Despite the coronavirus, you can legally thru-hike the Appalachian Trail right now. But should you?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic that has dislodged the United States’ social order and crippled its economy, the question of whether or not to attempt a thru-hike has become an actual life-or-death conundrum—and a question of what it means to put strangers before yourself.

A week ago, concerns about the coronavirus and thru-hiking centered mostly on supplies. With Americans making runs on cleaning wares and foods with long shelf lives, vendors like Mountain House and Good To-Go were running out of meals. In north Georgia, Mountain Crossings a hostel famous for helping hikers pick through their gear and drop unnecessary pack weight stowed bottles of hand sanitizer in back rooms to reserve them for future thru-hikers. Those needs now seem quaint.

More recently, the administrative organizations of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail have issued increasingly urgent guidelines and edicts for the pandemic. Just days after reminding people to wash their hands, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) urged hikers to “postpone your section or thru-hike” altogether.

But what none of these organizations can do, of course, is legally or logistically close trails that run the length of the United States. That limitation and its implications have ripped the thru-hiking community into subdivisions, whose differing views are reflected on message boards and along the trails themselves. As sports leagues have cancelled entire seasons and restaurants have laid off staff, the urgent question for thru-hiking in 2020 has become an ethical litmus test: Just because you can get on trail, should you?

See the arguments here…


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