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Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail


Postby AJNicholls » Wed Apr 22, 2020 4:55 pm

Date walked: 09/03/2020

Time taken: 9.5 days

Distance: 282.1 km

Ascent: 14361m

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Everything starts with a dream.

And that was me. Way back in 2016 or 2017 when I first heard of the Appalachian Trail, or the AT as it is colloquially known.

The AT is a 2,193 mile (the exact amount varies) hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, ultimately crossing through 14 different American states. Full of history. Full of life experiences. Full of challenges. That could be me doing it. After all, I've already completed the Wainwrights, over half the Munros (including the Skye Cuillin) and several UK trails. So what more could I want to do than something bigger... something perhaps more grandiose?

So, I put steps in place, sorting things with my landlord, my manager at work... all the various places that I needed to agree things in order to get out to the USA for a hike that takes an average completer 5.5 months to traverse... and which apparently only 20-25% of people succeed in doing. Would I succeed? Would I be just a statistic of shattered dreams? Only time would tell...

And so with a successful Visa sorted with the US Embassy in London, I set off to try my hand (and my legs) at the challenge ahead.

Getting Started

They say (perhaps in jest,) the biggest challenge of the AT is getting to the start point, to which there are no practical public transport links. I was aided in this endeavour by Don and Mary from
The Further Appalachian Shuttle who picked me up from Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (I'd gone via Dublin and Boston to get there, banking a few air miles in the process!) Mary took me to Amicalola Falls Visitor Center, further North in Georgia. COVID-19 was already a matter of discussion at this point, although at the time it was discussed without the knowledge of the global situation it would ultimately grow into. At this time, there were just 716 cases in the USA and 26 deaths.

The 3am pickup left me in the cold at the Visitor Center a bit after 4am where I waited to register and head off on my adventure, constantly pacing back and forth to stay warm at the start point. I was excited. A lady named Andrea eventually arrived to register me and I signed in as hiker #871 to start in 2020. I also sat through a short induction tutorial run by an AT guy named Master Splinter (almost everyone is known by their "trail name" - will mention a few more throughout this report.) He reminded those of us starting that morning of the "Leave No Trace" rules, advised us to use shelters rather than tents where possible, not to shake hands with anyone (fist-bumps are preferred,) to use latrines where they existed (even though he had to clear them out) rather than pooping in the wild, and also ensured I knew how to do a "PCT Bear Hang" - the preferred method of keeping your food out of the reach of bears on the Pacific Crest Trail (another long-distance USA trail.) The PCT Hang is especially important where no other bear-avoidance food systems like bear-boxes or bear-cables exist. Whilst I'd done my research and knew this stuff, Master Splinter was a helpful guy. Also, whilst attending a tutorial like this is completely optional, if anyone reading this decides to embark on the same adventure I would encourage you all to sit through this. There may be questions you want to ask.

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The starting arches of the AT whilst waiting for registration to open.

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At the beginning after sunlight and induction. Picture taken by Master Splinter himself!


Day 1: And So It Begins

From the Visitor Center, the hike to Springer Mountain is 8.8 miles with about 2,700 feet ascent. (The USA uses imperial measurements so I'll use them throughout this walk report even though the distance and ascent I listed for the report is metric.) But the Approach Trail isn't an official part of the AT. It just gets you to the start point from where you register. But if you're intending to walk 2,193 miles, what is an extra 8.8? Not much, right?

It's true of course; it's a negligible amount. But it is steep, heading up a mountainous staircase labelled as "strenuous" just to reach the top of the Amicalola Falls waterfall. When I got to the top, I encountered 3 section-hikers that were aiming to do (just) 500 miles from there. I passed by them and shortly after saw a sign saying that the next 7 miles takes an average hiker 6 hours to complete. Tough terrain? Or maybe the sign-writer expected someone with less hiking experience than myself, under their belt?

About 5 miles into this I met the first hiker that I caught the name of, Zachary, who had holed up in a shelter a bit before Springer Mountain the night before, feeling somewhat tired. We walked together to the top of Springer Mountain (3780ft,) getting there a bit after midday and helped a few people get photos at the top before continuing to hike another 8 miles beyond it.

Not long after Springer we experienced our first bit of "Trail Magic." A lady by the name of Buttercup (another example of a trail name) was giving out hot drinks including hot cider (yum!) at the intersection of the Benton MacKaye Trail. People that give out drinks and food to hikers are a welcome thing on long-distance US trails and are known as "Trail Angels" for the effort they put in. Getting some of this magic as early as Day 1 was a wonderfully satisfying experience.

