PCT 2020: Letting Go and Postponing Until 2021

Two months ago, it was inconceivable that a pandemic would be the reason I questioned my PCT thru-hike. In my mind, the two biggest threats to my hike were pre-trail training injury and my fear of camping alone.

Fast forward to early February, when I was just starting to hear out about the epidemic in China and cases in Europe. It felt so far away and removed from my daily concerns. I barely paid attention.

Gaining Understanding

On February 19, I flew home to Seattle to attend a snow skills class at Snoqualmie Pass. At that time, there were no measures in place to screen passengers and no indication that I should pay attention. During my visit home media coverage and COVID-19 cases in Washington escalated and I started to take notice. However, I didn’t believe it would ever affect me or my daily life. I returned home to Nashville and continued planning my thru-hike.

The following week, I received several calls from my sister updating me on the status of Washington and how the COVID-19 virus was affecting their daily lives. Her firsthand accounts of experiences at the grocery store and local clinics sounded like an episode of Contagion or the Walking Dead. My family was now living in the United States epicenter of a global pandemic, however, the rest of the country seemed mostly unaware.

Natural Disasters

On March 3, a tornado ripped through downtown Nashville and left a 50-mile path of destruction. The tornado demolished businesses, schools, homes, and ended the lives of 25 people. A natural disaster of this magnitude would normally be national news and be covered on local stations across the nation.

However, in Seattle they barely mentioned the event. All the coverage was focused on the corona virus. My family did not find out that we experienced a natural disaster until my 87-year-old grandpa saw the coverage on FOX news and called my mom to ask if they had talked to me. Most people in Washington were completely unaware that it had happened. This was another red flag that something was terribly wrong.

Between March 3-10, I became increasing concerned as I learned of school closures, empty grocery shelves, and overflowing clinics. I noticed some of these issues starting to surface in Tennessee but for the most part folks in Tennessee were still unconcerned.

During this time, I focused on possible resupply issues and ordered additional items to send to myself on trail in the event store shelves were depleted. I wasn’t ready to accept or consider that my dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail might be over. I was still fully entrenched and in denial.

On March 11, I took a navigational course and spent the day in an area with no cell service. When I returned home that evening, I learned that the White House had declared a national emergency and banned European travel. I knew starting my hike on April 7 was most likely not happening, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

I Was in Denial

Denial is a powerful tool of avoiding things we do not want to accept. We will make excuses and look for the loopholes that allow us to continue down a path we don’t want to let go. When in denial, we try to deny and debunk the solid evidence placed in our path and filter the evidence that supports our desired outcome.

I’ve spent the past week with one foot on denial and the other on evidence. Bouncing back and forth between the two, not ready to let go of my dream to hike the PCT. Looking for the loopholes that might allow me to continue my hike. As the days pass, I’ve shifted my weight to the evidence-based foot. It’s blaring loud and clear. I am unable to ignore it any longer.

To anyone who already started the trail or scrambled to beat the travel ban I understand you. You worked so hard for this dream and didn’t have the time to fully process the situation before deciding to hike. Everything happened so quickly, and we all have so much invested in this endeavor and that makes it extremely hard to let go.

My Official Stance

It was agonizing, but I have decided to cancel my 2020 PCT hike and I will not be relinquishing my permit in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep hiking communities safe. In addition, I will NOT cancel or return any orders I have placed with trail businesses or outdoor gear companies, including my bear can rental at Kennedy Meadows These folks need our support now more than ever and I want to see them stay afloat and be able to support hikers next season.

My Reasons for Postponing

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 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.

What’s Next?

I will be canceling this year’s hike and attempting again in 2021. I will continue to train, prepare, and post updates throughout the year. I will take this opportunity to hone my navigation and snow skills for next season and go on local trips later in the year after the danger has passed.

Thanks for following! I wish you all the best and stay safe!

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Comments 7

  • John Folsom : Mar 19th

    Hopefully the agencies that manage the PCT will put all 2020 permit holders that made the decision to get off the trail or postpone their hike amidst this pandemic at the front of the line for permits in 2021 and 2022.

    • Shannon Ryker : Mar 19th

      That would be amazing but i won’t hold any expectations for them to do so.. It’s an impossible situation for them. I’m happy to reapply and try again next year.

  • Just Bob : Mar 19th

    A well written piece which truly depicts the truths about what we are all experiencing. If I may extend a platitude. “The PCT will always be there for later”. While I know this does not dampen the blow in the greater scheme of things it is something we all have to look forward to. We are all in this together and we (me included) have to pack away in a closet all the gear we were all going to be using this year.
    For now I will continue to read up on thru hiking and remain seated behind my computer watching Youtube videos on the topic.

    Be safe…….

    • Shannon Ryker : Mar 19th

      You are absolutely correct! While i am sad to postpone. It is necessary and the right thing to do. I will spend the next year training and honing my skills. Maybe do some backpacking in the fall if we are in the clear.

  • Bryce Maki : Mar 19th

    This depicts how we are all feeling right now. I feel for you and hope that positive times are on the horizon. Hoping to be back on trail in 2021 with you! Wishing health and happiness in these tough times.

    • Shannon Ryker : Mar 19th

      Thank You ! I am glad i am not alone and there are other hikers who understand. I plan on hiking in 2021 and will use this time to train and hone my skills. Silver Lining is i will already have the funds and gear next year, Stay Safe!

  • Lance A Goehring : Mar 19th

    Well said and well reasoned, Shannon. The agony of this past week has been unimaginable. Even two weeks ago, most of us could not even have conceived of what we are having to think about now. But, in the grand scheme of things, it is inconsequential in comparison to human life. There will be brighter days ahead where we all may share a trail and our biggest concern will be whether we are getting a burger or pizza in the next town. I long for that day, but right now, our neighbors, our families, our towns need us to think of them. And, I’m ok with that.


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