Were you dreaming of a big thru-hike in 2020?
How much time and energy did you invest in it?
How much did you spend on gear?
You were so close, so excited, but then this stupid virus came along.
There goes the carpet from under your feet.
Worst of all, you’re not even allowed to feel sad about it. People are getting sick and dying out there, and no one understands the crushing weight of disappointment that you feel.
Most big trips start with a fist to the face.
If you want to be a thru-hiker, you’d better get used to this sort of thing.
Usually the first punch comes in the form of something more benign, like endless rain or blisters.
The scope of this pandemic is a lot bigger than blisters, but the coronavirus and blisters have something in common – it’s your response that counts.
It’s how you react that determines the success of your endeavor.
Here’s why the current situation may actually be a blessing in disguise.
3 Ways the Coronavirus is Good for Your Thru-Hike
It’s time to employ that magical human trait of turning something negative into a positive.
1) The Virus Shines a Spotlight on Your Biggest Weakness
Deep down inside, did this whole pandemic come as a relief?
As a valid excuse to cancel the trip?
Then you can thank the virus for saving you a lot of pain and trouble.
The big weakness I’m talking about here is a lack of commitment.
20 years ago, an Appalachian Trail guru called Wingfoot offered a sage piece of advice that’s stayed with me through the years. Here’s what he said:
Your hike must be the most important thing in your life at the moment, or else you probably won’t finish.
At first this may come across as an extreme level of resolve, but its meaning is on point. Obviously you’ll have people and ideals in your life that are more important than your hike. What remains unchanged is that thru-hiking a long trail requires a high level of dedication and commitment.
Maybe the virus just revealed your plans as a fragile house of cards. And that’s okay – it’s better to discover it in the comfort of your home than drenched in rain, mud, and body odor.
Here’s a follow-up to the quote above – if the hike isn’t the most important thing in your life in the moment, then you’ll soon leave the trail to pursue what is.
To put it simply, if this delay is enough to completely cancel your hike, then you probably wouldn’t have made it very far anyway.
2) The Virus Tests a Key Mental Muscle
Maybe you’re not daunted so easily.
Thru-hiking requires a healthy dose of stubbornness. Even though the prospects of your trip look bleak, you’re already looking for a go-round, a chink in the armor of disappointment… plotting for 2021.
Maybe things will open up sooner than they say. Maybe the social stigma on outdoor travel will lift. Maybe you can go southbound instead. Great! When in doubt, just keep moving forward.
That quality of resolute stubbornness must be balanced by a strong muscle of flexibility. This virus is just the first curve ball (of many) that stand between you and the end of your trail.
3) The Virus Cushions Important Reserves
Let’s be real – extended hikes cost money.
And now let’s put it simply:
The more your trip is delayed, then the more money you’ll have to spend on a long hike.
The more money you have to spend on a long hike, the more likely you are to finish it.
I’ve seen a number of promising thru-hikes go to ashes simply because of a lack of financial resources. The money ran out.
A lot of folks get on a trail with a minimal budget, with high hopes that they’ll have the self-control to stay within the budget’s limits.
It ends up being much more of a challenge than they anticipated – scraping by on tight funds while new friends are gorging themselves in town. A repeated combination of being malnourished and missing your newfound friends is enough to kill anyone’s motivation.
When you finally do get out to hike (don’t worry – if you want it bad enough, you eventually will), then you’ll have more reserves for splurging in town, and for quality gear replacements along the way.
Additionally, you now have an opportunity to get in even better shape before hitting the trail. A lack of fitness leads to injury, and injury is another leading cause of failed trips.
This pandemic has just bought you some more time – time for vital preparation.
How to Regroup and Strike Back
“We don’t know what we don’t know.”
No one knows for certain how it looks on the other side of this door… (and if I hear the phrase “uncertain times” again, someone’s gonna get hurt).
So it’s time to train that muscle of flexibility.
We know that passively worrying and cursing our misfortune doesn’t do any good. So what is there to do instead?
Step 1: Accept Reality.
In the context of the Appalachian Trail, the reality is that you will not make a continuous journey from Georgia to Maine in 2020.
If you’re uncompromisingly set on that magical vision of an uninterrupted, northbound journey, than you’ll unfortunately have to wait until 2021 or 2022.
If, however, you’re willing to go southbound or hike somewhere else, we can work with that.
Step 2: Formulate a Consolation.
Now is the time to get creative and lay out your alternatives.
It’s a simple matter of filling in the blanks:
IF _______, THEN _______.
IF the Appalachian Trail sounds doable by June, THEN I’ll go southbound.
IF the Trail doesn’t open until July, THEN I’ll still try going southbound.
IF things don’t open until August, THEN I’ll do the Colorado Trail instead.
IF things don’t open until September, THEN I’ll do Vermont’s Long Trail instead.
And so on.
Here’s a link to a map of the best long distance trails in the United States. It includes mileages, so it’s a great place to start brainstorming for alternate trips. For late summer, it’s best to look north, at places like the Pacifc Northwest Trail and Cohos Trail.
As the season turns to late fall, it’s better to look south at the Grand Enchantment Trail or Pinhoti Trail, or southbound on the Arizona Trail.
When you research alternate trails, remember that some places may require permits that filled up long ago, like the John Muir Trail or Wonderland Trail. Unfortunately you’ll just have to work around that, and look somewhere else.
If you do go on and tackle one of these lesser-known hikes, you’ll gain invaluable experience and street-cred to carry you into a future attempt at something bigger, like the Pacific Crest Trail.
Step 3: Execute.
One you formulate your set of IF-THEN scenarios, the rest is easy. The weight and disappointment will vanish from your shoulders as you get excited about your renewed options.
Suddenly you’re free once again to get motivated in your training – free to move toward a new goal.
If you’ve already put your life on hold for a now-cancelled thru-hike, your IF-THEN decisions will do wonders in empowering the situation.
You’ll find a means of looking forward, like taking a temp job at a local grocery store until the world starts turning again.
If you’d like some more proactive ideas, see these 10 things for hikers do do during quarantine.
Sooner or later, you will get to hit the trail.
Do you have any more ideas on how do cope with cancelled plans? Let me know in the comments.