PCT delayed, she’s waiting for the storm to pass

By Sara “Peaches” Basinger

April 16th was supposed to be my start date for the Pacific Crest Trail. Instead of standing at the PCT Southern Terminus that morning, posing for the picture I have been dreaming about for years, I went to my job as a registered dietitian at a long-term care facility in Aurora, Colorado and received the news that COVID-19 had finally made its way into my building.

The author at the southern end of the Colorado Trail, Durango Colorado. Photos courtesy of Sara Basinger.

The chaos and emotion felt somewhat fitting for the day. When I got home from work, I poured a glass of wine and wished I was filtering water at Lake Morena. I laid in bed wishing I was in my sleeping bag looking at the desert sky.

I fell in love with backpacking and the outdoors when I was sent to a wilderness therapy program in Utah at age 17 because of struggles with substance abuse. My second program was located in Boulder, Colorado, where my love for the wilderness only strengthened.

Now I live for summertime in the backcountry, climbing Colorado’s 14ers, and backpacking with my dog. I remember learning about the long trails and immediately knowing that I was made for long-distance hiking. The moment I stepped foot onto the Colorado Trail in 2016 I was at home and my identity forever became that of a thru-hiker. Before I even finished the trail I knew the PCT was next.

Hiking the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado.

Between school, internships, board exams, and my first job as an RD, the dream stayed alive. I was just waiting for the right time. Finally, in March 2019,  I decided rather than waiting, I needed to make the time right. And the time was April 2020. I began saving close to a third of my paycheck, saying no to nights out with friends, stocking up on new gear, replacing old gear, and making lists of everything I needed to accomplish before my years of dreaming and planning would finally become my reality.

The excitement I felt in October when I got my permit was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I finally had a date and I began my countdown. Nothing in the world could keep me from this adventure. I made my travel arrangements, I emailed Scout and Frodo, thrilled that I got to stay with them on their last year hosting hikers. I was set.

Hiking the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado.

Things began changing faster than I could keep up. The virus was spreading. At first it seemed as if the trail was the best place to be to practice social distancing. Where could I be more safe than in the middle of the backcountry doing what I love most?

Heartbreak set in when I considered the moral responsibility of staying off the trail and away from the vulnerable trail towns and communities that make the thru-hiking experience so special. I didn’t speak to anyone for days, the pit in my stomach and ache in my heart was so heavy. I watched my goals and everything I worked so hard for crumble, and I couldn’t do anything but stay home.

Knowing that I had to cancel my trip to protect others was an excruciating decision to make, but it was easy knowing that it was the right thing to do. The trail will be there when she is ready for me, and I will never not be ready for her. I have no doubts that I will be on the PCT once this storm passes, which it will. I know that it will be that much sweeter of an experience after living through these times and making these sacrifices to stay healthy and protect those in my community.

As a community, hikers are resilient. We can handle adversity and whatever is thrown at us. Trails have taught us how to be flexible and that almost nothing goes as planned. Sometimes, rather than heading out into the storm, it’s best to wait for it to pass, which is exactly what I will do.

To the PCT Class of 2020: I feel for every single one of you and my heart breaks with yours. I can’t wait to meet you all on the trail sometime soon.