The Solitude of Hiking Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Over years of hikes — he’s walked the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Coast Trail, each 2,000-odd miles — he learned to live with the discomfort that comes from venturing into places where he didn’t know what to expect. That’s why now, he said, “It’s no problem for me to be knee-deep in a river ford at 9 o’clock at night, and not able to see where the trail picks up on the other side.”

He had some years of wandering and some setbacks. He bummed around the West, seriously injured himself in a fall on Mount Whitney. While doing a partial hike of the Continental Divide Trail in Wyoming, he was involved in a car crash and the next day was going home on a Greyhound, battered.

The following year, in 2014, his father died of lung cancer. For weeks, Mr. Carcia slept on the floor of his father’s hospital room. “He’d made the gambit we all make, that we’ll work and make money and be able to enjoy it someday, but he didn’t,” he said.

Loss sharpened his resolve. He moved to New Hampshire in 2015 and started training to break the record on the two biggest challenges in the White Mountains — the Grid and the Redline. “I wanted to do something really big,” he said.

On a recent day, he paused on a ridge to stare down the trail into a valley where he would backtrack 5.9 miles to his car, a distance he could cover in an hour if he ran. Nearing the end of the Redline, he said he’s still sometimes plagued by the “mental digressions everyone goes through,” questions like, will he make it? And will it matter in the end?

Hiking, Mr. Carcia said, “is hard, but not for the reasons people tell you it’s hard. It’s hard because these mountains are mirrors, just like Covid is a mirror, and they force you to look at yourself. But I love that. I love getting into that underbelly and still having the grit to keep moving forward.”

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