But that magic wasn't limited to there. By the time we reached the shelter on Hawk Mountain, where I pitched my tent for the first night, I encountered a former thru-hiker named Fire Plug, who had carried up a 24-pack of beer to give out to hikers who made it up there. I only had 1 myself, but I could have had more, I'm sure. I was tired though; no sleep before a 17-mile hike had taken it out of me (53,000+ steps according to FitBit) and I enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep at 3,145ft altitude.

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The Approach Trail begins!

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Strenuous!

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Summit marker, Springer Mountain

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View early on Day 2

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Trekking on...

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Stream crossing


Day 2: More Trail Magic

I woke the next day ready to hike on. I packed up my tent and as Zachary wasn't ready to go I wished him well and headed on. This isn't as callous as it might at first sound. There is a saying on the trail that is well understood by all: "Hike your own hike!" and I was determined to hike at my own pace rather than any slower or faster than I needed to. I had a mission to succeed at, after all.

Day 2 saw me heading 15.8 miles towards Lance Creek Restoration Area, a campsite at 2,869ft. They had a bear-hang pulley system there, a bit more effort than the bear box I stored my food in at Hawk Mountain Shelter. Still easy enough once I figured out the system though. Along the way, I crossed Ramrock Mountain (3,175ft) and encountered Buttercup again for more hot cider, as well as Underdog, who was cooking up pure American chilli-dogs. Wonderful. I was advised that Lance Creek would be full but decided to go there anyway, as I could always "stealth-camp" (i.e.: camp slightly out of an official site) if I needed to. I also encountered a hiker there named Pops, who if he completed the trail would become the oldest person to do so at the age of 89! He was actually doing his 2nd thru-hike, which he had started solo before encountering a 70-year-old fellow hiker, Phoenix, who proceeded to help him out. Discussion about COVID-19 was running rampant at the trail magic site, with suggestions that it wasn't inconceivable that state borders could be shut along the route, making it difficult to progress further.

I got to Lance Creek in the end and whilst it was fairly full I managed to squeeze in my tent for the night and slept, ready for day 3.

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Leaving camp on the Tuesday morning

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The trail continues...

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More trail - one foot in front of the next!

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A misty view

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Hanging my food bag on the bear-pulley system


Day 3: Insomnia Is Born!

The hike continued on the next morning. I had set off early, as soon as I woke up, packing my tent into my pack with only my headtorch for assistance. In fact, I got a bit confused working out the route from Lance Creek back onto the trail in that darkness and had to back-track a bit. But I got moving again on the right path eventually. The first part of the day was a 10-11 mile zone where you aren't allowed to camp overnight without a hard bear can, so I'd made sure to plan my camping before it.

Within this zone is Blood Mountain, which at 4,458ft is the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in the state of Georgia. It was around here I got chatting to another thru-hiker, who having heard I had made it this far in a little over 2 days and with no sleep to boost, suggested a trail name for me.... "Insomnia." I thought about it for a few hours and chose to adopt it. It made me chuckle after all!

At the 31.3 mile mark of the official trail, I reached Neel Gap (3,100ft) a mountain crossing with an outfitters selling equipment to the presumably many people that forget something en-route. There is also a "hiker box" there with food donations from other hikers and I even bumped into Buttercup there for the 3rd day running! Perhaps the reason for the plentiful bounty to be found in the Neel Gap hiker box is that this is the point where a large number of people (estimated at 20%) quit their hike, early on, realising they don't quite have the legs for the hiking still to come. There's even a tree there where disenchanted hikers throw their boots up onto the branches, abandoning the trail early on. I marched onwards from Neel Gap with some bonus peanut butter and porridge from the hiker box.

After another 11.5 miles I had crossed over Levelland Mountain (3,833ft,) Wolf Laurel Top (3,763ft,) Cowrock Mountain (3,809ft,) Poor Mountain (3,621ft,) Sheep Rock Top (3,561ft) reached Low Gap Shelter (2,966ft) and camped there, even encountering Matt and Sarah, the first 2 Brits I saw on the trail. Matt was from Ipswich although he didn't spot I was hiking the trail wearing an Ipswich Town F.C. top. Meanwhile Sarah had gone to the same university as me. It's a small world.

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Early morning sunrise

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Blood Mountain Shelter

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The hiker box at Neel Gap

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The surrounding views, beyond the trees


Day 4: A First Mini-Milestone

This day took me to the 50 mile marker on the way up to the summit of Blue Mountain (4,010ft.) The trail went on further, over Unicoi Gap, instersecting with the Rocky Mountain Trail before crossing Rocky Mountain itself (3,992ft) and the rather ominous-sounding Indian Grave Gap. Around here I met a ridge-runner named Captain Planet, who advised me that there was potentially a thunderstorm coming in and to avoid sleeping in the shelter on Tray Mountain (4,371ft.) I'd already planned to go beyond there before nightfall so it wasn't too much of a problem but I heeded her advice anyway: "Tray Mountain is a beautiful place to stay in good weather. Tonight, I don't recommend it!"

