Leaving the Trail was not a hard decision for me. On Wednesday, I turned on the TV in my hotel room, and started watching the news stations. My iPhone never left my hand as I flipped from “written” media to televised media. It felt as if events were changing as quickly as I flipped from news channel to news channel.
I also have a very short attention span, so this is my preferred viewing method.
I’m not completely insulated from current events while I hike, but there is definitely 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 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 their early, but having not checked their hours (I like to make the same mistakes at least twice), I had to sit in the parking lot until 10 AM. I relaxed in my seat and turned my attention to the Family Dollar store across the street. 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” that had been 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 after that, people began exiting the store with shopping carts of – toilet paper. Seriously, EVERY SINGLE PERSON had mostly toilet paper, and of those 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 being humans, they 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” and to report suspicious activity, while they tried to get 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 door nail. I pushed the ignition button over and over. Not even a light blinked. Fortunately, I’m 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 had contained one person. My flight had 16 people. That would give us about 3 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 the fact that despite all this I only saw one person with a mask. I could talk about the man who stood staring at me on the plane, until he made the decision to find his own row, or how the silence on the plane was almost tangible, and people looked so grim and completely lost in their own 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 own hikes, and nobody’s circumstances are the same, so I’m not passing judgement on other hikers decisions. Mine is just my own.
Those things most important to me are at 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 happen to someone I cared about at home, made it an easy decision. 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 were beginning to ask hikers to postpone hikes and leave the trails, for multiple reasons. I respected those requests and decisions.
Also, there was still so little 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…