Over the last few days, countless #classof2020 hikers have had to cancel their thru hike. Whether it is the AT, PCT, CDT or elsewhere in the world, the negative (potentially deadly) effects thru hiking would have on communities in the midst of the spread of the coronavirus have been widely documented.
Only yesterday, a week after my rebooked flight to LA, did I find the emotional strength to unpack, look at my gear and put some of my “normal clothes” back into the drawers where they belong. Because let’s face it, hiking clothes aren’t going to be needed anytime soon. I live in a city and don’t have a car so hiking options are pretty much nil. This being said, I did have a couple of days at home wearing my shorts and trail shirt because I just wanted to be in them. No way I’ll wear a dress and tights anytime soon.
On the eve of my rebooked flight, I washed my hair and blow dried it like I always do. It takes some extra time and effort but I always think my hair looks a bit “wild” when left naturally wavy. So I took extra care that day and I thought to myself: “Cam, this is the last time you’re blow drying your hair until mid-October!” I was so happy!
This was only one of the “last times” I recorded in my head before leaving for the PCT. Along with that was the last time I was cooking a meal at home, taking the bins out, sleeping in my comfy bed… So when I finally truly and fully realised this week that a thru hike wasn’t going to happen this year, not as a late start and not SOBO either, not only did I have to give up on this mammoth dream of mine, I also had to imagine a new life here in Edinburgh.
Many people reached out. Some got it and many others just said: “you’ll just do it next year, it’ll be fine” or “just do another hike this year instead”. This kind of comments is meant to be comforting and encouraging but unfortunately, it’s really not that simple. First, people need to realise that going on the PCT isn’t a “holiday” or a break from your job and it certainly cannot be replaced by “another hike”. Hikers who’ve been planning this for years already have a close relationship with the trail despite never having set foot on it. It’s an exponential force within you pulling you towards it. Something that cannot be shifted. Something so great that it makes many people quit their job, give up their flat, sacrifice moments with friends and makes them look obsessed and rather selfish at best.
So why can’t we all just plan for a 2021 thru instead? Everything is ready after all so surely, 12 extra months will just make us more prepared, right?
Let’s think back to all the hoops I had to jump through to get this far: most of them I’ll have to jump through again. Firstly, the long distance permit. This is administered by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) and is a pretty competitive process. The demand from hikers will only increase as years go by and the trail continues to gain in popularity, which makes getting a permit for your optimal start date harder and harder. The PCTA has also hinted that 2020 hikers who had a permit but couldn’t use it will still need to re-apply for one (along with all the other hopefuls a normal year would bring).
Then international hikers who didn’t get a 10 years multiple entries B2 visa will need to re-apply for a visa. This comes with extra costs if you don’t live in London. Thankfully my visa is for 10 years so I’m fine.
Once those two things are sorted, comes what I see as being the biggest obstacle for most of us: MONEY. Covid-19 has not only changed our daily lives and the way we socialise, it’s also affected people’s jobs. Many will have quit their jobs before heading on the PCT, so what is the likelihood of them finding another one in the middle of an economic crisis? These people are now sitting on a good amount of savings I hear you say but being unemployed, at home and down isn’t how one would want to spend their hard earned thru-hiking money. Plus that means having to save it all over again for a future hike, which may not be for another 2 to 3 years depending on whether they manage to find a job.
My situation is in flux so there isn’t much point speculating for now, though it’s hard not to. First I’m waiting to know if A. I’ll retain my job for the next 12 months (a job which I was meant take a sabbatical from… queue interesting conversation about staying on when someone has been appointed to cover for me) or B. I’ll be made redundant. This all depends on public funding decisions as I work in the Arts. If I do get to keep my job, the likelihood of retaining the same amount of hours as before is pretty much zero. In a best case scenario, I’ll get fewer hours than before and I’ll have to look for an additional job in a highly competitive market. But that’s not even half of the battle. How, after your boss has fought for you to get your job back, do you then bring up going for a sabbatical in 2021?! That would be just comical and maybe a little rude even. So that I still have to figure out.