Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Rob Landry of Portland has been thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail during the pandemic. He’s now halfway through the 2,200-mile trail, which winds through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Photo courtesy of Rob Landry

Rob Landry of Portland planned for three months to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. He contracted out work at the small business he runs, and flew to Georgia to begin the hike on March 7, his 53rd birthday.

Then the coronavirus outbreak swept through the country.

A few weeks later, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy asked thru-hikers to get off the AT to stop the spread of the virus. Landry mulled his choices and decided “my best option was to stay on the trail.” He used sanitizer, washed his hands frequently, and wore a neck warmer as a mask when he went grocery shopping off the trail.

Now halfway through the 2,200-mile trek, Landry said the Class of 2020 AT hikers, however many there are, will have a very different thru-hike story to tell. He was the 715th this year to start the AT, but sees very few other hikers now.

“I’ve done a lot of hiking over the years,” he said, “but I haven’t done a lot of back-country hiking. The AT was one of those things that was kicking around my mind. Then about six months ago my girlfriend and I decided to move in together. I run a web application business, and my business was doing OK, but it was kind of languishing. So I was at a crossroad. In December I started planning for an AT thru-hike. I had a good friend who hiked the AT in 2005 who was my go-to guy for advice. Of course, then you could roll into town and go to a brewery with other hikers. Now all those places were closed.

“It wasn’t something I took into account while doing my planning. But a week into my hike I went to Hiawassee, Georgia, to spend a night in a hotel. I had a steak dinner. That was the last time I ate in a restaurant until Memorial Day weekend. The next week I came to a trail town in North Carolina. They had closed most of the businesses. I started to get concerned if I would be able to go into grocery stores. But it worked out, because grocery stores stayed open.

Rob Landry said this year’s AT hikers will have a very different story to tell. Photo courtesy of Rob Landry

“A lot of hostels are run out of people’s homes, so they fly under the radar. Some of those places stayed open to hikers. Although, I always stayed in the private rooms. But the shuttle services that shuttle hikers from the trail into town, a lot weren’t doing it. They didn’t want to pick up someone who had the coronavirus. That made it complicated. Another interesting thing, the ATC said not to stay at the shelters, because that’s where the virus hangs out. So I would pitch my tent near those facilities. A lot of people don’t have a tent, and do stay in the shelters. They really shouldn’t, but they took their chances.

“I kept hiked north to Fontana Dam at the southernmost part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the day I got there, on March 24, the National Park Service closed the Smokies. So I ended up calling my brother, Peter, who lives in Charlotte and he came and picked me up so I could figure out what to do.

“I thought if I don’t go back on the trail, where do I go? I moved out of my apartment, and all my belongings were in storage. My girlfriend is in a tiny one-bedroom. My mother lives in Roanoke, Virginia, but she’s 78, so I wasn’t going to stay with her. … Finally I decided, I’m healthy and there is no social distancing like being on the trail. If I could figure out a way to do it, then my best option was to stay on the trail. So I (leapfrogged) over the Smokies and continued hiking. Last week I went back to hike them when they reopened.

“I set out to do this and I want to see it through. I’ve slept in rain and hiked in snow and fog and wind. It would take something pretty dramatic to cause me to change course.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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