Leaving the Trail was not a hard decision for me. I turned on the TV in my hotel room on Wednesday and started watching the news stations. My iPhone never left my hand as I flipped from “written” media to televised media. It felt like events were changing as quickly as I flipped from news channel to news channel.
I also have a short attention span, so this is my preferred viewing method.
I’m not completely insulated from current events while I hike, but there is a certain amount of “removal” from current events. As I sat in my room watching and listening, I became fixated on the rush of information. I watched the screens with increasing surprise and frustration. By that evening, I had rented a car and booked a flight home.
Travel to Kearny, AZ
On Thursday, I rented a car and drove up to Kearny to get my boxes from the motel. I got there early but have not checked their hours (I like to make the same mistakes at least twice), and I had to sit in the parking lot until 10 AM. I relaxed and turned my attention to the Family Dollar store. Activity in the immediate vicinity was limited.
The Family Dollar had a line of people around the side of the building, which I found interesting in a town this size. I was surprised it was not open yet, but it opened shortly after I sat back to study the line. People watching is almost as interesting as wildlife watching sometimes.
Everyone in line seemed to know each other and milled around chatting, practicing none of the “social distancing” discussed on the news I had watched. We were pretty far away from Tucson, though.
A few minutes later, the line began moving quickly. A few minutes later, people began exiting the store with shopping carts of – toilet paper. Seriously, EVERY SINGLE PERSON had mostly toilet paper, and about 80% had ONLY toilet paper. What the heck?!
Toilet Paper Phenomenon
I had seen mention of the toilet paper phenomenon on the news, but until I witnessed it myself, I had assumed it was exaggerated media drama. They must have had a cap on the amount of TP people could purchase since each one carried 2-3 packages, but humans, humans, had figured this out. I watched one family of five scatter and enter separately. A little while later, parents and children reconvened around the corner of the building and combined their purchased TP (Toilet Paper).
The woman opening the motel asked what the cars were doing all over the street and filling their parking lot. I explained that everyone was buying toilet paper. She stared at me for a moment and then walked inside the motel. I felt the need to explain my statement but just let it go. She would probably experience the shortage soon enough.
Arriving back at the hotel, I found a letter had been placed under my door. The letter addressed three primary topics.
- They would no longer be providing housekeeping
- Continental breakfast would no longer be provided
- In these times, people are “most desperate” to report suspicious activity while they try to get the police to inspect the premises
The last bullet was the one that caught my attention. It sounded ominous. I turned down the TV and listened to the silence around me. Was that a door closing, people talking? I would have been much safer out on the trail.
The morning I left was eerily quiet. I seemed to be the only person left in the hotel.
The rental car was dead as a doornail. I pushed the ignition button over and over. Not even a light blinked. Fortunately, I was early for everything, so I called National to tell them I would leave their keys at the front desk and called an Uber.
I noticed the Purel by the seat when I jumped in the van and grabbed a quick squirt. I asked the woman driving to go to Chik-fil-a (food first!). We chatted about her business or lack of right now, and I ordered both of us coffee and chicken biscuits for breakfast. She had been driving since 4 AM and was happy about the coffee, and I think, the biscuits. I may have been introducing her to the JOY that is Chik-fil-a biscuits!
My Uber, and one other car, were the only vehicles dropping off at Departures – on a FRIDAY morning. I walked into the empty airport and looked over at the United Desk. There was one customer service person that looked completely bored. I decided to get a paper ticket and chat a little.
The United Representative told me that the San Francisco flight before me contained one person. My flight had 16 people. That would give us about three rows a person – good. I wished her the best with everything going on and headed for security.
I could go on and on about the empty, spooky airport or that I only saw one person with a mask despite all this. I could talk about the man who stood staring at me on the plane until he decided to find his row or how the silence on the plane was almost tangible, and people looked so grim and completely lost in their thoughts.
I don’t think any of those things would be surprising, though, so instead, I’ll briefly explain why I decided to leave the trail.
Decision to Leave
It was a personal decision. People have to hike their hikes, and nobody’s circumstances are the same, so I’m not passing judgment on other hikers’ decisions. Mine is just my own.
Those things most important to me are home on the east coast. As I watched the news unfold over the two days I sat in the hotel, events unfolded quickly. Taking a chance that transportation could inevitably not be easily accessible and something happened to someone I cared about at home made it easy. I did not want to be caught hiking on the other side of the country if someone I cared about suddenly needed me to come home quickly, and I could not.
There were other things to consider also. I was watching social media, and attitudes were slowly beginning to shift. Trail organizations began asking hikers to postpone hikes and leave the trails for multiple reasons. I respected those requests and decisions.
Also, little was known about the virus, and information seemed to change daily. If people were asked to shelter in place to contain the spread of the virus, I certainly did not want to be that carrier traveling from town to town, potentially spreading the sickness.
So, I’m home, right outside NYC, in one of the biggest hot spots in this country. I’m where I belong, with the people I love the most, and the trails will be there when I return.
Everyone be safe…
Sorry you had to bail and return home. It sounds like it was the right decision for you, and the people you would have come in contact with in trail towns.
My sense is that most hikers have left the trail, but there are still some continuing. My biggest concern is that they will hike themselves into situations where they run out of options to supply, get transportation, etc. and then ask trail angels to come rescue them with rides, lodging, etc. This is already starting to happen, putting both the hikers and angels in potential danger.
Look forward to when you resume your hike! Best wishes to you and your loved ones.
Thank you for the kind words Jim. This is an unfortunate time for everyone.
If tough situations occur, Angels may have to make a choice to supply hikers so they can get to towns, but not supply rides or lodging. My hope is that this does not happen, but these are definitely uncertain times. Take care
Well from the way things are shaping up, it appears that you will have plenty of time to make a tactical plan for your return to the trail. This too shall pass. Keep smiling.
Thanks Rich. It looks like you are probably right about time, but hopefully this all resolves itself quickly. Be safe…
Sorry to here you are having to leave the trail. Been following your blog right along since got home after I left the trail early on. With South Rim closed/or closing I don’t know if you could of got through. I wish you good luck and know deep in my heart you’ll be back on the AZT someday.
One other thing. How will I know what yummy suppers you are eating at night. Ha-ha. Be SAFE.
Yeah, leaving was a bummer, but you’re right, I’ll be back soon! Funny you should ask – I’m wrapping up a blog post right now with what I ate on the AZT! I hope to wrap it up and post it today. Take care and stay safe.
I love this post for sooo many reasons. First it made me laugh my butt off. People get in a line for TP and lose all common sense! Andwhat about the dude on the plane??? WTF? Maybe you were in his lucky row. Then, I also feel some empathy for you and identify with what a bummer it is to have to leave the trail. Empty airports and planes creep me out in general. I cannot wait for this to be over Ellie!!
You are so right. Humans are so unpredictable during crisis! It was definitely a bummer to leave, but to much eye rolling by home base support, I am plotting my return. The hope is to do the Colorado Trail southbound in August, and then head on down to do the AZT southbound right after. Right now though, I’m just focusing on everyone here, and trying to help where I can. Fingers crossed! Thanks!!!
I enjoyed our brief meeting in Patagonia. Sounds like your choice to leave the trail was similar to mine. It’s good to be close to family right now. Stay safe and healthy. Best Western, Carol
Hi BW. It was nice to meet you and BW’s Husband! 🙂 I agree, it is good to be close to family. If all this passes I hope to head back in the Fall, but we’ll see how things work out.