Many backpackers think that “the trail” is probably the best place to avoid the coronavirus pandemic and they’re heading for the hills. But how much of this is wishful thinking, when many of the local services in rural communities that hikers take for granted may disappear? I’m not trying to be alarmist, but realistic. These are all considerations that I’ve pondered myself.
While backpackers pride themselves on being self-sufficient, most of us don’t live off the land. We rely on a loosely coupled network of shuttle drivers, hostels, stores, restaurants, urgent care clinics, EMS, search and rescue, and post offices to keep us going or bail us out when things go bad. If that fragile ecosystem of services begins to crumble because the people staffing them take ill or they shut down to protect their loved ones, how will that affect your ability to bail out of a hike if things go wrong?
- What if you become ill on the trail? Some of you may already be infected with the COVID-19 and not even know it. Where will you go to recuperate or be cared for if you require medical assistance? No offense to rural hospitals intended, but most are understaffed and ill-equipped to handle serious cases and transfer them instead to larger regional health centers. What if those regional health centers are overrun with people infected with COVID-19
- What if you are injured and need search and rescue assistance? Who’s going to come to your aid if the members of local search and rescue are already busy with local residents or sick themselves?
- What if shuttle drivers stop driving hikers between the trail and towns? I’m not sure how many hikers appreciate just how vital shuttle drivers are bailing out hikers who’ve been injured or need to resupply.
- What if “the locals” stop picking up hitchhikers?
- What if hostels and motels along the trail close?
- What if the stores that you rely on for resupply run out of food and close?
- What if rural post offices close or curtail their hours?
- What if the trail angels you rely on stop supporting hikers?
- What if your loved ones at home become ill and require you to return to care for them? How will you get home?
We don’t know how widespread COVID-19 in our communities, but if there’s one thing for certain, you have more control over your circumstances and who you interact with at your home or apartment than in an area “on the trail” where you don’t know anyone.
Hike your own hike, but I’d encourage you to think through your assumptions before heading for the hills.
Be safe. Stay healthy. Take care of your family and help your neighbors get through this difficult time.