Captain Planet also spoke of her concerns about COVID-19. At this stage the number of cases had reached 1,645, with 41 deaths (a 129% and 58% increase respectively in just 3 days.)

Ultimately I went over Tray as well as Kelly Knob (4,144ft) before dropping down to Deep Gap Shelter (3,454ft) to camp for the night. There I heard of another hiker who was attempting to walk the entire trail barefoot, which was also his trail name.

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Continuing through the "Green Corridor"

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Trees may often get in the way of a good view, but I learnt to "imagine" what the view was without them.


Day 5: Taking Stock

Waking up on the 5th morning I thought about what I'd done so far. At this point I had hiked 65.6 miles of the AT (not including the extra 8.8 miles on the Approach Trail) and everything was holding together well. I understood bear and snake avoidance as well as I could and still had plenty of food to keep me going. My water-filtration skills were working well for me and both mind and body were aligned well. It was time to keep marching on.

I passed by a couple of amusing signs that day too. One advised that hang-gliders are not permitted in the wilderness and another pointed out a route to the wonderfully-named "Chunky Gal Trail!"

I crossed over the amusingly-named As Knob (3,427ft) before hitting the Georgia/North Carolina state boundary (3,835ft) at the 78.1 mile mark, where I stopped there and recorded a quick video for my family and friends to mark the event for prosperity. Shortly after that I crossed over Sharp Top (4,260ft) before going the remaining 7+ miles to Standing Indian Shelter (relatively high up at 4,752ft) to camp for the night, where I did a PCT bear hang before stopping for a quick chat about the football with an American in the next tent to me. Yes, they call it soccer there. (I still won't.)

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A strange tree-arch across the trail

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Another view through the trees

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The trail continues

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A low branch zone

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Yet more trail

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A view between the trees

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Hang-gliders... really?

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Maybe they follow the cake-crumbs...

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My PCT bear hang at Standing Indian Shelter


Day 6: An Unexpected Detour

The day began by climbing Standing Indian Mountain (5,478ft) - about 1.5 miles from the previous night's shelter. But the real slog came over 10 miles after that, climbing the scrambly Southern slopes of Albert Mountain (5,213ft) - a task not made easier when carrying a fully-loaden multi-day backpack. A tower structure exists at the top of this peak, allowing good views through 360 degrees and on the North side descent I found the path to be far less arduous than on the South.

Less than a mile after the summit of Albert Mountain is the 100-mile marker, marked in the ground with a series of rocks and twigs (I found one marker made of each.) Another milestone passed.

Somewhat undaunted I trekked on, dropping down to Rock Gap Shelter (3,797ft) about 6 miles later. With a plan in mind to head to a campsite about 5 miles beyond, I was happy to encounter some more trail magic at the road crossing at Rock Gap (3,735ft) from Blue (apparently spelled Bl:D with a smiley-face) and Gelsey, who gladly offered me cookies and beer. They even said if I didn't want to lose time I was welcome to take what I wanted and walk on, but I took a seat on a camp-chair and sat with them, shooting the breeze for a while.

A little later, a hostel-owner from nearby Franklin, North Carolina came past on the road and offered me a bed for the night if I wanted one. Having slogged my way up Albert Mountain and passed the 100-mile marker, as well as needing to resupply either then or within a couple of days, I accepted the offer. After all, I hadn't been able to have a proper wash since I was in Dublin, nearly a week before. The hostel-owner, Zen from Gooder Grove, took me past a diner where I got a couple of chilli-dogs and a complementary milkshake for being on a thru-hike attempt.

Zen had the safety of hikers in mind, encouraging everyone to wash their hands in the growing Coronavirus pandemic. By then the number of cases had grown 293% in my time in the States, up to 2,816 and the number of deaths by 131% to 60. Zen made a point of asking hikers to leave their boots and trekking poles inside and ensured everyone washed their hands thoroughly before touching any communal items. He was looking out for everyone's interests in the process. Zen's helper Merple did my laundry for me (only $2) which would ultimately make a refreshing change to the hiker-stench I was undoubtedly building up and I wound up sitting outside chatting on the porch with Zen, Merple and another thru-hiker (Atlas) that evening; and I eventually enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep in a bed rather than a tent. Also, in true hiker hostel fashion, they labelled my bed with my new-found trail-name: "Insomnia!"

