I Tabled My 2020 PCT Thru-Hike Because of Coronavirus

Time flies when you’re (not really) having fun. Three days ago I posted the rest of my gear for the PCT. Two days ago I made a plan to send extra mail drops in case of on-trail resupply closures. Yesterday I considered the reality of canceling travel to Tennessee for a race, and New Hampshire for my brother’s wedding. This afternoon I wrote about whether or not hikers have a moral obligation to put off their hikes. An hour after I published that piece, I got on a call with the boss, cried on the video chat while shoving cheese into my mouth, and told him I was tabling my NOBO PCT hike, set to start on April 29.

It just doesn’t make sense for me to thru-hike the PCT.

Hiking 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through dozens of small communities and towns isn’t right. Forget dealing with closures and uncertainty; potentially spreading this virus to vulnerable populations made the decision obvious, if not easy.

Financially, I was set to hike. Logistically, everything was ready to go. It really does seem surreal, but we’re living in unprecedented times and that means making choices before you’re forced into a decision.

I encourage everyone on the fence about their hike to think about putting other people before themselves. I’m young and healthy and not worried about getting sick. If I do get sick, the chance of it being more than a bad cold are slim to none. But that doesn’t give me the right to travel to places as a potential asymptomatic carrier, putting otherwise isolated communities at risk as part of a crowd of hikers. The small towns along the PCT don’t have the same resources and health care as larger communities. Many of these communities would be able to successfully self-quarantine were it not for thru-hikers moving between the towns. The same goes for the CDT, the AT, and other communities impacted by incoming travelers. The choice to continue with your thru-hike is an individual one, but it doesn’t feel right for me.

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For this reason, beyond any logistical concerns, it doesn’t feel right for me to take a trip that cannot in any way be deemed necessary, and has the potential to do harm to other people. The ability to thru-hike is a luxury that I’ve been afforded, and will be able to at some point in the future. A few hours after I made my choice, the PCTA sent a notice to permit holders stating, “Please think of the impact your choices have on others, and consider whether traveling during an unprecedented global health pandemic is the right choice.” 

I’m not going to ignore that I’m one of the lucky people who can change plans at the last minute with relatively few consequences. I can keep my income source, I own my house, I didn’t have to end a lease. I live in a beautiful place with plenty of opportunities for local outings and adventures this summer. I’ll get to climb, bike, hike, and plan for other adventures. Maybe I’ll finally finish that wolf cross stitch and learn to play chess. If things have calmed down by fall, the Arizona Trail isn’t out of the question. The PCT will always be there, and as a member of the thru-hiking class of 2020, I think I’ll be able to look back at this difficult choice and know I made the right decision.

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Comments 13

  • Gardner : Mar 16th

    Eloquently stated

  • joal hos : Mar 17th

    Aww Maggie – that really sucks but like you say, will ultimately be the right long term decision.

    The PCT will be there next year and you can hit it twice as hard!

    Joal and Jenny.

  • Don Williams : Mar 17th

    I don’t get it. One of the reasons you stated was discretionary travel. one you’re much safer being isolated on your hike than you are on a discretionary trip to the grocery store to get food so that point is not really valid ignore that said reply to you specifically.

    • B : Mar 17th

      I am also confused about this. Seems like maximum quaranteening.

  • Jim Rahtz : Mar 17th

    Well said. The situation sucks, but you made the right decision.

  • Gary Dixon : Mar 17th

    I too am foregoing my May 26 start at Campo. I have been planning if my hike for 5 years. To risk others, and myself, just isn’t worth it.

    I am 66 and taking heed to lay low, social distance and hope for the best.

    On the bright side my hands have never been this clean. But, not being able to touch my face, my poor wrinkles are getting very lonely.

    Be safe everyone !

  • Ana : Mar 17th

    Thank you for making this tough and selfless decision. As a physician, I thank you as I think moves like this one will help slow viral spread and flatten the curve.

  • Darren : Mar 17th

    This is a difficult decision, but you also have six more weeks to watch things develop and leave your options open. Things are moving quickly and we are basically in the fog of war right now. A month from now we will know a lot more and you may have a different view. I have a May 9th date and probably won’t make a final decision til a week or two before.

  • Gilbert Holdrinet : Mar 18th

    My wife and I had to make the same tough decision this year. After two years of planning, training, and saving, we ultimately decided that putting ourselves and others on and along the trail at risk was not the right choice given the current and worsening state of affairs. I must admit, I was surprised that the PCT association is making no concessions for people fortunate enough to acquire permits this year and who still want to complete the hike next year. The hotels and airlines we had booked all had a program for people cancelling due to the virus, but the PCT just said thank you and you will have to try and re-apply next year. I was surprised that that was their position, even the degree of planning and preparation that is required to undertake a through hike of this nature. We thought for sure they would be helping those affected by the travel restrictions set in place and inherent risk imposed to the hikers and communities.

    • Maggie Slepian : Mar 18th

      I agree about the permit. I was shut out on my first permit attempt in October, but got an incredibly good lottery number and my ideal start date during the January permit opening. It’s hard to look at next year and know I’ll have to go through that again with 10,000 other people (plus everyone who couldn’t go this year) and my chances for the same luck are so slim.

  • Molly : Mar 18th

    Thank you for all this great coverage, and my sympathies to everyone facing the incredible disappointment of cancelling their hike. Solidarity!

    I had a thru-hike of the Benton MacKaye trail planned for March 23; it’s no PCT but after a tough year of grieving, I was really looking forward to it. I cancelled it for now, but I agree with Darren above; let’s be kind and realistic but also, watch and wait.

  • Katie Eckman : Mar 20th

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. I also was planning a PCT thru hike this year (to start April 22) and am working through the disappointment of giving up on that dream, for now. I read this post a few days ago, and it helped me start preparing myself for the dreaded cancellation. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but like so many other hikers, I feel that it is the right decision, to make a choice beyond your own personal dreams for the sake of the wider community. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom, your feelings of disappointment and grief, and most of all for making a decision that reflects integrity and courage.


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