Getting Off Trail Before I Even Start

After lengthy consideration, research, and discussion with others, I have made the decision to postpone my 2020 thru-hike of the PCT.
This was truly one of the most gut-wrenching, soul-crushing decisions I’ve ever had to make. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to hike a long trail, and the PCT has been a focused part of my life for the many years. I quit my job, ended my apartment lease, put my belongings in storage, and now I’m left sitting here wondering what’s next. I probably should have had a Plan B.
I’ve spend thousands of dollars on equipment, saved every other spare cent, spent hundreds of hours in research and planning, trained my body and mind for the rigors of the trail, I even read Badger’s book, twice, but for now, my dream is on hold.
After consulting with dozens of other hikers, reading the available CDC and NIH information, and consulting several experts whose opinions I highly value, I cannot in good conscience set out on the trail this year.
So many communities are sheltering in place, businesses closed or struggling, many parks and campgrounds are closed, and supplies and support are becoming less available by the day. Many isolated communities are asking hikers to stay away, to not place an additional burden on their already limited resources. They have the same empty store shelves we have in bigger cities, and they have a more difficult time restocking those items.
Thru-hiking may seem like the ultimate social distancing, but that is an illusion based on Instagram photos of wide open spaces. The fact is that it is impossible to carry six months worth of food and never come into contact with another person on the trail. Hikers need to resupply every week or less, they need laundry and the very occasional shower. They want pizza and beer. They need rides to town and back to the trail, they share campgrounds and privies and small shelters while waiting out bad weather. Even if you ship all your resupplies to yourself on trail, many people have to handle those packages and then handle other packages, and then deliver them and hand them off to you. The potential for cross-contamination is just too high.
In trying to remain a good steward for the trail and an ambassador of the hiking community, I believe the decision not to hike, if nothing else, falls under the principles of Leave No Trace: Be considerate of others and their experience. Placing an additional burden on a small community with limited resources and/or infecting them with a potentially deadly virus is severely inconsiderate. Even if all I leave them with is the perception of hikers being selfish and stubborn, then I’ve added weight to a negative impression of our community that I love so much.
Thru-hiking is supposed to be a selfish pursuit, but in a fun kind of way, not in a patient zero way. For me to continue with my plans feels overwhelmingly arrogant. It’s too much of the me-me-me attitude we see so often these days. The excuse of “I’ve put too much into this to quit” or “I’ll be extra careful” doesn’t work for me. Those are excuses based on an aversion to not getting your own way. I can’t be so personally irresponsible as to put others at risk, even if it’s just a perceived risk. And now there’s a whole class of hikers who are of the “Don’t tell me what to do” mindset, and I definitely don’t want to be associated with them.
And so, for me, this year’s hiking class will always have a large asterisk after it. If you’re out there, if you’re able to finish, then that’s your accomplishment, good for you. But this is no longer the hike I signed up for, and so I am bowing out.
I’m going to have to go with Mr. Spock on this one:
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Take care of yourselves, good luck to us all.
I hope I’ll see you on the trail one day.

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Comments 3

  • Bryce Maki : Mar 19th

    Well written, Bob. Thought and prayers are with you and I hope to see you on the trail one day.

  • John Kapustka : Mar 19th

    Ditto. Very well written and you are being very responsible.

  • Lance A Goehring : Mar 19th

    Well said, my friend. I echo your sentiments.


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