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Back walking in the bright 'n early

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View from Albert Mountain (1)

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View from Albert Mountain (2)

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View from Albert Mountain (3)

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View from Albert Mountain - from up on the tower

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More views

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A 100-mile marker

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Another 100-mile marker

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Similar to at Neel Gap, there's another "Quitting Tree" by Zen's hostel at Gooder Grove


(...continued in next post due to attachment limit...)
Last edited by AJNicholls on Wed Apr 22, 2020 9:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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AJNicholls
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby AJNicholls » Wed Apr 22, 2020 5:14 pm

Day 7: Plodding On

The Sunday started early. Zen drove me to a local church hall that gave a free pancake and bacon breakfast for all thru-hikers. Admittedly we sat through a short sermon, but it only lasted about three minutes and wasn't overly preachy. I'm pretty far from being a God person but I could have taken more proselytising in return for free hot food. And unlimited orange juice too! To top it off, they also took a photo of me and posted it across the Atlantic to my mum - for free!

Zen took me to a supermarket where I bought enough food to take me through to the end of the Great Smoky Mountains. Hiker food for me is pop tarts, granola, cereal bars, protein bars and Reese's peanut butter. I can keep going on those forever!

I returned to the trail, briefly re-encountering Blue and Gelsey once more for some bonus trail magic, then heading on uphill, skirting close to the summit of Silver Bald (5,207ft) and ultimately climbing to the top of the beautiful Wayah Bald (5,337ft) - another summit with a tower on top of it. There I encountered someone that was amazed at my pace on the trail, having been trying to catch up with me for over an hour, but unsuccessfully. Spotting my accent, he even asked if I used to be part of the SAS - turned out he used to train British officers at Sandhurst!

I finished the night descending down to Cold Spring Shelter (4,920ft) - a good 20-mile day after my refreshing rest the night before. This would be the first night I slept on the trail where I didn't pitch tent - instead there was space in the shelter for me to sleep in my sleeping bag and on top of my mat.

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With Zen the morning after the hostel stay

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Fast flowing water is the best place to refill bottles.

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A plank crossing

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More trail

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Clear views

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Chillin' out on Wayah Bald

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Another view


Day 8: Getting a permit

Waking up, a girl in the shelter sleeping 2 spaces down from me was mentioning concerns that COVID-19 could shut down some future resupply points and make all of our thru-hikes more difficult. The daily USA stats were 4,459 cases and 87 deaths (a 522% and 235% increase respectively in the time I'd been in the States) and she expressed that she might need to rethink her goals for the year.

But by this stage I was fully raring to go onwards. I marched my way to the summit of Rocky Bald (5,095ft) then onto the towered summit of Wesser Bald (4,618ft) before a long, long descent down to Nantanhala Outdoor Center (also known as the "NOC" - 1,727ft) where I paid for and printed by permit to thru-hike in the upcoming Great Smoky Mountains.

Spotting a store there, I stopped and enjoyed a 4-pack of beer before heading on. I spotted the girl from the shelter earlier that morning who had called her husband to come and collect her (apparently a 12-hour drive) and wished her well. Even in her own mind, she thought this would "all blow over" and she was perhaps being overly cautious. She planned to return to the trail as soon as possible thereafter. I wasn't in a position with as many options though - I had no home to return to (I'd literally put all I had into storage and let my rental contract expire here in the UK.)

And so I slogged my way back uphill from the NOC until I reached Sassafras Gap Shelter (4,328ft.) Sitting down for the 4-pack of beer meant that I got there rather late and only with headtorch assistance. Finding no practical space to pitch tent for the night, I ended up sleeping in a sitting position by the shelter itself, much to the bemusement of others when they woke up.

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Beginnings of a misty day

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Mistier still...

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Through the trees after it cleared

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Looking down to Nantanhala

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An aquatic view


Day 9: An Unexpected and Unwanted E-Mail Arrives

This ended up being a shorter day than usual, despite setting off early from my seated position for the night. I climbed up to Cheoah Bald (5,052ft) then dropping down to the junction with the Bartram Trail (4,919ft) then Locust Grove Gap (3,651ft,) onto Simp Gap (3,529ft,) Stecoah Gap (3,132ft,) Sweetwater Gap (3,272ft,) Brown Fork Gap (3,584ft) and Hogback Gap (3,475ft) before finishing the day at Cody Gap (3,601ft.)

