trail stories
trail stories
Foggy view from Blood Mountain
Postponing a Dream
Text and photo by Carmen Kraus

I STUMBLED ON THE ROCKY Trail down from Blood Mountain, catching myself on my trekking poles. I could barely see. Rolling clouds of fog obscured the landscape, turning what I assume were stunning vistas into dense white walls. My eyes were clouded as well, but with brimming tears. I knew in my gut that I would have to leave the Appalachian Trail.

I dreamed of the A.T. for 10 years. I had hiked the A.T. Approach Trail in 2010 on a weekend trip with my parents. I vividly remember standing atop Springer Mountain and seeing the Trail continuing before us, twisting and turning and tempting me onward. That moment planted a seed in my soul, and I knew one day I would follow that enticing Trail along its entire length.

I cherished that seed, my dream to thru-hike the A.T., over many years. A few times it withered and almost died as the path of my life shifted course, but I nourished it and kept it strong. In 2019, almost suddenly, all the pieces aligned: I was graduating college, I was contemplating a career shift, and I had decent savings. With delight and some trepidation, I began planning my 2020 A.T. thru-hike attempt.

My mind swirled with emotions as my parents said goodbye to me at Amicalola Falls on March 14. Joy, for an adventure long planned. Nervousness, for my lack of prior backpacking experience, especially solo. And gratitude, for a chance to bring that seed of my dream to the forest where it belonged.

And it was everything that I hoped for and more. I woke every morning in thick banks of cloud, but the mist made the Trail seem magical. All my gear got damp, but I stayed mostly dry. My knee flared with pain on the second day, but I was all the more grateful for it when it felt better. And everyone I met was wonderful.

COVID-19 was a topic of conversation among hikers, but we didn’t think it would get so bad. Perhaps that was shortsighted after seeing the examples of outbreaks in other countries. We were already starting to worry about resupplying in towns, and of spreading the virus. The group I camped with decided if any of us got sick, we’d all get off the Trail, since we’d been in such close contact. On my fourth day out, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy released an announcement asking all thru-hikers to consider postponing their hikes. At first, denial. This was just an overcautious announcement. But the more I thought, and the more I learned from my sporadic one bar of cell service, the more I finally came to feel the gravity of the situation. The pandemic had worsened so much in the four days I’d been cut off from the news. My hometown was under voluntary “shelter in place” orders (which switched to mandatory). Almost all restaurants were takeout only.

I read the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s email, asking us to get off the Trail, to fellow thru-hikers as I ate my lunch on top of Blood Mountain. I finally realized that even if I were careful, I would still be putting people at risk. All the hikers, Trail communities, and Trail angels that make the trek so meaningful. To love and respect the Trail, I would have to leave.

I scrambled down Blood Mountain as my tears mixed with the falling rain. I dashed them away with the back of my hand before chiding myself for touching my face. These next couple of miles would be the last I would walk on the Trail, for who knows how long. Weeks, months? Even a year? I didn’t know. I don’t know. The future was clouded, like all the views from the mountain. I looked down to find my footing and saw one of my tears fall to splash in the dirt. I remember being glad that one piece of me would stay on the Trail.

Down at Neels Gap, my nascent “tramily” decided to get off and officially suspend our hikes. I allowed myself to grieve that this adventure was postponed. In honest truth, I turned into a soggy puddle. The five days I spent on the Trail were some of the happiest in my life, and I am grateful I have those memories to cherish until I feel it’s prudent to resume my thru-hike again. Someday, I’ll see you in Maine.

Carmen’s story is an excerpt from the first episode of the “Where We Walk” podcast – a special six-part podcast series developed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in collaboration with the “She Explores” podcast and made possible with a grant from REI Co-op. This groundbreaking miniseries explores the women who have helped make the Trail what it is today, as well as those who are shaping its future.
Learn more and listen to the podcast at:
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