AMESBURY — A local mother-daughter duo, who kicked off their six-month journey on the Appalachian Trail on March 1, are still going strong despite a number of trail and shelter closures prompted by concerns over spread of the coronavirus.
On Monday, Briana Sullivan and her 13-year-old daughter, Cambyr, hiked 18 miles to finish off the Great Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Trail along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
“We laugh and sing and eat and (marvel) at each passing day,” Sullivan wrote in an email. “We marvel at the strength of our own bodies, as we are now 23 days in and have our ‘hiking legs.’”
Almost a month in, the pair has encountered lots of rain and little sun for their solar-powered devices, so they have both fallen behind in their daily blog posts. They are also aware of COVID-19 concerns but overall, they feel “safe.”
Sullivan said they “met two Canadians, a Frenchman and a Finnish woman, who all had to leave their AT dreams for another year” due to border shutdowns associated with the coronavirus.
At least one person would be denied insurance coverage if the individual stayed in the U.S. and something happened, Sullivan said. From her perspective, more people have left the trail for “injuries or work reasons” than the coronavirus.
While in the Great Smoky Mountains, Sullivan said rangers and trail runners have made changes to respond to growing risks. These officials told them to use tents whenever possible and to avoid shelters, which is a reversal of the typical rule to limit tent use and depend on shelters. These shelters are now taking only four to six people, she added.
“Most of us have been traveling with groups of hikers that all started around the same time,” Sullivan said. “We feel rather safe in these bubbles and so we will still use the shelters, especially due to all the constant rain and high winds we have been experiencing.”
The coronavirus has affected their ability to easily restock supplies. To avoid certain towns and contamination, Sullivan said they ended up staying in Fontana, Georgia, for seven days, instead of their originally planned four days, due to store closures.
“Fontana had shut down more than we had hoped, so supplies there were already meager,” she said. With this in mind, they may have to extend resupply trips depending on available services.
As the coronavirus situation continues to change, Sullivan said she has noticed a lot of misinformation due to hearsay and rumors along the trail.
At a hostel outside the Great Smoky Mountains, hikers were told that the nearest resupply location in Hot Springs, North Carolina, was closed because it ran out of supplies. Sullivan said she called the store and discovered this was not true. The store was out of toilet paper, but otherwise open for business.
Sullivan is prepared for possible restrictions and delays, but otherwise “optimistic.”
“We all feel very lucky to be out here in the beautiful, fresh, clean, uncontaminated mountain air,” Sullivan said, adding that she has seen a lot more people hiking in recent weeks due to confinement.
With an increase in hiking on the trails, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has asked visitors “to postpone their hikes until further notice due to COVID-19 risks.”
Updates from the organization can be found at https://wildeast.appalachiantrail.org/explore/plan-and-prepare/hiking-basics/health/covid19.
Sullivan said she and her daughter, as well as most of the hikers they have come across, are “super optimistic” about finishing their journey “successfully, as planned.”
“The focus out here is on the present environment and the amazing community of hikers we are,” she said. “My daughter is getting the education of a lifetime, meeting so many amazing people and receiving personal lessons from each person she interacts with.”
Sullivan said Cambyr’s Spanish is improving daily, as is “her excitement for life and the things she wants to accomplish when she gets back.”
A article about the pair Feb. 28 can be found at www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/amesbury-mother-daughter-duo-set-out-for-appalachian-trail/article_c20e0a4b-94c8-536f-9655-18284b31c874.html.
Staff writer Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.