The Week That Changed My Year, as Told by My Texts
Never have I ever known as wide a range of emotions that carried such consequence as those I experienced March 14 to March 20. I went from extreme to extreme and back again while I debated the fate of my PCT 2020 thru-hike as it related to COVID-19. My start date of April 27 seemed all at once uncomfortably too soon, and also optimistically just far enough away. Ultimately I decided to postpone my hike, but it was a bumpy road to come to that conclusion.
To illustrate my thought process, I thought the most honest thing to do would be to look back on my feelings as I had them in real time. The following is my stream of consciousness (lightly edited for clarity), that I sent to five people via text messages over the week in question. M is a fellow Trekker who was also set to hike the PCT in 2020. D is my hiking partner, with the same start date as me. M&D are my mom and dad, and W is a very dear friend, all three of whom are huge supporters of my hike, but are not as embedded in the hiking community as the other parties.
Saturday, March 14: REI Garage Sale is canceled
To M: “My last big choice before I check out is do I want the solid dark green shirt or the lighter purple with stripes shirt?”
To M: “Ok I was starting to get concerned about resupply… I might send more boxes than I was originally going to. I’m worried about how stocked small town grocery stores will be. Post offices will be open even if hostels aren’t right? Although I haven’t planned out where I might send stuff…”
To M: “On the bright side I saved some airline points by ‘changing’ my flight to San Diego on Southwest. Just rebooked it for the same time and they refunded me the difference”
To W: (in response to “So corona isn’t putting any PCT plans on halt?”) “Not for me, not yet at least. I’m having some extra considerations now about potential resupply issues, but we’ll see how the next 2ish weeks go. For me, the only reason I would cancel my hike is if I can’t get to the terminus”
To W: “The situation would have to get MUCH MUCH MUCH worse for me to reconsider. D and I haven’t even discussed the possibility of not going. Haha it didn’t even cross my mind”
To M&D: “Went to REI this morning! They canceled the garage sale due to corona but I still went overboard on gear. It’s getting so real!!! I’m about to buy a few (lot) more odds and ends and send them to the house if that’s ok?”
Sunday, March 15: I write this blog, Scout and Frodo cancel their season, my company announces mandatory work from home policy until March 30
To M&D: (regarding an update about a snowstorm in the Sierra) “I’ll have to check what the snowpack is compared to this time last year”
To M&D: (regarding Scout and Frodo) “Can’t say I’m surprised and probably for the best not to have 40 people a night at their house for 2 months straight”
To D: “Scout and Frodo just canceled their whole season. We’ll strategize tomorrow”
Monday, March 16: I read this article, PCTA sends politely worded email asking hikers to reconsider their plans
To M&D: (gear I ordered arrives to the house) “Exciting!! Looks like a sleeping pad to me. Thanks for being my shipping depot”
To D: “I was looking at Air BnB options in San Diego and El Cajon. There is a bus from El Cajon to Campo on weekday mornings”
To W: (regarding Scout and Frodo’s closing) “This does complicate things. I’m not going to make any big decisions just yet. See how the next few weeks play out. But the wheels are very much in motion for me… I already told my landlord and job I’m leaving”
To D: “I’m not worried about getting sick myself, but it seems selfish to travel when everyone says ‘don’t travel,’ but that doesn’t mean we should cancel. I say we don’t make any decisions for at least a week. Don’t want to do anything rash.”
To M: (in response to the question: ‘what are you thinking?’) “I really don’t know. Literally just published my first blog yesterday saying how I’m not canceling (yet). Ughhh I just don’t know.”
To M: (in response to M’s blog about not hiking) “This whole thing is just a big bucket of suck”
To D: (regarding PCTA announcement) “Hmm. So basically they said ‘it’s not a no, but do what you think is best’”
Tuesday, March 17: ATC asks all hikers to postpone or cancel their 2020 hikes, my local REI emails me and says an employee who worked the week I was in the store tested positive, my work emails and says someone in my building tested positive
To M: “Well fuck. Just saw the ATC announcement. Do you think the PCTA will follow suit? I honestly hope they send something similar. It will help a lot of people on the fence get off”
To M&D: “The ATC just asked all 2020 hikers to postpone their thru-hikes. My question mark just got a little bigger”
To W: “The ATC just came out and asked 2020 hikers to postpone their hikes. So, there’s that. I cried.”
