Updated Friday, January 29th, 2021
Recently, there’s been a lot out there in the media regarding the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and how they are discouraging people from attempting an AT thru-hike at this time. We wanted to take a moment to reflect on this and talk about what we plan to do to keep ourselves and others safe while we pursue this thru-hike.
Understandably, the ATC is trying to keep the number of people hiking the trail low by not encouraging people to thru-hike at this time, the intention of which is to help stop the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, the ATC knows that people are going to hike the trail, especially since there aren’t currently any COVID specific trail closures, so they are having people register their hikes (which we have done) and are asking folks to adhere to certain safety protocols. We’ve known all of this information for some time now, as we have been in direct communication with the ATC and have attended their COVID-specific Thru-Hiking Safety Seminars. We’ve been planning our thru-hike with the ATC’s recommendations in mind. Below is a list of the main precautions we intend to take as a means of adhering to the ATC’s and our own safety standards:
🌲 We are both Leave No Trace Master Educators, so planning ahead and preparing is second nature for us.
🥾 We are starting our hike on the earlier side (mid-February), in order to do our part in spacing out on the trail, as most people tend to start the trail in mid-to-late March.
⛺️ We are bringing our own tent, which will act as a form of PPE as we intend to avoid the use of public shelters found along the trail. We will consider staying in a shelter only if there is an additional safety concern such as bad weather or the shelter is empty or has enough space to keep adequate distance from others.
😺 Digging catholes will be our way, as we DO NOT intend to use the privies found along the trail.
😷 We will stay 6 or more feet away from other people, wearing our masks when this is not possible and whenever we are anywhere indoors. We will carry at least two masks so that we can keep one on while we are washing the other with laundry.
🥰 We are working with friends and family who are willing to meet us at trailheads/road crossings with re-rations to help minimize the amount that we need to go into vulnerable trail communities (If you would like to help with this effort, please message us).
📦 We are planning to do more of our food re-rations as mail drops to reduce the amount we need to go into grocery stores (our friends at Food For The Sole are going to be a big help on this front as we will be ordering their food for mail drops).
🧼 We will bring plenty of hand sanitizer and soap so we can wash up and sanitize before going into towns, when it is necessary, and before heading back to the trail.
💉 If a vaccine becomes available to us while we are hiking the trail, we will get it as soon as we can.
Though this is not an exhaustive list by any means, we feel that it covers the main points. We are confident that we can do this hike safely, and we are planning on taking the measures outlined above (and then some) to support the safety of the towns we will be going through as well as ourselves and fellow thru-hikers along the way. Of course, we also intend to obey any trail closures that are put into place, and we’ll be following along with both federal and state specific COVID guidance.
While it’s a bummer that the ATC likely won’t officially acknowledge our hike, we’re okay with that. We fully support the ATC in doing all they can to try and mitigate the spread of COVID on the trail while also helping people make plans to recreate safely. We know that there are a lot of people who unfortunately won’t take what the ATC is asking of folks as seriously as they should, but we are not amongst that group of people. When COVID first started to impact our lives here in the US, we were both a part of helping to develop safety protocols for @manna_foodbank and we intend to carry what we learned through that process with us on the trail.
The bottomline is that we intend to be flexible while still keeping our minds focused on the higher purpose of this hike, which is to support the incredible work being done by MANNA. The impact of this pandemic on our Western North Carolina community has been devastating. The people of WNC need the support that MANNA FoodBank provides now more than ever.
Please feel free to reach out to us with questions and resources. As always, thank you for being a part of this journey.
Keeka and Micah Grant-Tomlinson