How COVID affected our thru-hike

Written By: Flip-Flop

If you’re wondering why in the world we decided to thru-hike during the pandemic we recommend you check out that post here! Hint: timing is everything. 

Prior to our 2020 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, we should mention that in 2018 we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. This gives us the ability to compare and contrast our two thru-hikes with and without COVID.

Below are a few categories that significantly changed between our 2018 and 2020 thru hikes, that are worth a read through if you’re planning a thru-hike in 2021 during this ongoing pandemic.

Hitchhiking

Pre-COVID, getting a ride to town at a popular trail head was fairly easy. However, when the virus hit, getting a ride went from easy to nearly impossible. When we were all being told to social distance and stay home, picking up a stranger on the side of the road just didn’t seem like a safe thing to do, so people didn’t. We even experienced locals who were charging outrageous prices ($100 for 13 miles) to be taken back to trail just to make money off of hikers, who were stranded once everything shut down. So we had no other choice but to pay crazy prices, and use public transportation, Ubers, or Lyfts whenever we were in an area to do so. 

Therefore, we would recommend setting aside some extra money for transportation and following CDC guidelines like wearing a mask and washing your hands for the best results. Wearing your mask while hitching shows cars that you understand the risk and are doing what you can to protect others while traveling even before they pick you up. Most importantly be thankful, and communicate with whoever is nice enough to pick you up on the side of the road. Ask your driver if they’d like you to sit in the back seat vs the front, or even if they’d prefer you in the bed of their truck. This shows the driver respect and that you are doing the best you can to keep everyone involved safe. This does not mean you won’t get a ride, this just means that the percentage of trail angels and total strangers giving rides has significantly decreased since the pandemic.

Toilet Paper

There is no need to worry about not being able to find toilet paper! It’s important to keep in mind that the necessities of thru-hikers are far different from “normal people” this relates to food and TP. Normally the toilet paper shortages were in the residential brands not the commercial brands. What this means is that while the grocery stores (residential) sold out, the motels and gas stations (commercial) still had stock. Now these places don’t have triple-ply, but are definitely usable and almost always free to hikers (motel TP). You will still need to buy a roll here and there, but we never had any issues getting our hands on what we needed when we needed it.

Post Office DELAYS

Our first month on trail was fine, and then everything we mailed ourselves continued to be delayed, and we couldn’t figure out why. We spent many unexpected zero days in town waiting for packages due to USPS delays. Which in turn meant more money spent on food, and more nights in motels while we waited. Then, we discovered that this wasn’t just happening to our packages but packages and mail countrywide. We cannot stress enough that if you’re going to mail yourself supplies to mail them early, and or two towns ahead just to make sure they’ll get there before you will. Also remember that the post office isn’t always open when you plan to get to town so that can also be a hassle, which sometimes makes purchasing products in town the easiest solution.

Public Showers & Bathrooms

There are many small towns along the way to Canada that normally provide showers to hikers. Many of these services were closed when we walked through because of the pandemic, leaving us to pay for a motel again if we actually wanted to shower after a week in the woods. Also keep in mind that public bathrooms have also had limitations/closures during the pandemic; such as gas stations, and coffee shops. The best way to combat these closures is to communicate with other hikers on trail. Use guthook and Facebook trail pages to share information about closed facilities with other hikers so you can be better prepared when you arrive in town.

Fast Food

Sometimes nothing beats fast food after a long week in the woods. However, many fast food dining rooms have been closed due to the pandemic. Many times, we were refused service because we didn’t have a car to pick up our food via the drive-thru, and had to walk across town for another option. Nothing is worse than craving a burger the whole hike to town to only discover you can’t have it because you no longer have your vehicle to pick it up in. Sometimes we were able to combat this by ordering on their app or website for curbside pick up, or calling the store directly and explaining our situation; but no guarantees. This also means we didn’t get to enjoy a single AYCE or continental breakfast, which was a huge disappointment for our always hungry tummies. 

Trail Magic

Trail magic was scarce and I could count on my hands how many times we got trail magic our whole trip. We got to some major trail heads to find them completely empty, or with hikers from out of state that had no idea who we were. Now please note that we have never relied on a trail angel to feed us or give us a ride to town, and have saved up our own money to go on these trips. However, many of you know trail magic and the hiking community around these large trails is a huge aspect of a thru-hike and something that was definitely missed in 2020, compared to our 2018 AT hike.

Conclusion

So, yes there were many differences between thru-hiking in 2018 vs 2020 because of the pandemic but it never stopped us from accomplishing our dream! We know many of you are counting down the days to the start of your big trip and are wondering just how different it might be.

The best advice we can give is save up more money than you think, communicate with other hikers along the way and be adaptable to change. Happy Trails 🙂 

 

Want to see more?

Check out our Trail Tales where we share stories from our thru-hikes.
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Christina Bergman
Christina Bergman
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing your adventures. Do you have a YouTube? I am planning my future AT adventure February 23 2023.

Paz
Paz
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this! Its helpful to know you still managed to complete your thru-hike even with the limitations as I’m planning to go Apr 2021.

P.S. I watched a thru-hiker on youtube who also did both, but during regular years. She did say that in general there is a lot more trail magic on the AT than on the PCT. (I think it was Homemade Wanderlust’s channel)