This article originally appeared on The Trek on March 17, 2020. Read it here.
I’m not on the trail yet. I originally thought I would be out there at least a week ago, if not sooner. While I still plan to be out there soon, I am now in a place where my head is spinning so much that the most logical thing to do to seems to be to share my thoughts from my perspective as a flight attendant who is about to hike a long section of the Appalachian Trail, and the impact that the coronavirus has had on that specific situation.
I am not proud to admit this, but not less than a week ago, I was still sitting back wondering why everyone was overreacting to the coronavirus. Sure, it was a little alarming when they had to cut our China routes with the emergence of the virus. I wondered what effect that would have on the crews that worked those flights regularly and what type of schedule I would be able to hold, but I got off easy without noticing much change. I still held a line, and still was able to make my schedule trades as normal.
As things progressed, I didn’t understand the hype about the sudden need for extra hygiene. I was always on a plane exposed to people who could have (and often sounded like they had) all types of things. I always wore gloves to collect trash, always washed my hands frequently and extensively while working flights, and always had hand sanitizer in my apron pocket, which I used often. I was always taking steps on the plane to try to wash away whatever I could potentially contract. I just could not comprehend why hand sanitizer and soap were suddenly hot commodities when they were such a part of my on and off the job routine already, that it just made me roll my eyes at the whole situation.
Sadly, I think I did that thing where I had the privilege to ignore something until I started to notice the direct effects of it on my own life. The effect of the coronavirus on my airline, and all airlines for that matter, have gone from real but minimal at the very beginning, to drastic in a matter of weeks. Obviously by this point these effects stem beyond the airlines and have reached most everyone in some way, but I’m focusing on that because I’m here to share the avenue in which the effects have reached me specifically. Flying continues to be reduced, and while no announcement has been made yet, the fear throughout the flying community of possible furloughs is very real. It only makes sense at this point—how can a company afford a full workforce while only a small portion of the work is available?
This very uncertainty has played a major role in why I’ve delayed my leaving for the trail. So let’s back up a minute. I’m on a three month leave right now, March to May. I feel watched over from above in such a way that I am having trouble comprehending. It’s like I got off easy. I had already set myself up to apply to be on this leave, gotten rid of as many expenses as I could including my apartment, and live very cheaply for a few months while heading to the woods and using savings to pay for my food resupply once a week. It’s like I prepared for this whole uncertainty of a huge change in my job as I know it for a while, without even knowing that I was doing it. My inner conscience is trying to figure out why nothing could have possibly lined up better for me, while so many others around me do not carry the same luxury. And the hardest thing to admit is that even with the luxury I’m living in of being ironically prepared for this, the uncertainty of how my life will function when I’m back on the job is stirring me up and taking up all of my brain power. I’m so aware and thankful that I was given a gift from above to have it good during a bad situation, while still figuring out how to admit without guilt that the fear in me is real.
I’m starting to swallow the fact that my summer and beyond as I had planned it will no longer look the same, no matter which way I swing it. I fear I could get furloughed, and if not, I’m sure I’ll be back on reserve. I have absolutely no right to complain about being on reserve, because it would mean I still have a job in such trying times for many. But the reality is that I haven’t been on reserve in four years, and it means being back on-call. It means a drastic shift in my day-to-day life. More hiking here and there in June and July? Out. The confidence that I can attend certain events that were in the plans, such as a couple of weddings and the like? Out. The ease and routine of seeing my boyfriend frequently who lives in a different state? Out. The list goes on for a while, and a sudden acceptance that I don’t have the control that I did before takes a little while to make peace with.
I could avoid a potential shift to reserve life again and in turn try to keep my summer plans intact by taking a six-month leave that is being offered. Ironically, a lot of people quit jobs or take this amount of time off for a thru-hike. But I was just out to do a long section this year, then work here and there in between more shorter sections. Taking the leave would still not protect me from furlough should that happen to me, and I also hadn’t planned on going that long without income. What might that do to me mentally and financially? Whether I decide that I can swing that or not, it’s still unnerving thinking about it because it would not be reversible once that decision is made, and it’s one that must be made in a short amount of time now. I know I don’t have kids and therefore don’t provide for anyone at the moment, and absolutely acknowledge that in a manner of perspective, the effects of all of these changes on me are trivial. But still, the feeling of loss of control when routine as I know it is about to change is overtaking, and that’s the point I’m aiming to share. It’s one thing to plan for all of that time off, and was almost something that I longed for as might be apparent in some of my previous posts. It feels completely different to suddenly be making that decision as a way to get ahead of the fact that if I don’t make it now, it might be made for me anyways in a way that I hadn’t imagined.
So I haven’t left on the hike yet. It took me a little longer to get going for small various other reasons, but at this point, I’m sitting here unsure of how I’m going to head to the trail for my LASH, go through a few days of no cell service at a time, all the while awaiting the news of next steps that determine what things will be looking like for my job as the months progress, and in which way my admittedly comfortable work routine is going to be shaken up. Couple this with the reality check that I went to Walmart with my boyfriend the other morning to gather up my resupply for my first stretch of trail, and we couldn’t buy soap or hand sanitizer. It was the first time we saw the empty shelves with our own two eyes, looked at each other and acknowledged that this is real, that no matter what at this point, we are affected by the effects of what is unfolding.
I can tell you one thing. I feel a great need to put the timeline of my life on rewind and pick through any moments where I took my job for granted, or complained, or wasn’t grateful, and scold myself. I want to cry out with a great apology for any time I got stuck in the little things, for any moment when I didn’t understand how good I have it at my job.
The decision to keep waiting is also very much beyond my own life at this point, and is becoming a moral decision. It may seem like being isolated in the woods is the perfect place to be during this time. But I won’t be isolated. I’ll be coming across campsites shared by many as they pass through, and I’ll be passing through a new town once a week to resupply. I still have to travel to the point on the trail where I was going to begin my hike. Is that really what I want to do, when to contain this thing and help the common good, we should be staying inside?
I know I’ll get out on the trail, but I just need to process all of the “what-ifs” first. What if things go on lockdown and it’s hard to resupply? What if I need to get home and can’t? Can I swing a six-month leave? Am I capable of figuring that out in a few days’ time? What if I get furloughed anyway? How are my flying brothers and sisters doing? Is it irresponsible to travel to the trail when the best thing for the common good is to stay isolated right now? How will my loved ones be doing among all of this? In a matter of days I went from someone who thought it was overhype, to someone who realizes this is real. This is absolutely not to spread fear. This is not to complain. This is the ultimate blogging dilemma: Trying to transparently share my inner feelings and thoughts while still getting across that above all, I am so thankful for the way I have it and only wish I could do something for others that don’t have it as easy.
I hope to finally be reporting from the trail soon, but for now, I’m sitting here in Alabama at my boyfriend’s apartment choosing to process and wait. This hasn’t been mentally easy, and I constantly have to turn off the hard-on-me thoughts of “what if I’m just using this as an excuse to bum around” or “I should be doing something.” It’s new for me, as for a lot of us, to feel so thrown out of my routine that my plans for whatever I thought I was going to do next are no longer valid in the way they were before. I want to do what is right not just for me, but for the common good, and I’m still working through what exactly that needs to be.