What It’s Like for 2020 Thru-Hikers Canceling Their Plans Because of COVID-19

Within the past week, every community, industry, age range, and recreation subset has been flipped upside down. Everything from dinner reservations to planning for the entirety of 2020 has gone out the window, and the situation is still constantly in flux. The outdoor community as a whole—including the thru-hiking subset—is no exception.

Last week, I was concerned about potential resupply changes for my upcoming PCT thru-hike. Three days ago, the situation had spiraled enough for me to cancel my hike, followed by statements from leading trail organizations asking hikers to postpone their hikes. Today, instead of shipping a mail drop or working on The Trek’s normal seasonal content, I’m asking our 2020 bloggers for their thoughts on their hikes ending before they start… or about how they’re leaving the trail hundreds of miles in.

Things have changed fast in the trail community, but I believe we’ll come out stronger on the other side with a greater sense of unity and purpose. If the collective class of 2020—including hikers from the AT, PCT, CDT, and beyond—can put the health and safety of others before themselves at great logistical and financial sacrifice following years of planning, then it proves what an incredible community we’re lucky to be part of.

Here are just a few of The Trek’s 2020 bloggers on how they made their decisions to cancel or postpone their hikes, and how they’re feeling at this time. Our thoughts go out to everyone impacted in the outdoor community and beyond.

Maggie Slepian
Managing Editor

Bryce Maki – PCT

After days of research and thought, I’m making the decision to cancel my thru-hike of the PCT due to COVID-19. I’ve educated myself extensively about this virus, and it’s far more serious than I had originally thought. I believe that my best contribution to society is to stay isolated right now. The asymptomatic nature of this virus can create dangers that we are unaware of and I don’t want to risk spreading it to the communities along the PCT. For me, hiking in this current situation wouldn’t be enjoyable. I’ll sleep better at night knowing that I followed my brain rather than my heart on this one.

This decision is soul-crushing because I was so close to living a dream. For this to end before it even started stings a lot, but this situation is out of my control. I hope to return in 2021, but I don’t know what my life will look like a year from now. In the meantime I’ll keep doing day hikes and going surfing while the world rides out this pandemic. Hopefully I’ll be able to plan a few weekend trips after it all ends. In the short-term, I aim to educate myself further about investing and figure out what route I want to take with my life moving forward. But before any of that, I just need some time to feel good again. May God bless you all, never waste a day, and love those around you.

Bob Taylor – PCT

Unless there is some shocking improvement in the next two weeks, I’ll be canceling my April 8 PCT start. I’ve heard from so many of the people I admire in the hiking community (mostly via The Trek) that now it’s not just the responsible thing to do, it’s the only thing to do for me. I just can’t be that flippant in the face of putting others at risk.

We all know that thru-hiking is an inherently selfish pursuit. I’m OK with that, but I don’t want to be dangerous to other people. I don’t care if I get the virus, I’m not afraid of it, but some people are, and I don’t want people to feel threatened by me when I come stumbling into town for a resupply. Whether or not their fear is justified is not my call to make. Perception is reality for people. I don’t want to be responsible for damaging the reputation of hikers being good, considerate people.

I feel like it’s almost a Leave No Trace issue at this point: Be considerate of others. If I insist on hiking and that negatively impacts a community’s opinions or relationship with hikers, have I been considerate? Am I being a good ambassador for the hiking community? Have I left no trace, even if that trace is just a bad feeling? And it’s not just the PCT, it could be any trail. Being part of a “fringe” community that is frequently viewed as selfish or irresponsible, do I want to give more weight to the negative side of that argument?

I’ve spent 2+ years seriously preparing for this hike, and dreamed of it for decades. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, quit my job, canceled the lease on my apartment, saved all of my pennies, and I have nowhere else to go. I’m on the backside of 50, and a decent hiker at best, so I don’t have that many “maybe next year” possibilities left in me. This decision is soul-crushing. If you need me, I’ll be drunk on the couch playing video games and avoiding any sort of grown-up thoughts.What will I do? I haven’t the faintest idea. I was deliberately not thinking about that until October. I guess I’ll start job hunting, which should be an absolute freaking greased goat rodeo with the current state of things, and then find a new place to live besides my car.

