It’s day 29 (March 18th) since I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and a little over 2 weeks since I left the trail due to a death. The United States has lost its mind. People are hoarding toilet paper due to a new respiratory virus (COVID-19 aka Coronavirus). Soap, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, hydrogen peroxide, and Everclear (yes the alcohol) have been wiped out from store shelves.
Food is starting to become scarce and hostels, stores, and schools are closing down. State of emergencies are being enacted.
When I left to fly back to Georgia yesterday morning so I could get back on the trail, things were quiet. In fact, they were so quiet I pretty much had the airplane to myself. It was eerie, like something bad was coming.
By the time I got to my hotel room in Georgia, 8 hours later, things started exploding. As the hours passed by, things were becoming worse. I kept an eye on the news and on Facebook where I kept seeing hostels posting they were closing. I had already started a closing list here on the blog several days before coming back out and the closings being submitted were coming in by the truckloads!
Before I knew it the ATC released a statement asking all section hikers and thru-hikers to postpone their hikes or if they were already on trail, to get off and go home.
Today, I made the tough decision that I needed to head back home. I woke up this morning to an announcement from my son’s school that they would be extending Spring Break due to COVID-19. Curfews were being enacted in some of the cities near us, and counties were starting to declare themselves disaster areas. Our grocery store shelves were being wiped out according to my husband and our local neighborhood group.
Originally, my plan was to just hike as far as I could. I had prepared for the fact that food may be hard to find before coming back out here and had a month’s worth of supplies ready to be mailed to me. In fact, I figured I probably wouldn’t even need it, as when I went to the grocery store yesterday the shelves with food were mostly stocked. Only ramen noodles and pasta sauce were sold out (so weird lol).
But, then I went walking around Helen (keeping my distance from everyone, or the lack of everyone I should say as the town was almost like a ghost town)…..
That’s when it hit me. I didn’t care if I got the COVID-19 virus. I had no doubt that I probably would, but like most would probably never know, or it would feel like a mild cold.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about the towns I will come in contact with and the townspeople who are so accommodating and welcoming to all of us hikers. Most of them are older in age (I hate using the word elderly). They are the ones most likely to have complications from contracting this virus.
Most of these small towns also don’t have access to immediate healthcare or it is limited (meaning they need to go into a larger town) should there be a COVID-19 outbreak. Food & toiletry supplies would run out faster, meaning they will need to travel into the larger towns to get those items. I’ve lived in a small town before, so I know the limitations that small towns typically have.
Then we add in the challenge of resupplies, shuttles to get to/from the towns for resupplies (most were shutting down as well), and lack of places to now stay in town.
I am all for a good challenge, but not that kind of challenge. Not when this hike was supposed to be a social hike for me. Meaning that I wanted to spend time in these towns, get to know the people living there, writing an in-depth look into each town along the way. Now, this would not be possible either.
It’s time to put this hike on hold and wait for this to pass. I hope it won’t last long, but fear it will. Either way, when everything opens up again and we have beat this, I will head back out here and start where I left off. Doesn’t matter if it is a week from now, or months from now, I will be back.
Now, I just wait………