Thru-Hike Update & COVID-19 Plans

Thru-Hike Update & Hiking During COVID-19

I’ll be discussing work and their support for my thru-hike, potential hiking buddies, as well as potential gear changes. I also address COVID-19 concerns and how I plan on being proactive in preventing COVID-19’s spread while on trail.

Work and My Sabbatical

My company, ERM, officially granted me a sabbatical for my thru-hike this year. My supervisor has been very much for it and I have received amazing support from ERM to complete this lifelong dream of mine. I have been working at ERM since September 2019 and plan on returning once I complete the trail. At the time, 2021 looked like an ideal year from a business prospective, but an approval for a large project changed that. My supervisor and the Partner for that project still worked hard and were able to make it work from a business prospective.

I will be working in March and early April in the field. This let me end my lease in early March so I can save more money for my thru-hike. As a result, I will be homeless and living in either a hotel or otherwise when we rotate off the work for 1 week during this March/April. The work will involve a lot of physical lifting and carrying testing equipment up and down stairs. This will help in preparing for the AT. I may also bring my hiking gear with me and hike The Rim-to-Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon one weekend. Nothing is set in stone yet for any extracurricular and the logistics of getting my gear back may prove difficult.

My sabbatical officially starts the week before I plan on hitting the trail. I will be driving my car from Denver (kept at my company’s storage unit) to Jacksonville. Doing some sightseeing along the way. This will take two days at least and even longer should I decide to do some hiking while on the trip, potentially in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. Once in Jacksonville I plan on seeing my grandmother and family before heading up to Atlanta for a day or two before being dropped off on the approach trail.

Other Concerns Addressed

I have been extremely privileged with my position as I will also be able to maintain my present healthcare benefits paying my share prior to starting. This is something I cannot take for granted and I am extremely grateful for. Healthcare in America made any injuries or illnesses my biggest concern as not only could it derail my thru hike but render me bankrupt. So many potential thru-hikers run into the healthcare issues if they are unable to keep or get insurance for such a long trek. Thru-hiking is a gift where the extremely privileged typically have the best odds of getting by. Not only financial burden of not receiving a pay check but also the expenses along the way. My student loans will have to go on hold but I will be paying for the interest while to prevent them from growing while I’m gone.

Another major concern is the PE exam which I will be taking in early March. Much of my time has been focused on my career advancement and being prepared for the PE exam. This has resulted in my preparation physically in being slowed. Luckily I will have the field work to help make up for it.

Hiking Buddies

A dear friend of mine, Mark Shannahan, will be joining my intermittently during my thru-hike. He will not be able to take part in the entire trail but currently plans on coming out 1-2 weeks at a time with a few weeks off in between. One of my brother’s groomsmen, Shannahan has since become a close friend of mine when we both lived in Chicago. He has been excited to be able to take part and has strong support from family, his younger brother having thru-hiked the PCT a number of years back. Being a cross country runner and will likely be pushing me to keep up especially at the beginning of my hike.

My friends Alex Lewis, Cody Fee, James Watkins, & Sebastian Rodriguez may also join me for bits and pieces at the AT when I am in the regions. I am looking forward to our adventures on trail as well. I know they both would love to be able to thru-hike if society didn’t get in the way. A former supervisor of mine, Cheryl Sparks, may also join in PA. She grew up near the trail and is looking forward to the adventure. She has backpacking experience in Colorado and her daughter has/is even section hiking the Colorado Trail. My brothers and sister-in-law may join me as well, but I’m not sure what they’re plans are.

The saying hike your own hike is going to be critical. While I am looking forward and I hope they all can join me, I know my goal it ultimately to complete the thru-hike. Leave-no-trace is also going to be critical. There’s varying levels of environmental consciences in the people who may join me and it will be my job to ensure we all are proper stewards on the trail.

Potential Gear Changes

As my boyfriend, Brendan, will be moving to the Bay Area to start his new career, we have been moving his stuff and I have come to Houston with him to provide support in the move. Working from Houston and preparing for the PE exam at the same time. As has been on the news, the power grid of Texas has collapsed. We ended up without power and water for extended periods of time in temperatures dropping near zero. This has lead me to the conclusion I like to be nice and warm when I sleep. As I mentioned in my gear post, my sleeping bag is the most likely to change. I think it may be in my best interest to go ahead and make that change before hitting the trail. I have not yet decided what the ideal sleeping bag will be.

Another change may be adding a GPS tracker. While these are expensive, it would be very valuable should the unthinkable happen. I do not believe it would be as useful for the AT, but my other backcountry adventures would definitely benefit. I’m still weighing the pros and cons of the additional gear, especially the cost and subscription. Should I love thru-hiking and I know will get it for the less marked or more backcountry trail or routes.

COVID-19

I am pro-science and believe mask-use is a must. COVID-19 is an incredibly contagious and deadly disease. Only the Civil War has killed more Americans than COVID, and the Civil War had an extra 3 years to do it. Due to the extreme mismanagement, spread of false information, and absolute selfishness from many, America has been on the back foot. The incompetence of the leadership in many parts of the country has made it worse for America than most anywhere else in the world. While on trail, I will do everything in my power to follow the CDC recommendations. What do we know on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 according to the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html)?

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around people who don’t live with you. Masks work best when everyone wears one.

    • I will always wear a mask when I’m near other hikers. If I see anyone not wearing a mask I will also call them out.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from others.

    • I will not be staying in shelters or bunk rooms during my hike. I will also keep my tent at least 20 ft. from other tents, 50 ft. from shelters, as well as at least 10 ft. from the trail. The only exception being an empty shelter where I may set up my tent closer to it if there are no other options.
  • Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.

    • With the exception a few friends, I will mostly hike solo. I still looking forward to a potential trail-family, but I will have to be careful with keeping my distance and staying safe. Fortunately the trail is well isolated from the outside world and being outdoors will lower the likelihood of transmission. Except the prearranged, I will limit my contact with day hikers as much as possible. I will only accept support from trail angles who do their best to keep everyone safe, while still being grateful for their offered support regardless of my acceptance.
  • Avoid unventilated indoor spaces. If indoors, bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors.

    • This mostly applies to hitching. When I need a hitch into town, I will insist on an open window and all parties wearing masks. I will hike into town or back to the trail if this isn’t possible.
  • Clean your hands often, either with soap and water for 20 seconds or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

    • Brendan is making soap just for this so I may keep my hands clean while have a very environmentally friendly soap. I will follow all guidelines of leave no trace. I will follow the same procedure as pooping and carry a rag to dry my hands. The rag will be kept in a plastic bag so it is only touched by freshly cleaned hands.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 when it’s your turn.

    • Once I can get the vaccine I will. I’m hopeful for getting it before the trail.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

    • I will avoid any sick people like the plague.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

    • I will be using toilet paper for this. This should be a given any way. I will also use hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily.

    • This will be the case for anything I hand to anybody. I will ensure it is cleaned before I hand it to them and once I receive it back.
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