I saw so many eager thru-starters this year carrying the 2020 AT tag as they prepared to leave the Amicalola Falls Visitors Center to take those first amazing steps on a northbound odyssey toward Mt. Katahdin. I serve as a trail ambassador providing a little friendly encouragement to this diverse group of people, and I know exactly what’s going through their minds.
I have seen so many like them over the years, ready to take on the challenge and see if they could measure up to it in a physical, emotional and spiritual sense. This year, sadly, the opportunity has been taken out of their hands.
In a decree I received by email from Appalachian Trail Conservancy Executive Director Sandi Marra, the 2020 class of AT thru-hikers is being asked to cease and desist from pursuing their dream. Oh man, does this ever hurt. All the dreaming, planning and training goes down the drain.
It seems cruel and unreasonable at first glance. Seriously, what safer place could there be from the Corona Virus than out in the wide open spaces of the AT? Well, think about it. Personal cleanliness is critical to avoiding this scourge, and anyone who thinks that trail hygiene is much better than hit or miss is kidding themselves. And even though you are in open air for sure when you are out there, so many hikers get in close quarters in shelters and shelter areas for hours at a time. Also, trail hostels — as friendly and inviting as they often are — are not conducive to healthy interaction and social distancing. And is it safe for trail angels to give people a friendly ride from the trail into nearby towns and back? Of course not; it is unsafe for both hikers and drivers. All told, it is not a good year to be out there.
So, I think back to 1973 when I was a 21-year-old out there having the most amazing adventure imaginable as I thru-hiked southbound from Maine to Georgia. I don’t think Sandi Marra or Mahatma Ghandi or God himself could have talked me into stopping. I am older now, and if not wiser, I am surely less impetuous. Impetuosity is harder to come by as you near the end of seven decades. I think I have to agree with Sandi. AT thru-hikers should delay until next year.
I am sure that Sandi feels terrible about her decision to ask hikers to call it quits for the year. But I am also sure that as a responsible leader, she knew she was correct when she pulled the trigger on her suggestion. Let’s hope this works out well for all of you out there. I look forward to bumping elbows with you at Amicalola Falls Visitors Center next Spring.