Reanna Leisure – AT

Like so many others in the thru-hiking community, the Appalachian Trail has been a dream of mine for so long. It’s been years in the making, months of tedious planning, and weeks of getting so incredibly excited to head for Georgia.

Now with less than 30 days away from my adventure of a lifetime, I’ve decided to cancel my thru-hike for 2020 per the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s instructions. This decision was not made lightly. I am utterly heartbroken. Words cannot even begin to describe my disappointment as I now have to put my goal of making it to Katahdin on hold because of an unexpected force none of us saw coming.

As for the next steps, I always promised myself that if for some reason I wouldn’t get to hike the AT, I would at least thru-hike a trail this year. I’m not sure which one yet, but I have time to figure it out while the coronavirus ensues. Hopefully this chaos subsides soon and I, along with so many other hikers, can get back to doing what we love again.

Allison Perrine – PCT

My name is Allison and I’m a 28-year-old oncology nurse. I’ve been saying “PCT 2020!” since 2016. Even a week ago I told others that my list of reasons to quit the trail was very short. My only reasons to leave were broken limbs and terminal illness in my immediate family. The coronavirus was definitely not on the list of things that I thought would prevent me from hiking. My start date was March 22. I pushed back the decision until just days before the trip. I wrestled with the same questions as many regarding resupply, store closures, and hitches into town. What ultimately convinced me to cancel my trip was seeing official statements coming from trail towns (Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, Truckee) asking people who aren’t residents not to visit. I came to terms with my trip as “nonessential travel.”

This was hard to reconcile given that this has been my most important and all-consuming goal for years. The days leading up to the decision not to hike were gut-wrenching and frustrating. My spirit is crushed and I am frustrated. I am incredibly disappointed, but I am so certain that I am making the right choice that I’m hardly saddened. I know that the experience of being on trail is not the experience I wanted for this once-in-a-lifetime endeavor. I’m hoping that by waiting I will have the full experience of trail angels, trail towns, and tramily. Oh, and not having tons of anxiety over a pandemic.

My partner and I will try for permits again next year. I am a travel nurse so I applied to work as a crisis nurse in Seattle and to a few other positions within my specialty across the country. I picked up my resupply boxes from my friends and sorted out food into three piles: 1. Food that will be stable beyond next summer and can still be used for my hike (Mountain House, some tuna packets, etc.).  2. Food that expires before next year, but that I can reasonably eat in the coming months (nut butters, trail mix, dried fruit, dried meats). 3. Food that expires before next year but isn’t food I want to eat if I’m not on trail. I will donate this food to my local food bank (ramen, pasta sides, some tuna).

Shannon Ryker – PCT

There are many reasons I have decided to cancel but the most important reason is to keep vulnerable populations safe. I have family members in this demographic and care about their safety.

This is not the hike I envisioned. I’ve heard past hikers talk about abandoning your expectations when hiking but those folks probably never envisioned their hike could be altered so drastically.

I want the rich cultural experience provided by so many amazing international hikers and trail angels. I don’t want to spend my hike avoiding contact with people.

I don’t want to worry about empty grocery shelves, closed restaurants, hotels and national parks. At this point hiking the PCT in 2020 is more like an episode of Survivor than a long-distance hike.

I want the security of travel insurance and the availability of emergency services and medical personnel. At this point, purchasing insurance would be worthless with strong advisories against all nonessential travel. Medical personnel are already experiencing capacity issues and getting proper medical care may be more difficult. Just stepping in a medical facility is a risk.

