The last days and weeks have not been easy. I have put a lot of time, effort and money into planning the Great Western Loop thru-hike. I fully committed to, what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime, and quit my well-paid job and apartment for this. I was determined, I was sure that nothing would stop me and that I'd be somehow able to deal with all the challenges of an epic thru-hike, but I had never factored in, a pandemic of these dimensions.
After just 4 weeks on trail, I have decided to leave the trail and return to Germany. I'm hoping to come back once the crisis is over, but due to the difficult timeframe of the GWL, I must face the probability of postponing this hike for at least a year. The reason for my decision ranges from more and more state and national park closures & more restrictive "stay at home" orders, to a more difficult resupply situation due to shortages in supermarkets, closed restaurants and hotels, as well as my respect to the small communities along these trails, who are afraid of having hikers carry the virus to their towns and villages. Even though I do believe this to be quite unlikely, it is something I cannot rule out completely.
With a massively growing number of covid-19 cases here in the U.S. rescue and emergency personnel is at it's limits and shouldn't be stressed even more by rescuing thru-hikers, who ignore the current situation for their personal benefit. All major trail associations have asked hikers to cancel or postpone their hikes and I will follow that advice. It is not the time to pursue personal records and dreams, but to do what is right to stop the spread of this virus - staying home and minimizing the contact to other people, no matter which sacrifices had been made before.
It is a tough decision and it hurts. I'm not even sure if it's the right decision, but on trail I've learned to trust my instincts and this is what guides me now. I am thankful to those who have helped me on this trail. Who ignored social-distancing guidelines to give me a final ride to town and who helped me in making this decision. Hiking wasn't much fun as of lately and I'll hope to return once the situation is more favourable again. Until than my thoughts are with the hikers, people and small businesses on and along the trail and I hope that everyone gets through this season safely.