Pandemic on the Appalachian Trail
May 22, 2020 12:32 AM   Subscribe

How the Pandemic Splintered the Appalachian Trail. (Single link New York Times - possible paywall.)
posted by loquacious (8 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A friend's son started out early this year, and had to bail three weeks into his hike when he found that all his stops were closings up shop. With nowhere to stop for food and supplies, he couldn't continue.

In teleconferences now with my friend, the AT map on the wall behind him only has a few pins stuck in, all near the bottom. Very forlorn -- but they're vowing to get him back out there next year!
posted by wenestvedt at 4:15 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]

Paywalled, but will follow convo here with interest.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:56 AM on May 22

I hope the non-paywalled option works for people; it is an interesting article with a wide series of interviews.

I sympathize with the thousands of people whose plans were destroyed by this (I mean, people saved money, quit their jobs, upended their entire lives, etc., to be able to go on the hike), but I think that the few hundred people who decided to continue their hikes made a poor decision. They are passing through small towns with limited medical infrastructure, most of which have asked for visitors to stop coming. That is the time to put on your big person pants and make the responsible adult decision to head home and plan for next year's hike.

As was discussed extensively in the recent MeTa post, there are all kinds of exemptions to strict stay at home quarantines (including outdoor recreation!), but hiking through small towns that have requested fewer visitors is not one of them. I can see how someone might be able to continue a Pacific Crest Trail hike with extremely minimal contact with other people (depending on how far apart they are able to set up resupply drops) but the density of use, shared shelters, and sheer numbers of towns along the Appalachian Trail would preclude any serious social isolation.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:06 AM on May 22 [18 favorites]

A profile of one hostel owner who decided to stay open and his cavalier approach to public health concerns: The Appalachian Trail Hostels That Will Not Close.

For the most part, the hiking community has handled the shutdown well. The online trail communities are usually pretty rife with drama, but from what I've seen on forums like whiteblaze the consensus has been to do the responsible thing with only a few vocal members making the same tired arguments/whataboutisms.
posted by peeedro at 8:24 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]

There was some drama on the PCT facebook groups, which lead to the creation of a closed "still hiking" group so they could avoid being shamed. For a month or so it was all "still hiking" and "get off the trail" posts which immediately devolved into an argument. It was "you are hysterical jealous crybaby sheeple" vs "you are irresponsible murderous plague spreading nitwits."

In mid-March I postponed my planned PCT thru till next year because it seemed wildly irresponsible. The final reason that lead to me cancelling was when people in various trail towns started to ask us not to come, but there were other considerations: I didn't want to catch covid on the trail, I didn't want to potentially spread it, I didn't like the idea of hitching to town/trail, I want my hike to include fun town stops with restaurants and whole pizzas worth of food, calling search and rescue during COVID-19 is a more consequential thing than it would be in a normal year. My resupply plan did not include a lot of mailed boxes, so doing a minimal-contact hike wasn't really an option for me.

It was an emotional adventure to go from all-in to cancelling, self pity, to realizing that most people were going to have to cancel important things and I should get over it, all within a day or two, and leavened with a bit of guilt when I had to tell a few businesses on the trail that I was cancelling (thus contributing to what is likely to be a tough year for them). Contrast with people who had or will have a loved-one die or get sick, and my struggles are such small potatoes.
posted by surlyben at 11:19 AM on May 22 [14 favorites]

Surlyben, I saw a lot of the same attitudes on the FB groups I frequent. I wonder if there is a real cultural difference between the two trails and whom it attracts, or if it's just more of an East Coast v West Coast thing.

I was on a short section of the AT a couple weeks ago, where it passes through a nature preserve just north of us. There were a handful of people other than us, and I realized that if it were a normal year, we would have seen NOBO (northbound) thru-hikers, and I felt bad for all the people who had to leave the trail this season.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:53 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]

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