If you are reading this post, then you have most definitely heard of the coronavirus. It’s a scary, confusing, and difficult time for many of us, and I know we all are looking forward to the day this nightmare is over.
But the point of this post is to talk about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted thru-hikers, including myself, for this year. I was planning on setting foot in New Mexico in late April of this year to start my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. Like the rest of you planning to do any sort of backpacking, I dialed in my gear, spent lots of $$$, and accomplished the hardest part of it all: telling worried family and friends.
At first when the news started to trickle in about this COVID-19 early on, I kept on planning my hike like most people because I had no idea the impact that was coming from this virus. I bought plane tickets, bus tickets, permits, reserved shuttles, etc. But then it became very clear that my hike wasn’t going to happen, at least not when I thought it would happen.
To be 100% honest, I was still contemplating starting my thru-hike even when we were being told to “socially distance” ourselves. I thought that I would be as safe as possible getting to the trailhead, and then hike alone like I normally do and all would be well. But then trail towns that I most definitely would need to rely on were shutting down and the major hiking trail coalitions (PCTA, ATC, etc.) were highly encouraging hikers to post-pone their thru-hikes.
I shared via Instagram that I was indeed planning to hike the CDT this summer, but now I am deciding to withhold until things calm down (hopefully sooner rather than later). And there were many people who commented on my post and even privately messaged me completely confused as to why I felt unsafe on trail during this time, so that is why I am here writing this.
The answer to their questions is “YES”, I probably am a lot safer on trail than any other public setting, but that was not the point of me cancelling my thru-hiking my plans. The point of me cancelling my thru-hiking plans was:
#1) Out of respect for the CDTC and all other trail associations. The CDTC is made up of people who have made these trails come alive for people like me, and if they are nicely, but sternly, asking those on trail to get off and the rest to stay away, the LEAST I can do is comply with their pleas.
#2) Many of the trail towns I would be entering have asked hikers and any non-locals to please stay away as their resources are minimal and can only support the small community living there.
At this point, I feel helpless as this whole thing is 99% out of my control. But what I can control is doing my part to not spread this unknown virus to others by staying home and quarantining myself like I have been asked to do. So for now, I isolate.
My hope is that I will be able to Southbound the CDT this summer, with my fingers crossed that together we help flatten the curve and look out for one another by following the CDC’s guidelines. And if you have thru-hiked before, you know that this is so typical of any thru-hike of having to go with the punches and change up your plans because surprises are around every corner (and switchback).
And to those who are still on trail or planning on hitting the trail to thru-hike this summer, I ask you to reconsider until we, as the public, are told it is safe to resume normal living. I ask this of you, understanding full well how much of a sacrifice this is and entirely soul-crushing, but I ask this of you because it is not your time to hike. The trail always provides. And right now, it does not. Even if you don’t think this coronavirus is a big deal and you aren’t scared or worried, trail towns along every single trail are closing. You won’t be able to fully experience the magic that comes along with thru-hiking and the trail angels themselves.
Also, I hope you don’t need to eat or re-supply or anything…
But on a serious note, I can’t even imagine those who have had to cancel their thru-hikes after years and years of planning and dreaming. I truly can’t imagine and my heart goes out to each and every single one of you. But one thing to take away from this is that us thru-hikers are all in this together. You, me, and every other person who is sad as hell they aren’t out in the mountains walking from Mexico to Canada.
But this does not mean your dream goes away. Your dream is to thru-hike and dreams don’t get thrown away because of setbacks. If anything, this is your first test on trail. Keep dreaming. Keep planning. Keep hoping. The trail will be there for you one day and it will be better than you could have ever conjured in your mind.
Happy trails to you all and let’s kick this virus’s ass.
-The Whimsical Woman, AKA – A Very Sad Starbust