During the day I received an email from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with their concerns over COVID-19, which I've copied and pasted below:

Dear Appalachian Trail Hiker,

In a few days, weeks or months, you are planning to embark on a journey on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) — a journey many have described as “once in a lifetime” and “life-changing.” Some of you may have already begun your journeys. You’ve likely scrimped and saved to make this journey possible. You’ve combed over data, maps, and countless pages of information to prepare yourself. However, there is a highly contagious virus spreading throughout the country, including in Appalachian Trail states, and we have all been asked to make changes, make sacrifices, and/or take precautions to minimize its spread.

We at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) are now asking you to do the same: please postpone your section or thru-hike. Instead, consider alternate ways of connecting to the Trail and to the outdoors.

We do not make this request lightly. We manage and protect the A.T. because it is meant to be hiked. However, the practices necessary to support a section or thru-hike may make A.T. hikers vectors to spread COVID-19 — whether congregating at shelters or around picnic tables, traveling to trailheads in shuttle vans, or lodging at the various hostels up and down the Trail.

Should you decide to embark on your Trail journey despite the risk of exposing yourself or others to COVID-19, we ask you to consider the following:

Your starting point: Do not start your section or thru-hike at the southern end of the Trail. Amicalola Falls State Park and Springer Mountain are the most common starting points, making them difficult places to establish distance between people. Large numbers start at these locations every day in March and April, and shelters and campsites at the southern end of the Trail stay crowded for weeks.
Your finances: All hikers who show symptoms of COVID-19 should self-quarantine off Trail and stay off Trail until approved for return by a qualified medical professional. Hikers with symptoms of COVID-19 should minimize the potential spread of the virus by refraining from using public transportation — including shuttles, buses, rental cars, or planes — to travel home. Hikers should also have resources for medical and lodging expenses incurred during quarantine. Lastly, consider expenses associated with traveling home should a loved one contract the virus and require your care.
Reduced support options: Many businesses and service providers along the Trail are closing temporarily. Local search and rescue may be dealing with local cases. Shuttle providers and Trail angels may be staying home, unwilling to put themselves or their families at risk. Fewer people will likely be willing to pick up hitchhikers. Hostels, outfitters, and libraries may be closed. Places that hold hiker packages may also close. Grocery stores and other locations where you were planning to resupply may have reduced inventory or may be sold out of vital items. And, to keep ATC staff safe and to avoid spreading the virus, ridge runners and caretakers normally found on Trail will no longer be available. Until further notice, all ATC Visitor Centers will be closed.
Consider shelter: Plan to avoid shelters and other points of congregation for overnight accommodation. Self-supported camping on durable surfaces 200 feet from water sources with ample distance between tents is recommended. Hikers should also avoid using privies; instead, dig a cat hole more than 200 feet from water sources and camping areas.
Vulnerable A.T. communities/limited healthcare options: Many communities along the Trail are likely low on resources and may have over-burdened healthcare systems. Carrying COVID-19 from the Trail into these communities (or vice versa) puts their healthcare systems, their healthcare workers, and the very communities that serve the Trail at risk. Some communities do not have healthcare options at all.
Spreading the virus: The Appalachian Trail is not an easy place to isolate yourself. Staying in hostels, shopping at local grocery stores, eating in local restaurants, drinking beer in local bars — or the temptation to huddle with others in a shelter on a cold, rainy night when your gear is wet — are all chances to contract or spread COVID-19.

We know this is not an easy or small decision to make, but the impacts of potentially spreading COVID-19 during your journey are big.

Again, we urge anyone planning to section or thru-hike the Trail this year to postpone their hikes. If you do decide to hit the Trail, exercise caution and minimize risk to yourself, other Trail users, and to the Trail’s communities. If you have already begun your journey, we urge you to return home until these risks have passed.

Thank you,

Sandra “Sandi” Marra
President & CEO
Appalachian Trail Conservancy


Worrying reading indeed. I thought back to the girl who had - at least temporarily - abandoned her thru-hike back at the NOC and wondered what I should do. Heading back home wasn't going to be easy - I'd walked over 100 miles away from an international airport and there was a lengthy drive before then. It wasn't clear to me how practical it would be for me to get off-trail, especially with word going round that flights were being blocked. If I went home, I also had nowhere to live and had no guarantee of a job to go back to. In fact, all my possessions that weren't in my backpack were in a self-storage unit. Just as pressing was the feeling that I'd put 2 years preparation into all this and I didn't want to sever ties with my ambitions part-way through week 2, especially when I was feeling hit and healthy.

But it dawned on me that if I carried on that there was a real risk of not being able to resupply. With the Great Smoky Mountains coming up, I had a 6-day hike through bear country coming up, in an area known for very limited phone reception. If I came out the other end with no way to source any food to eat, I would suffer for it. And I also began to realise that my medical insurance (which almost assuredly considered a global pandemic to be an "Act of God") wouldn't cover me if I went and continued along a trail after being advised that I should abandon it.

