What Thru-Hiking Has Taught Me About Surviving Quarantine

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be on trail. But I can’t do that safely and ethically right now, so here I am social distancing instead. I don’t know how long we’ll be stuck in quarantine. We might be inside for the long haul, and a lot of the tools we’ve picked up on trail can keep us sane even when it seems like we’re farther from the trail than ever before. 

Quarantine in the Unknown

If you’ve ever tried to plan out every day of your thru-hike all at once before, you’ll know how important it is to accept the fact that plans change. There’s no way to know what the weather will be like, how much snow you’ll really run into in the Sierra, what your water sources will look like in a week. 

Things are changing every day when it comes to this pandemic, so if you try to plan out what happens weeks from now, you’ll drive yourself mad. Adjusting to a changing situation is hard, but if we can accept that we don’t know what’s going to happen, it makes the mental struggles of quarantine just a little bit easier. 

Mental Resilience

Of course a thru-hike is physically challenging, but hikers often find the mental fight to be the bigger obstacle, which means us thru-hikers have definitely built up some mental stamina. We can’t use it on the trail this year, but we can use it in service of public health. This is a bigger and more mentally taxing event than we’ve yet encountered. I believe in us.

The Trail Will Provide

Sometimes it seems like we find just what we need on trail, and just when we need it. It’s not magic though, or rather, it might be trail magic, but humans just like you and me are behind it. We need to help our communities off trail with the same commitment that we help each other on trail. 

On trail in 2018 I got elevation sickness in the Sierra, but hikers who hadn’t even met me before made sure I was safe and helped me make it to where my trail family was camped. I found my least favorite hiker suffering from dehydration in the desert, so I went to the spring for him. When times are toughest, that’s when we need each other most. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ever met your neighbors or not, we’re all going through the same thing, so please help get groceries for the homebound, and check in on each other. 

We will get through this, but we need to support each other.

Manageable Chunks

In the meantime, here we are at home. How long is the meantime? I don’t know. 

You’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about an unknown end date months in the future. On a thru-hike you don’t think about how far you are from Canada or from Katahdin every moment, you just plan a resupply at a time, and when it gets hard you can break it down to just hiking to the next campsite, the next water source, or even just the next mile. Sometimes on tough days I was just hiking until my podcast ended. Then I’d take a short break and hike until the end of the next podcast. 

If you’re having a rough day, that’s OK. We will have them. But don’t focus on how long we’ll be in quarantine, just focus on today and how to make today better. 

Finding Joy (Even in Quarantine)

This sucks. A lot. But so does hiking. I hiked 10 miles in rain that bordered on snow and winds that threatened to blow me off the mountain. It was miserable, and part of me wanted to quit that day, but I didn’t, and the next day the sun came out. Simplicity is one of the best parts of hiking for me, the fact that just feeling the sun on my skin can bring me so much joy. Quarantine can be a moment in life like the trail; this can be time to let the world grow quiet and appreciate the things we never stopped to consider before. 

There isn’t joy in everything, but there can be joy in every moment. 

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