Before you begin reading this – another email alert about the COVID-19 crisis – take a deep breath. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Go ahead. It only takes a few seconds.
Now do it again, and this time as you inhale think about your favorite place in Nature.
One last time – deep breath in, and out.
I hope this note finds you safely navigating the rapidly evolving COVID-19 public health crisis. At the Arizona Trail Association, we are taking the situation very seriously. We care about our staff, volunteers, stewards, partners, and all of the hikers, runners, mountain bikers, equestrians and others who have made the Arizona Trail part of their lives. People like you.
While much about COVID-19 is still unknown, one message has been quite clear: Social distancing is the primary way to prevent the spread of the virus. It is our responsibility as global citizens to do our part to slow the spread of the pandemic. For this reason, all ATA Staff have been asked to work from home, and we are in the process of canceling previously scheduled events and activities that involve 10 or more individuals over the next six weeks.
Perhaps there has never been a better time to go for a hike or ride than right now. While many of our favorite establishments are temporarily shuttered and our routines shattered, the Arizona Trail remains open and welcomes you. Consider being part of the Quarantine Outside movement. Travel alone to a trailhead and spend a few hours (or days or weeks) on the AZT. The calming effects of Arizona’s landscapes should not be underestimated, and you’d be surprised how a day on the trail can refresh your perspective.
As we all do our best to keep our communities healthy and safe, the ATA will seek out and share any authoritative public health guidance about ways people can get outside and maintain their physical and mental health while still following best practices on protection and safety.
While the ATA’s physical offices will be temporarily closed and some of our trail work activities put on hold, our mission to protect, maintain, enhance, promote and sustain the Arizona Trail as a unique encounter with the land will advance unabated. Trails have a restorative power and will be vital to our nation’s persistence and recovery. We will get through this together, and trails will help heal us.
Now, consider turning off the news for a little while and embrace this beautiful springtime weather.
And don’t forget to breathe deeply.
Recommendations for Thru-Hikers & Riders
Notice for anyone planning a long-distance hike or ride on the Arizona Trail:
The COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly. While the trail can be a great place to practice social distancing, there is still a risk of transmission, particularly in high-use areas like trailheads and off-trail gathering areas, such as hostels. While you yourself may fall into a lower risk category for developing a serious case of COVID-19, all of us at the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) are writing because we are concerned for your safety as well as the safety of those who live and work in gateway communities.
These communities are home to vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those without health insurance, and many have limited medical facilities that could become easily overwhelmed by even a small number of COVID-19 cases. If you are planning to begin a long-distance hike or ride on the AZT in the next six weeks, you must be prepared – mentally and financially – to self-quarantine in a private hotel room for at least two weeks if you think you are exposed to the virus and/or begin to develop symptoms. Traveling home from the trail to self-quarantine would endanger those around you and people on your route home.
Finances are often stretched on a long-distance adventure and that preparing for such an outcome may be impossible for you. If you are unable to budget for the possibility of paying for a hotel room, food delivery, and medication for two weeks in the event that you are exposed to COVID-19, we urge you to consider postponing your AZT journey until the situation improves.
We understand that this may be upsetting – many of you have been planning this journey for years, and we know that an opportunity to spend months on the AZT is life-changing. However, in issuing this guidance, we are thinking of the elderly man working part-time at the checkout counter of the grocery store where you will resupply, and the woman without health insurance who cleans your hostel or hotel room. We are thinking of the fact that many gateway communities along the AZT are small and isolated, and may be hours away from the nearest hospital equipped to treat patients in severe respiratory distress.
This article includes an easy-to-follow explanation of who should self-quarantine or isolate as of March 13, 2020; however, as the situation continues to evolve, we encourage you to consult CDC guidelines for up-to-date information about who should self-quarantine and for how long.
Additionally, we recommend that AZT travelers take extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 along the AZT. These include washing your hands often (at least 200 feet from water sources), staying home if you’re sick, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and avoiding unnecessary skin contact with others. Use those trekking poles for opening gates, bathroom stalls, and other hard surfaces likely to receive frequent human contact within the trail corridor.
Share Your Photos & Stories
When you're out on the trail, please share your photos and stories with others. Your photographs of blooming wildflowers and sunsets may help provide the inspiration others really need right now. Share your personal adventures through Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to tag #arizonatrail, #loveazt and @aztassociation.
Let's use social media and the healing power of Nature to make social distancing feel less isolating.
Please Donate in Support of our Mission
The Arizona Trail Association has worked hard over the past 26 years to build, maintain and protect the 800-mile path from Mexico to Utah. Now, during these times of canceled events, school closures, and employers recommending telecommuting, the Arizona Trail welcomes you. No permits are necessary, and a walk through deserts, mountains, canyons and forests can help easy anxiety and guide you through the process of reevaluating life's priorities.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived at the beginning of our busiest season, the ATA is going to struggle to meet our goals and keep individuals on our dedicated team employed. As we cancel most of the events on our calendar and realize many of our business partners may not be able to fulfill their financial obligations this year, it is vital to receive support from people like you. Please consider donating online today to help sustain us through this challenging time.
May the Arizona Trail provide a pathway for healing for you and your loved ones.