Those planning to hike the Appalachian Trail - a trek that spans nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine - received some bad, although not entirely unexpected, news this year. A recent announcement from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which is responsible for the upkeep of the trail, said that they will not be recognizing thru-hikes in 2021. The reasoning behind their decision comes from the need to contain the spread of the current pandemic, which has taken the lives of 400,000 Americans at the time of writing. The ATC stated that until the pandemic is 'under control,' they would not be encouraging thru-hikers to gather and hike the trail out of a need to maintain social-distancing regulations and prevent further spread of the virus.
Therefore, there will be no hangtags this year and no official recognition of anyone who goes on to complete the hike. At this point, 2,000 people had already registered as thru-hikers for the trek in 2021, but the ATC is firm on their point, reiterating that until the situation is under control or a vaccine has been 'widely available and distributed,' no thru-hiker efforts will be rewarded this year.
So, what can be done in the meantime, especially with all the energy that was saved for such a long thru-hike? The news might be disappointing but the thought of putting others at risk is even more disappointing; here's where to channel all of that hard work.
Check Out Local Trails And Try A New Outdoor Sport
If you're looking to hike the AT, then chances are you've explored most of your local trails. If that's the case, then do it again! With a whole new year upcoming, the unique opportunity is now provided to scope out the local trails during every season that they're open. If you haven't seen them in the winter then strap on some snowshoes and get out there. If the spring proved to be muddier than usual, take advantage of the conditions and practice your balance.
If none of that is of interest, then try taking up a different recreational activity, such as biking. This is a fantastic way to build up endurance in your legs as well as increase lung capacity. It's also a solo activity that lends itself well to putting distance between yourself and others, especially if you're practicing on a bike trail. Skateboarding, roller skating, and even water sports, such as rowing or kayaking, can all help to improve endurance without feeling redundant.
Find Ways To Volunteer With Local Conservancy Groups To Aid In The Cause
To pay your efforts forward a little, consider volunteering with a local conservancy group in the time you would have spent hiking. This is the perfect way to learn more about what it takes to keep up a trail and might have you walking away with a new appreciation for those who maintain the trails we hike every day.
This is also a wonderful way to learn about the environment and get a feel for how you can be a more sustainable hiker.
Learn What You Can Do In Your Local Community To Stop The Spread
When in doubt, learn. Educate yourself on all the things you can do to stop the spread in your own community. The ATC made the decision to turn away thru-hikers this year based on science and reason, and it's that same science and reason that will help us to contain this, thus bringing forth a situation that is classified as 'under control.'
There are plenty of things we should all be doing such as wearing masks, washing our hands frequently, and keeping a safe social distance between ourselves and others. To go the extra mile, there's plenty more we could do, such as finding ways to help the elderly and disabled in our communities or ways to help local businesses as they navigate these uncertain times.
Take Your Training Experience And Share It With Others Looking To Become Thru-Hikers
If nothing else, you've become a prepared - and talented - thru-hiker who is still ready to take on the trek. With this same thought in mind, why not use your personal experience and share it with others who are looking to do the same? Whether it's through a virtual guide session or by engaging with people on social media, there are many ways to connect with others who are eager to become thru-hikers, themselves.
Knowledge is power and if you've gone through the training and preparation to do so, there are surely other people out there who would love to hear your story and get your advice.