I apologize for the absence here on Beyond the Range. A situation on the PCT and then in our country have led me to “listen to my gut,” and go home from the trail. After traveling across our country through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and finally Minnesota, I am self quarantined at home in Northern Minnesota.
When we left for the trail on February 26, 2020, I was aware of the coronavirus cases in China. The virus was on my radar. I wasn’t too concerned about the virus as I thought, “I’m going to be on trail. What’s to worry about?” Then the cruise ship passengers were being allowed on land at San Diego, CA. No worries, they are quarantined. I started hiking March 2. As I headed north, I became aware of San Diego County. In fact, I was hiking in San Diego County. If I was hiking in San Diego County, that means I’m near San Diego. Which means, I am near the coronavirus.
Being on a trail hiking, mostly means, I have a disconnect from what is really going on in the world, our country and my home. On the Appalachian Trail, I remember going in to town for a resupply and seeing the United States flag flying at half staff. I had no idea why, but I knew in my gut something bad had happened in our nation. Five police officers were killed and 9 others injured in a shooting in Dallas Texas it was July 7, 2016. I almost dreaded doing a resupply after that, I wondered, “I’m I going to see our flag at half staff again?”
I decided as I headed up the PCT that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything happening off the trail and so I watched and listened as the virus took hold of the world and then our country. I made a decision half way through the day, of what would become my last day on the trail. “It is time to go home.” I will get to that critical last day in a future blog. For now, I will write about our journey home.
During the day of March 14, 2020, Tom and I decided on a plan to drive home. In my mind, it made the most sense to leave before the state had us sheltering in place and unable to go home. Kyle, who I was hiking with, and his wife Amy wanted to hang out one day before we headed home and we made a plan to go to Joshua Tree National Park to camp for 2 nights and then we would go home. Kyle was making plans to hike north from Hwy. 74, as he was thru hiking. We got to Joshua Tree around 3:00 pm on March 15th and drove to every single campground there. The sites were all taken. We drove out the the park and went to the city, 29 Palms and boon-docked in the Tortoise Rock Casino parking lot for the night. In the morning we said our goodbyes.
Sometimes, Tom and I like to take less traveled roads to see more of our country and to get off the freeways. We headed out on Hwy. 62. The road had fewer and fewer homes as we traveled east. In fact, there were long stretches of natural terrain and empty road. To pass the time, I Googled, “Hwy. 62, CA.” I found out that we were now traveling along a road that was 3X more dangerous than the average. Studies have been done to try and figure out why. I thought to myself, “Yup, that’s about par for the course.” I put the article away and help Tom with my backseat driving abilities. (haha)
When we crossed the border into Arizona, I thought now it won’t be long until we are home. Let me just tell you, we were still a long ass way from home! We stopped for the night in Holbrook, AZ. Tom wanted to stay an extra night so we could have a decent amount of time to check out the Petrified Forest National Park. So, the next day we headed into the park. Social distancing had become a thing. The signs posted in the park, stated 6-10 feet. Also, only 8 people at a time could be inside any structure. We had an enjoyable morning in the park.
The afternoon was spent at Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. There is a spectacular collection of rocks and minerals to enjoy looking at. I also wanted to check out the Navajo County Historical Museum. I knew our chances may be small as back at home our local museum, Minnesota Discovery Center had shuttered it’s doors. I was interested in the history of the town and the ghosts that haunted within the courthouse walls. Alas, the museum had been closed to the public. Next stop, Geronimo’s Trading Post to see the largest petrified log in the world. It is pretty big.
That night, the wind howled like crazy as a winter storm blew through the area. We came upon snow covered roads within 30 miles east of Holbrook. By the time we had traveled into New Mexico we had seen 5 semis in the ditch. We also started to see digital freeway signs warning us of the virus. We stopped in a few groceries stores on our way as I knew we had little supplies back at our house. These stops came with more signs, limits on purchases of certain items as well as empty shelves. All cleaning supplies and toilet paper were gone as well as rice, noodles, canned goods. One store didn’t have any meat.
It is interesting to see what people fear. I was always told on the trail, I would carry the most of what I was afraid of not having. I always had too much food. Since 2016, I have gotten better about not having a lot of food as I hike, but back to the present. In Kansas people had bought up all the flour and sugar and butter. The middle of our nation went for products that they could make items with. The pizza shelves weren’t empty until southern Minnesota. Well, that is when I first noticed that item. The thing that I did notice, was that the fresh fruit and vegetables were always plentiful. We are a strange breed, us humans. Or is it WHAT the media and corporations have sold us on?
As we drove through Minneapolis and St. Paul, it was eerily quiet. I think the only other time I remember it like that was in 1980 when I lived down there and drove through at 5 am. I am glad my state is taking this serious.
We arrived back home with snow falling all around us, but I knew we were safe. My hope is, that we weren’t unknowingly carrying the virus through the areas we came through. I had Tom wipe his hands, car handle and steering wheel after pumping gas. If that isn’t a cesspool of germs, I don’t know what is. We tried to stay as far away from people as we could. We never ate a meal out.
To the hiker community. I hope you take the cautions to heart. We have all been asked to leave the trails by the trail associations across our country. Hikers who have posted on social media that they are heeding the warnings are being vilified. It is such behavior as this, that has caused in the past few years, hostels to close for good and trail towns and trail angels to stop helping us. Think of it this way. A pebble is tossed into a pond. The initial plop seems small. Then you see the ripple and it expands and expands and expands until the whole pond is altered. Personally, I don’t want to be a part of that cause and effect and I hope you don’t either. May we all work together for a change. It’s a time to be selfless not selfish.
“The trail isn’t going anywhere. It will be there the next time you can set your foot on it.” -AT hiker 2016