Photo by Phill Toomasian
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My (Postponed) Trail Story featuring Flamingo

Phill Toomasian, a.k.a. "Flamingo", was attempting a Calendar Year Triple Crown until he had to get off the Appalachian Trail due to COVID-19.

Natalie McMillan      My Trail Story       03/27/2020
Natalie McMillan
My Trail Story
03/27/2020

After 1,000 miles of hiking on the Appalachian Trail, I was flying. I was far ahead of the population of thru-hikers and on track to hit the White Mountains early enough that snowshoes were not to be ruled out. I started February 9th and averaged over twenty-six miles a day. I was set to finish the first half of the trail in less than forty days. Despite how far I had gone and the speed at which I was going, I finally felt like I was adjusting to the trail. It took me a long time to get used to how hard this trail is. I finally felt like I wanted to be there.

A man standing in front of the Appalachian Trail start terminus.
Photo by Phill Toomasian

Amidst an attempt to hike the Appalachian, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest Trail Systems, my trail legs felt like they were coming in. I felt strong and capable. The problem now was that instead of my mind being occupied by the miles and riddles of handling hours of solitude, I had to face this new dilemma. Despite a life distant from civilization I couldn’t help from being just as updated on the Covid-19 crisis as well as anyone else. 

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) began encouraging and then urgently asking hikers to get off the trail. When it first began, I thought to myself, “This request was not made for me.” To be fair, it really was not. There were very few hikers who had already done half of the AT this year. I had been so detached from civilization and my chance of being sick was that of a lottery ticket. I was not concerned with my safety, nor was I concerned about spreading a virus. As the situation became more severe my thoughts shifted to “Can I charge my phone? Can I resupply?” These were the only things I really needed. If anyone were entitled to stay on the trail it would have been me. I mean come on 1,000 miles and all I do is visit the grocery store like everyone else. This did not stop the fear of others though, and that is what made me nervous.

My life experiences in the backcountry and general understanding of life have indicated to me that people in a panic are not very good at making decisions. I had been generating a list of emergency contacts as I headed Northbound, but I was afraid that frightened friends could easily become strangers. I was worried that the trail might close and I would be stuck looking for a place to go. Amidst all of this, I had gained a unique position over social media. I was attempting something great and a lot of people were watching what I was doing. Maybe I personally would not be spreading a virus, but could my actions be encouraging people to start their hikes? I knew what I had to do. I had to get off the trail.

A man wearing pink pants on the Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Phill Toomasian

I was fortunate enough to have a great friend in Northern Pennsylvania who came and got me. I had just crossed into Maryland, and my plan was to hike for a few more days and get picked up. After I planned this, I slept in and didn’t plan my usual high mileage day as it did not seem to matter. I woke to find signs everywhere noting that camping in Maryland on the AT was closed. Had I woken up earlier I could have easily hiked out of the state that day, but I was not going to break the law. I called my hike in a day early. My hike was postponed after a short twenty-four mile day. Had I done nine more miles I would have crossed another state line, but this would have to do for now.

It was not that hard of a decision to make in all honesty. I was not even that sad to get off the trail. Maybe my past thousand miles have taught me that I am not in control of anything and so I came to peace with it immediately. Perhaps I’ve grown numb and have yet to really process what I feel I am missing out on right now. It is hard to say. I still hope that my goal of a Calendar Year Triple Crown is alive, but it is likely gone. I plan on finishing the AT and hiking the CDT at least if this pandemic takes too long to clear up. 

A man sitting on the edge of a rock cliff.
Photo by Phill Toomasian

I do have one hope that I am contemplating, but it is quite a long shot. I feel the only way I could responsibly hike right now is if I were doing the New Mexico portion of the CDT. The only way it is possible in my opinion is to have someone living in a vehicle supporting me. They would be picking up my boxes, charging my electronics for me. I could quarantine myself on the trail and they could quarantine themselves in their home. New Mexico is the only stretch of trail on the Triple Crown that I would do this too. It is desolate and hardly a trail in many places. The number of day hikers would be low. In addition, I would stay off of social media. I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to thru-hike right now if they could not guarantee isolation. Maybe I will be able to get out there soon, but do not think I can count on that. 

So now, I will do what everyone else is doing (or should be doing) and I am waiting this out. It is true that I possess a huge goal that I am most likely going to have to give up on. That sucks, it really does, but I would be selfish and arrogant to act like I am the only one affected by this pandemic. I mean come on, this is a world dilemma. 


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Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon
Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the US. Its path takes you from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

2200 mi (3540 km)
$59.99 full guide
Learn more
Get our trail guide for this area!
About the Author
A woman wearing a denim jacket and a brown hat stands in a field of wildflowers.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people, places, and nature, which might explain why she has almost 47,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things related to social media and marketing and recently moved to Denver, CO from Flagstaff, AZ. You may find her frolicking around the trails and mountains of Colorado, or exploring the new city she gets to call home.