Garrett Fondoules: Being alone on and off the Appalachian Trail

Even for a perpetual hiker used to isolation, social distancing poses a challenge

June 17, 2020
Image of Mount Katahdin in Maine with a lone figure on it silhouetted against a cloudy, misty sky.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is over 2,000 miles long, running from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. [Credit: James Fitzgerald | Unsplash License]

Can you be a pro at isolation? If anyone could be, it seems like it would be Garrett Fondoules. Normally, he travels across the Appalachian Trail, working to map its landmarks and boundaries. Sometimes, he scarcely sees another human face. Wouldn’t a little more isolation be nothing new? 

Yet, like everyone, Fondoules’ life has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this interview in late March, Fondoules hadn’t been on the trail for about a week — now, it has been months. Fondoules has since moved from the Pennsylvania farmhouse he was interviewed from to temporary housing in Maine, and he is more uncertain than ever as to when he will return to the trail. There has been one encouraging change — on May 20, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy issued guidelines for day and overnight hikers to hike safely during the pandemic. But they still recommend avoiding the trail altogether, and large swaths of the trail are closed

Fondoules tells Rebecca Sohn of his life before the pandemic — one filled with scenic views, folk dancing with friends, and the hard work of mapping the longest hiking-only trail in the world.

Music: Cove by Chad Crouch, CC BY-NY 3.0

Scienceline · Garrett Fondoules: Being alone on and off the Appalachian Trail


About the Author

Rebecca Sohn

Rebecca Sohn is a science writer and poet based in New York City. As someone with a background in the arts, Rebecca frequently writes about science, art, and culture. A former English major, Rebecca loves storytelling, and hopes to write stories that place scientific understanding in a greater societal context. When she isn’t reporting, you can find Rebecca thinking about her next science poem, playing her fiddle, or attending a local contra dance.


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