I messaged a few friends, as well as my sister back in the UK, and decided to sleep on it. As it turned out, there was a couple more Brits in the tents near me at Cody Gap too, the first I'd seen since Day 3.

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Keepin' on marchin'

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The "Brown Corridor"

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Looking down...


Day 10: An Early Farewell

I woke up and knew that whilst I could continue, I probably shouldn't. The Trail itself wasn't going anywhere and I'd be able to return if I set my mind to it. I thought back to 2012 or 2013 when I abandoned a climb in the Lake District after seeing Stony Cove Pike (only half a mile away from me) get hit by lightning and realised that it was a situation where discretion was the better part of valor. Checking the statistics, the USA was up to 8,736 cases and 149 deaths (up 1,118% and 473% respectively from when I started) and I concluded that I was going to need to get back to Blighty by whatever means necessary, even if I'd end up needing Embassy assistance.

And so I headed onwards on the trail until I got a phone signal again, at which point I called Zen from the hostel in Franklin, North Carolina and asked him if he could shuttle me back to civilisation and ultimately help me with getting from there back to Atlanta Airport if I could get a flight at some point. He was able to accommodate and I arranged to meet him down at Fontana Dam later in the day. I messaged my manager at work to enquire about getting my job back and made the difficult call to my mum (my number one fan, of course!) to say that I was done.

Then I plodded on, down to Yellow Creek Gap (2,936ft) and passing Cable Gap Shelter (2,883ft) and Walker Gap (3,451ft) before connecting with the Fontana Dam Road (1,746ft.) From there I headed down to the Marina, bought a six-pack of beer and sat outside drinking and consoling myself with some other thru-hikers, including one other Brit. They'd seen the email too of course, but had decided to press on. I've no idea how far they got in the end.

Zen ultimately picked me up from a bit further along the trail than the Marina itself and took me back to Franklin. In the less than 4 days since I was last there, most of the town had shut down. The restaurant where I got chilli-dogs and a free milkshake was closed. The free breakfast at the church hall was already a thing of the past. Zen was open for business but had his concerns about whether it was the right thing to do or not. The world had changed a lot and COVID-19 had affected everything, particularly Franklin as a "trail town" that saw a lot of people transiently going through it.

And at the point, I had to face facts: Insomnia was done with the trail for 2020. But I'd made the safest decision.

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Coming to the end of an adventure

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Fontana Dam Marina

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Beer!


Aftermath

The day after I managed to get a flight booked and relaxed outside on Zen's porch, drinking beer with other thru-hikers, some of which were "taking a zero" (i.e.: not moving along the trail) as they waited to see whether the Coronavirus situation calmed down a bit. Others were like me and deliberately going off-trail. Others decided to carry on regardless. I ended up going on 3 different beer-runs that day to pass the time and got through 18 cans. I'm not, as many have observerd, a role model for others.

One of the thru-hikers that was heading home, Tracker, was able to give me a lift in the direction of Atlanta Airport. He was also giving another hiker, Bama, a lift home as they randomly discovered they lived in the same borough of their state. We stopped en-route for a Chick-fil-A and I contributed some gas money to him to say thanks.

At the airport I got chatting to an ex-pat Brit who had frequented some of the same areas of London as I used to when I lived there. He even donated a face mask and gloves to me which gave me a sense of security on the flight back to London Heathrow and for the rather dystopian London Underground ride from there to Waterloo where I got an overground train to where I had parked my car. Then from there I ultimately managed to get a place to live again, as well as my old job back. Sometimes I manage to land on my feet. Small mercies.

Since getting home I heard that there were a large number of closures on the AT that would have made continuing close to impossible:
- on 20th March, Maryland was closed all camping and Pennsylvania closed all their shelters
- on 23rd March, North Carolina announced numerous travel restrictions and the closure of all accommodation in Graham County
- on 26th March, Massachusetts banned overnight camping throughout the entire state; and Pennsylvania closed 10 miles of the AT to public access
- on 27th March, Georgia closed trailhead access in Chattahoochee National Forest
- on 28th March, West Virginia introduced restrictions near Harpers Ferry; also there were closures to over 50 shelters between Virginia and Maine
- on 30th March, North Carolina and Tennessee closed trailheads and access points to Nantanhala, Cherokee and Pishagh National Forests
- on 31st March, Virginia closed access points to George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
- on 1st April, North Carolina and Tennessee closed the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- on 5th April, Virginia closed 27 miles of the AT
- on 7th April, New Jersey closed all state parks and forests; Vermont also closed numerous trails
- on 8th April, Virginia closed Shenendoah National Park
- on 9th April, Virginia closed Spy Rock and a further 19-mile section of the AT
- on 15th April, Maine closed Baxter State Park
- on 17th April, Virginia ordered people to stay away from the town of Damascus
- on 20th April, North Carolina announced a self-quarantine for anyone entering Graham County

... and so it will probably continue. A thru-hike wasn't going to be possible anyway. 2020 just wasn't meant to be for the AT.

