing the next, rain, sun and the other day a tornado. The spice of life! I can’t complain.

      Drop a comment whenever you feel like it and tell us about your adventures.

      Happy trails!

      • Shannon : Mar 9th

        Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply! I meant to respond much sooner! Hard to believe we are already in March! How have you been managing your travels and adventures? I hope you are enjoying them and that warm Southern winter weather! It seems as though we are finally starting to turn the corner with this pandemic, here’s hoping we can sustain the progress we’ve made and brighter days are on the horizon for us all.

        I sincerely value your perspective and your wisdom. I really took to heart what you said especially, “We can’t control the world around us, but we can control how we respond to it.” Simple yet still profound! Words I need to hear and am trying to live by. I think I’ve tried to change the way I see this pandemic and the opportunities lost and gained from it and I thank you for encouraging this positive perspective and mindset. It really has humbled me and inspired me to be and do better.

        I intend on hiking part of the Colorado Trail this summer and will surely share my experience with you and look forward to hearing more about your adventures and travels this year! Wish you all the best in all of your endeavors!

        • J.D./ La Loon : Mar 9th

          Hey there Shannon – I’m currently hiking the Pinhoti trail; last night was a trail town night. The Pinhoti is further north, so the nights are very chilly.

          I’m happy we’re finally getting somewhere with the pandemic. As such, I need to make my way back west for a vaccine along with Old Gregg; work want’s him back to traveling, so we’ll see how far I get with the Pinhoti.

          As for perspective, I have severe depression, yet I’m a hopeful person, so there you go. It’s easy to be negative and a victim, but I truly believe anything valuable is hard-won, so I try to find the positive. I think we could all use a little after the past year.

          I’ll be hiking parts of the CDT late spring into the fall – beautiful country! Let us know how your hiking goes – nice to hear from you again.
          Happy Trails

  • Russ1663 : Jan 29th

    It’s a difficult time for planning, the plague worsens it. I e-mailed with ATC concerning registering for my trip, got the answers I sought. I will wait for my vaccine and plan then

    • J.D./ La Loon : Jan 29th

      It has been a challenge. Waiting for your vaccine and then planning sounds like good advice. I know once I get mine I’ll feel a whole lot better about the more popular trails.

      I hope the best for your adventures this year!

      Happy trails!

  • Harry : Feb 6th

    I appreciate your thoughts here, and your decision. I have read quite a few comments elsewhere that express a rather cavalier attitude about the pandemic, and a sort of hell be damned approach. I also can relate to your mention of kidney disease and how one might feel compelled to get cracking, time is of the essence. That’s where I am. I have advanced cancer, manageable for now, but it has motivated me to sort of get at it sooner rather than later, this not being a “bucket list” thing but a curative, enlightenment thing. I’m older and I have college aged children to provide for etc. which makes my situation somewhat unique in that I likely cannot do five months straight on trail. I am self employed and can tailor my days. So my plan is to do sections, but continuous and long in duration. I think this works well for the pandemic because I can always be avoiding the bubble, generally well ahead of it. I can also just abandon if I think the situation is just not safe. I’m not much into shelters anyway, prefer my tent. The solitude will be good-and safe.

    • J.D./ La Loon : Feb 6th

      Thank you, Harry. There are as many opinions of what the pandemic is and isn’t and what is to be done about it as there are hikers. This is where “hike your own hike” goes hand in hand with “Be smart, be kind, be respectful”. I am sorry for the situation you have been dealt here, but I do admire the perspective and courage you are embracing as you seek that inner peace. I understand. – I’m certainly far from being in a dire situation with the kidneys, but the diagnosis was a mental wake-up call; get cracking!
      Much like yourself, the A.T. isn’t a bucket list check for me. There is a lot to be said about not racing from check to check just to claim you’ve done it, and so much that can be gleaned from taking the time to appreciate the moments. I think cherishing the moments over the lists is something that comes with age/ life experiences. How fortunate are we that we HAVE discovered their value?- ! I am so happy you have a means and plan to hike your hike! (And avoiding shelters is something I’ll do even after the pandemic). I wish you all the peace and goodwill for a curative hike! Stop in and share your experiences should you feel so motivated. Your perspective is one I believe more hikers could appreciate embracing. Happy Trails fellow solitude seeker!

      • Harry : Feb 6th

        J.D / La Loon-I appreciate your thoughtful words on this thread and the other. There are so many opinions and perspectives out there, some rather course. So thank you for words enjoyable to read. I am supposed to be starting a blog on here any day now. Until then.

        • J.D./ La Loon : Feb 7th

          You’re welcome. I look forward to following your story 😁


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