To W: “Honestly I hope at this point the PCTA comes right out and says it. Their email yesterday was vague enough to let people make up their own minds and offer workarounds to still obtaining permits. We still haven’t made a decision (and I don’t want to at all this week) but I’m leaning toward no. If the PCTA came right out and said ‘don’t go’ I would 100% be a no”
To M: “Yeah I saw that (the PCTA’s polite request to reconsider), but I wish they would come say it outright. Because even with the lightly worded recommendation they offered a solution to people who still wanted to hike but missed their permit dates. Seemed confusing to me.”
To D: “I think we seriously need to think about this. I still think that we shouldn’t make any decisions this week, but I have to admit the outlook isn’t great.”
To D: “Even if they (the PCTA) don’t give guidance, is it a good idea? I’m not saying it isn’t! Just wondering if it will be the experience we’re looking for. Obviously we’re out there to hike first and foremost, but if everyone is still social isolating… Will we be able to stay with trail angels? Eat in restaurants? Have a trail family? The social aspects of the trail will definitely be different this year no matter what. But again- I say we don’t make any decisions yet. Let’s see if the PCTA sends guidance”
To D: “I would love to hear what Trail Towns have to say. This whole situation sucks *frown emoji* *frown emoji*”
Wednesday, March 18: A whole lot of feelings
To W: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to go. Wondering how long I can delay making a final decision. Trail towns have asked people to postpone their visits, but (some) people outside of the hiking community don’t see why I shouldn’t go, which makes me confused all over again”
To W: “Luckily I’m in a weird limbo where I think I can afford to wait a week or two. Pushing back a year is an inconvenience for me, but a possibility”
To W: (Regarding the fact that my grandparents live in a retirement community and are a vulnerable population) “I wouldn’t want some well-intentioned visitor to decimate the whole complex… And that’s also put another perspective on my hike. My grandparents are safe, only if people are smart and socially isolate themselves. How can I ask and expect other people to do the right thing if I willingly put myself on an airplane and go to small towns with high percentages of older folks? It seems hypocritical. I know it’s not comparing apples to apples (retirement community vs the general store of a town) but it does put another layer of thought into my equation.”
To M: “This week has been such a tizzy. It seems like most of my friends/family outside of the hiking community don’t understand why I would postpone, but the hiking community votes to postpone”
To M: “And a tiny part of me thinks ‘but maybe it will be better in a month’ although that seems like an increasingly unlikely scenario”
To M: “I’m definitely leaning more toward no– partly for the selfish reason that while I”m there for the hike first and foremost, I definitely am looking forward to the social aspects too. Tramily, food in town, the community, and aspects that I think will be different this year”
Thursday, March 19: PCTA requests all 2020 hikers postpone or cancel their plans
To M&D: (responding to more gear arriving to the house, before the email) “Excellent! I bought the ugliest color since it was on sale. Although it’s not looking good for this summer…”
To M: “Welp. That decides it. Honestly it’s a relief. Takes the decision out of my hands. I was leaning toward no anyway and now I don’t have to explain myself or my reasons.”
To D: “Wow. Ok. PCT 2021? I’m so sad. Before it was in question, but I really don’t feel good about going against the PCTA.”
To M&D: (in response to my parents saying “onward and upward” after I told them about the PCTA guidance) “I’m going to wallow in sadness for a little bit longer, but yes, onward and upward eventually”
Friday, March 20: Fallout from PCTA email, my company extends mandatory work from home through April 30
To W: “Honestly I feel relieved. Relieved that the decision is out of my hands. Sad that so much that I’ve worked for is now gone. So so so sad. But the trail will be there next year.”
To W: “Just sucks all around. I’ve come to terms with it, and honestly I think I made my decision earlier in the week, and this just reinforced it”
To M&D: “Welp. The apartment is still ours and my company is keeping me on. It was shockingly easy to undo all the preparations I’ve made over the last year”
As I look back on the texts I’ve sent over the most tumultuous seven days of my recent memory, I’m struck by the incremental changes that marked my transition from concern about gear and logistics, to reluctant acknowledgement of a problem, to eventual admittance of defeat. It’s been a roller coaster like none other, but I’m grateful that I’m one of the lucky ones who has Plan B to fall back on.
Last week was not a fun week for anyone, including the 2020 thru-hiker hopefuls. Since then, I’ve come to terms with the hand that I’ve been dealt, and can only help that I’ll be fortunate enough to try again next year. Like I said in my last blog, the trail provides, and I hope the trail (and her patrons) will be all the stronger for this hiatus when we are all able to get back out there.
Featured image courtesy of me, wearing the Altras and Darn Toughs that I bought at REI and have refused to take off since.
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