I've said a few times since returning that the dream isn't dead... it's just indefinitely postponed. That's how I feel. I have unfinished business. I want to get out there and finish what I started. I may even start again from the Approach Trail to do the whole thing in one go. It's just a matter of when I get the chance to do what I should still be doing as I write this walk report.

I'm still happy with what I did, even if the feeling is bitter-sweet. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back!"

This is me, Insomnia, signing out.
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby Gordie12 » Thu Apr 23, 2020 11:44 am

Hi "Insomnia".

It may not have worked out as you planned but it was a great read (little consolation I know).

I hope you get back to the AT and complete it some time in the years to come.

I was amazed how friendly people seem to have been and how much of a community spirit there was.

Out of curiosity with all the hills you were climbing were you losing a lot of height in between or was it more of a ridge line and you were able to keep some height???

Thanks for posting this.
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby AJNicholls » Thu Apr 23, 2020 3:00 pm

Gordie12 wrote:Hi "Insomnia".

It may not have worked out as you planned but it was a great read (little consolation I know).

I hope you get back to the AT and complete it some time in the years to come.

I was amazed how friendly people seem to have been and how much of a community spirit there was.


Thanks for the kind words Gordie.

Indeed, the American hiking community is wonderful. People take care of each other. Many of the trail magic people are those that have received its benefits themselves and feel the urge to give something back. In the shelter on Night 7 there was someone that hadn't spent a cent along the entire route.

Gordie12 wrote:Out of curiosity with all the hills you were climbing were you losing a lot of height in between or was it more of a ridge line and you were able to keep some height???

Thanks for posting this.


The AT is somewhat reknowned for the amount of ups and downs along it. It's generally quoted as 464,464ft gained along 2,193 miles. Compare this with the 489,418ft along the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail; or the 457,000ft gained along the 3,029 mile Continental Divide Trail and you can probably see that the gradient is hardest on the AT itself. (Together, these 3 trails make up the supposed "Triple Crown" of American hiking.)

I've included screenshots of the elevation across each day from the Guthooks app.

image0.png
Day 1A: Approach Trail: Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain

image1.png
Day 1B: Approach Trail: Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain Shelter

image2.png
Day 2: Hawk Mountain Shelter to Lance Creed Restoration Area

image3.png
Day 3: Lance Creek Restoration Area to Low Gap Shelter

image4.png
Day 4: Low Gap Shelter to Deep Gap Shelter

image5.png
Day 5: Deep Gap Shelter to Standing Indian Shelter

image6.png
Day 6: Standing Indian Shelter to Rock Gap

image7.png
Day 7: Rock Gap to Cold Spring Shelter

image8.png
Day 8: Cold Spring Shelter to Sassafras Gap Shelter

image9.png
Day 9: Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cody Gap

image10.png
Day 10: Cody Gap to Fontana Dam Marina
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Apr 23, 2020 4:08 pm

Thank you for sharing your adventure, Insomnia, a good read.

Its sad that you couldn't continue on your great adventure, but as you say, its not going anywhere and your experience will help you plan the next one.

I enjoyed hearing about the friendliness of the folk you met. That seems to be something special.

I look forward to reading about your successful trip one day.
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby AJNicholls » Thu Apr 23, 2020 4:18 pm

Mal Grey wrote:Thank you for sharing your adventure, Insomnia, a good read.

Its sad that you couldn't continue on your great adventure, but as you say, its not going anywhere and your experience will help you plan the next one.

I enjoyed hearing about the friendliness of the folk you met. That seems to be something special.

I look forward to reading about your successful trip one day.