Tyler Jeremiah – AT

I was supposed to fly into Atlanta this morning to start my thru-hike of the AT. But after giving it some intense thought this weekend, I realized I couldn’t in good conscience risk contracting the virus on my way to the trail and potentially spread it to vulnerable hikers, trail angels, and the trail communities along the way. It seemed like a morally irresponsible choice. As I’ve already quit my job, I’m going to take the next few weeks to do what I was planning on doing out on the AT: pursue spiritual and intellectual growth by studying mindfulness, philosophy, and anything else that piques my interest. I am now determined to finish my degree as soon as possible, and so I just signed up for a few summer classes and am working on preparing my fall schedule as well. I will hopefully get to head out on my thru-hike once I graduate!
I was initially feeling incredibly bummed about the decision to cancel; in many ways it felt like I was breaking up with myself. But after a good cry and some soul-searching, I am now determined to accept the situation for what it is and keep moving forward. I’m choosing to see this as an opportunity to grow, and I know that once I do make it out to the AT, it’ll mean so much more because of this.

Janelle Libertone – PCT

Thru-hiking is as much about the trail communities as it as about being in nature for months. We’re hiking through people’s backyards (sometimes literally). Our spirits are lifted anytime we are offered a ride, find a water cache, or a surprise burger near a road crossing. We rely on kindness and people going out of their way to help us in whatever way they can.  We stay at hotels, get mail at the post office, and eat at local restaurants. Sure, a hike is possible without trail angels and a great cup of coffee after a rough hundred miles, but the PCT experience is built on the relationship between thru-hikers and the trail communities. My choice to not go is about everyone who lives in these communities.  These towns have no ability to support a health crisis of this magnitude. It’s not about being safer about it, it’s not about using more hand sanitizer, or not gathering close together. It’s not about what you can do. It’s about not doing things. I will never know if my actions had an impact on anyone or if they were inconsequential, but I’m OK with that. I am content being in my own community as we navigate how to get through this.

I have deep feelings of loss. It’s not necessarily the loss of a six-month hiking trip. It’s the loss of getting to meet the version of me who made it to the Northern Terminus and the people who helped me get there.

I am fully planning on hiking the PCT at the next reasonable time, but I am having trouble seeing that the pandemic will have passed by summer and not come back next flu season to impact next year’s hiking season. For now, I’ve purchased a two-pound block of cheese and begun foraging in my resupply for delicious snacks.

Related

Updated Coronavirus-Related Closures

ATC Statement

PCTA Statement

CDTC Statement

Stay up-to-date with The Trek Newsletter

Special thanks to The Trek bloggers who contributed to this piece, and to Katie Kommer for updating and compiling responses. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Featured image via Maggie Slepian
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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Richard Jerden : Mar 20th

    Whew, powerful statements there, really powerful. Bless them all!

    I have done my PCT hiking and so I know the planning and anticipation which goes into it. It’s not easy to let go of a dream, but sometimes it is needful.

    This year my wife and I had carved out two months of time to go to Europe and hike the Del Norte route of the Camino de Santiago. We saved up money and even learned rudimentary Spanish in anticipation of the trip. Now we have had to set that all aside because of this pandemic. In that sense I “grok” what these individuals have so elequently written.

    Take care …. Richard

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Melinda Adams : Mar 21st

    Tearful. My heart goes out to everyone during this trying time. Though my trip to through hike the Colorado Trail was not scheduled to begin till late June or early July, I don’t see this blowing over by then. Since I’m 65 and retired, I don’t have to worry about finding a job or even a place to live. I only have to worry about staying alive and healthy to hike another day. I don’t live along the trail, but nonetheless; for all of you that gave up your life dream to keep others healthy, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul. You are heroes and have demonstrated courage beyond measure. When I’m sitting around weeping because I may have missed my golden opportunity to do a through hike, I’m going to think of y’all and your courage and sacrifice, especially those of you struggling to find a way home, or find a home and/or a job. With all my love, thank you. We all owe you. Good luck out there. May you live to hike another day.

    Melinda

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Bruce : Mar 24th

    How does one help hikers trying to get off trail I know a lot of hikers are under a financial strain getting off trail which could be a real problem Any links I could help donate to help would be thankful.
    Bruce

    Reply
  • Avatar
    FM : Mar 25th

    Keep your eye on this map, and keep your hopes up for the possibility of an AT southbound hike in early June.

    https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

    Reply

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