Transitioning From AT Thru-Hike To Quarantine
Last updated 5/4/2020 at 2:14pm
(Editor's note: Myers planned to publish stories from the Appalachian Trail in The Transylvania Times during his northbound thru-hike this Spring, but now he is self-isolating in his room after doing yard work for a man who is suspected to have COVID-19. Myers did not come in close contact with the man, but is choosing to quarantine for his roommate's safety.)
For almost two years now I had been planning to tackle my biggest hike to date – the notorious Appalachian Trail. I worked two, sometimes three jobs at a time to finance my own expedition. I trained relentlessly, often rising before the sun so I could get to trailheads with enough time to get between 15 and 27 miles in. I weighed-down my pack beyond what it would have actually been on the AT, and through steep mountain climbs, rainstorms and sometimes even snow, I devoted my entire being to preparing myself for the long 2,200 mile walk from Georgia to Maine.
Jump forward to March 16. I am two weeks into my journey and had just returned from a two-day stint back home recovering from a crazy sinus infection. I was having terrible nosebleeds that sometimes lasted for multiple hours at a time. I'd fallen behind my Hiking partners who I had grown close to over the past few hundred miles together. None of us knew each other before starting our hikes. At the time, I was in the best spirit I had been in since the start of the trip. My legs felt good. Instead of frigid, snowy days or flooding storms I had fair weather and sunshine. With every step I was simultaneously getting closer to Katahdin, the trail's Northern terminus, and closer to catching up with my partner. Every day on trail meant a few more dollars were raised for the beautiful nonprofit I'd devoted my trip to – Thorn. Little did I know this would be my last day on trail.
The COVID outbreak was barely a blip on my radar while I was out in the mountains. No one any of us knew was sick, and aside from stores being out of hand sanitizer when we went to town for resupplies, everything was normal. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy had sent out an email warning us to be safe and use social distancing guidelines, but we all felt this was more them upholding their civic duty rather than a genuine concern for our safety. It was simply what they were supposed to say, or at least that's what we thought at the time. I was in Great Smoky Mountain National Park at this time, and since I was so close to home I called up a friend from Sylva to pick me up for the night and allow me to get more supplies. The COVID situation developed, however, and after seeing the state of the world at that time, and now realizing how it was creeping across America, I began taking the ATC's email more seriously.
Parks quickly began closing as people flooded through them. Large attendance numbers appeared left and right since so many people were left without jobs and in need of something to fill life's void the pandemic was leaving. They went to the woods, and I began envying them for it. If "they," whoever that may actually be I was never sure, would stay away I could continue my hike safely alongside the other thru-hikers. After all, this had become our lives, we had sold everything, quit our jobs, and devoted ourselves entirely to our hike through the Appalachians. For them, it was just their afternoon, but the woods were now our home.
These thoughts left me quickly, though. I understood the appeal, the need for fresh air and a nice walk through the forest, the desire to unplug from how crazy life had gotten. I understood it as well as anybody.
The parks did close, and the attendance in the few remaining places grew so high, many felt unsafe. People were bottlenecked into the last legally-open trailheads. This caused a surge in the spread of the disease in some places, and so I began avoiding trailheads and found my solace in the backwoods. Now COVID has crept into town, and more cases are appearing everyday, some with friends of mine. Instead of walking some 20 or more miles a day, I scaled back my life to strictly using local trails for exercise. Now that the disease is on my front doorstep, I find it wrong to even take the risk of going outside. I float in limbo alongside the rest of the Hiking community, and alongside the rest of the world. From the freest moments of my entire life to being locked in my bedroom until further notice, life has taken a strange turn.
The trail will always be there, however. This has become the motto in the Hiking community, and just like the trail, so will much of our lives remain long after the dust from this war with the invisible enemy ends. Now is the time for making sure we don't make a bad situation worse, and that's exactly what I and most of the Hiking community have committed to doing.
(Myers is an Appalachian-based adventure enthusiast and writer. He is an avid storyteller, and rarely does her or his fellow hikers step into the woods and return without something interesting to share. Most of his current writing is displayed on his blogger's page on The Trek's website.)