Thanks Mal - I look forward to telling you about it! :D :lol: :thumbup:
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby LaurenAlexandraAgain » Sat Apr 25, 2020 4:32 am

Fantastic read, "Insomnia!" I'm gutted on your behalf that you had to cut your trip short, especially with all the planning and preparation you put into it. But as you said, the AT isn't going anywhere. I will treat you to a beer when you get to Clarke County VA on your next pass. 8)
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby AJNicholls » Sat Apr 25, 2020 9:24 am

LaurenAlexandraAgain wrote:Fantastic read, "Insomnia!" I'm gutted on your behalf that you had to cut your trip short, especially with all the planning and preparation you put into it. But as you said, the AT isn't going anywhere. I will treat you to a beer when you get to Clarke County VA on your next pass. 8)


Hi Lauren and greetings from back here in the UK. Thanks for the offer, I'd gladly take you up on any offer of alcohol! :clap: :clap:

Hope things go as well as possible back in the States for you all. Stay safe! :thumbup:
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby Riverman » Sat Apr 25, 2020 11:08 am

Hey AJ. Great report. I feel gutted for you but you made the right call. As you said. The trail will be waiting for you. 10 years ago when I was living in DC I went out to Shenandoah fairly regularly and hiked some short sections of the AT. Good luck with the rest of the trail when you get back to it, hopefully not before too long. Sean
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby AJNicholls » Sat Apr 25, 2020 7:50 pm

Riverman wrote:Hey AJ. Great report. I feel gutted for you but you made the right call. As you said. The trail will be waiting for you. 10 years ago when I was living in DC I went out to Shenandoah fairly regularly and hiked some short sections of the AT. Good luck with the rest of the trail when you get back to it, hopefully not before too long. Sean


Hey Sean, thanks pal. Seems a long time now since we were hiking in North Wales. Hope life is going well for you.

Yes, I'm very keen to get back out there again. In fact it's rather distracting me from the other things in my life, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Cheers mate & take care!
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby jackfrost » Thu May 07, 2020 9:44 pm

Wow what an adventure MrN! I really enjoyed reading that even if it wasn't the turnout you had planned for (to say the least). As a trip report, it is top quality full of helpful advice and information. And interesting tree photos :wink:

Knowing your setup, I can imagine what a ballache it must have been to return to the UK early, but thankfully you have an understanding employer. Certainly fell on your feet with that one.

Hopefully you can make a return one day and do the AT justice. 200miles next time?

It sort of reminds me when I was in the Wind River mountains in Wyoming on 9th September 2001. We hadn't noticed the blue skies without airline contrails that day and it wasn't until the following day when we hiked out to the trailhead and drove to the nearest town that we discovered what had occurred. Our scheduled flight back to the UK had not surprisingly been canned and I had to phone The Employer to say I'd be back late. We had an extra 5days fiddling about in Colorado until we could get a flight home.

ps I'm not impressed by 18 beers. That American stuff is like fizzy pop :lol:
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby jackfrost » Thu May 07, 2020 10:29 pm

jackfrost wrote:
It sort of reminds me when I was in the Wind River mountains in Wyoming on 9th September 2001. We hadn't noticed the blue skies without airline contrails that day and it wasn't until the following day when we hiked out to the trailhead and drove to the nearest town that we discovered what had occurred. Our scheduled flight back to the UK had not surprisingly been canned and I had to phone The Employer to say I'd be back late. We had an extra 5days fiddling about in Colorado until we could get a flight home.

:


I meant 11th September
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Re: Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Postby AJNicholls » Fri May 08, 2020 8:06 am

jackfrost wrote:Wow what an adventure MrN! I really enjoyed reading that even if it wasn't the turnout you had planned for (to say the least). As a trip report, it is top quality full of helpful advice and information. And interesting tree photos :wink:

Knowing your setup, I can imagine what a ballache it must have been to return to the UK early, but thankfully you have an understanding employer. Certainly fell on your feet with that one.

Hopefully you can make a return one day and do the AT justice. 200miles next time?


Thanks JF. Yeah I had a great time out there, just a bit too short-lived. If I don't get 200 miles done the next time I'm out on the AT, I will feel that I've been cursed!

jackfrost wrote:It sort of reminds me when I was in the Wind River mountains in Wyoming on 9th September 2001. We hadn't noticed the blue skies without airline contrails that day and it wasn't until the following day when we hiked out to the trailhead and drove to the nearest town that we discovered what had occurred. Our scheduled flight back to the UK had not surprisingly been canned and I had to phone The Employer to say I'd be back late. We had an extra 5days fiddling about in Colorado until we could get a flight home.


Aye, I remember you mentioning that. How bizarre things can seem when you end up entirely disconnected with the outside world. Admittedly that's part of the point of going for a long hike anyway!

jackfrost wrote:ps I'm not impressed by 18 beers. That American stuff is like fizzy pop :lol:


Fair. Their cider is weak and I don't believe the ABV. Some of the dark ale is decent and can kick me in the bum when I've been malnourished from day-on-day hiking, but I'd obviously take a bottle of my favourite Scottish tipple - Skye Red - over anything there.

Look forward to seeing you when the world settles down and UK mountain-walking is a thing, once more.

Cheers.
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