AT Thru-Hike Lessons Learned #2: Being Sober and Trans on Trail

Here’s my post-Appalachian Trail thru-hike reflections on being sober and trans on trail. I know my experience isn’t universal, but if you are sober and/or trans and considering hiking the AT, I hope you find these helpful!

Here’s a pic of me being trans AND not drinking while thru-hiking the AT!

Sobriety and Recovery on Trail

I had been sober about 3 and a half years when I started my thru-hike. Under “normal” circumstances, I work on my recovery almost daily with a mix of attending 12-step recovery meetings, staying in touch with my sponsor, and meeting with sponsees and friends in recovery. While on trail, this routine looked different. I could have opted to put all of my recovery practices on hold, but I knew that would lead to a decline in the strength of my recovery at best or a relapse at worst, so I came up with a sobriety “gameplan”.

Schedule times to talk with my recovery supports

  • Whether it be my sponsor, my sponsees, or just other sober friends, staying in touch with people who are aware and supportive of my recovery was so important. It felt easy to say “I don’t have time for this” or “I never have good enough cell service and WiFi” but the reality is that sometimes I did, like when I took Zero/Nero days in town.
  • If I knew I would be in a town and have wifi at a hotel or hostel a few days in advance, I scheduled a call with one of my recovery supports via text. That way when I got into town, I was able to plan logistics around my phone calls, not the other way around. Those conversations with my recovery supports helped me feel balanced and able to deal with stressors that arise on trail.

Be of service to others while on trail

  • I continued to meet with my sponsees and worked on stepwork with them when possible. Even if it’s once a month, finding ways to be useful to others, especially other alcoholics, helped me stay on an even keel.

Attend meetings online and in-person

  • This is where I feel I needed the most improvement. As a result of the pandemic, there are so many online recovery meetings on Zoom and other platforms. If you want links to searchable databases of online and in-person recovery meetings, please DM me on Instagram @seltzerskelter and I’m happy to provide them. I found myself dragging my feet on attending online meetings and in-person meeting and while on trail I only attended a few.
  • Meetings provide me with a sense of community, and constant reminders of why and how recovery is relevant to my life even (and especially) while on trail. I think of attending meetings like adding a brick to my “wall of recovery” that stands between me and relapse. Each meeting you attend adds a brick, but when you stop attending, the bricks start being removed one by one. For me, not attending recovery meetings doesn’t necessarily lead to relapse, but over time I felt it take a toll on my overall feelings of “recovery” and mental health. That being said I plan to prioritize meetings more on future thru-hikes.

By doing my best to adhere to this gameplan, I was able to stay sober and maintain the meaningful connections with my sober friends and loved ones. I certainly wasn’t perfect in my adherence to this gameplan, but as many of y’all know, it’s about progress, not perfection <3

Drinking Culture and Being Offered Drinks

  • As far as the drinking/drug culture on the AT goes, it certainly exists! It’s common for people to drink whenever they get in to towns, bring weed out on trail with them, take other drugs as they can find them etc. The cool thing though, is that you get to choose whether or not you want to be a part of that culture. There are tons of people on trail who don’t drink or use drugs to excess, so if that’s your crowd, you’ll have no problem finding like minded people.
  • I was offered alcohol a bunch of times on trail, so prepare yourself for that. People are friendly and want to share their drinks, and that’s really cool of them. I usually just politely said “No thanks, I’m good” or “I’m all set, thanks for the offer”. You don’t need to launch into a whole story about your addiction and why you don’t drink. Even if you feel like you need to justify yourself, trust me, you don’t!

Being Transgender on Trail

I’ve received tons of messages from transgender and cisgender people alike wondering what it was like to be trans as an AT thru-hiker. Before I left, I listed being misgendered and dealing with transphobia as two of my biggest “fears” on trail. The reality is that yes, I experienced both of those things. Here’s answers to a few common questions:

Were you misgendered often?

  • Yes, I was misgendered somewhat often by hikers and townsfolk alike. I don’t blame them though and I did my best not to take it personally. For me, it all comes down to intent, and I don’t think most people were trying to invalidate me… and even if they were, I’ve worked hard over years to build up my own sense of self so that people’s validation (or lack thereof) doesn’t impact my self-worth as much as it used to. I’ll always advocate for people developing trans competence, but it doesn’t serve me to stop living and growing while I wait for the world to change.

Were people respectful of your pronouns once they knew them?

  • Yes! If someone misgendered me and I (or someone else) corrected them, I always felt that they made their best effort to get my pronouns correct afterwards, even if they messed up again. Depending on the circumstances, I didn’t always correct people, like if it’s a service worker who I was only going to see once, it’s unlikely I would correct them as it didn’t feel worth it to me to have the conversation. However, I corrected people I expected to continually see on the trail as long as I felt comfortable doing so.

Did you run into lots of transphobia on trail?

  • Instances of blatant transphobia were few and far between. One instance was a thru-hiker who made a rude and pointed comment to me and my hiking partner, where it was clear his intent was to misgender us both. I responded my firmly correcting him, and he backed down after that. A second instance that I wrote about recently, happened while I was hitchhiking and the men who pulled over to offer a ride directed a transphobic insult at me, at which point I refused the ride and kept walking.

Was it difficult taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) medication on trail?

  • No, but I did have to tailor the medications, dosages and and administration methods with my doctor’s support to fit my needs. For instance, I stopped taking spironolactone, my anti-androgen. I did this because spironolactone is a diuretic and I didn’t want to risk chronic dehydration on trail. As a result, by the end of the trip I noticed body hair growing back slightly more rapidly than it would have if I was on the anti-androgen. Secondly, prior to my thru-hike I took injectible estrogen, but using needles and keeping them sterile on trail would have been a huge issue, so I opted to switch to estradiol (AKA estrogen pills) instead,

How did you express your gender on trail?

  • The majority of outdoor clothing companies manufacture clothing that is lightly feminine at best, tending more towards androgynous. Therefore, as a somewhat femme trans woman, I take it upon myself to include femininity into my appearance through jewelry, fun and feminine hair dyes, finger and toe nail painting, and shaving my legs when I have the opportunity.

Were there other trans people on trail?

  • Yes! There wasn’t a ton of us, but the number certainly isn’t zero. I personally met a handful trans folks (that I know of) while on trail and I’m in contact with other trans folks on trail whom I haven’t met in person. If you’re trans and thru-hiking in the future, I suggest trying to connect via social media and start a group chat with other trans hikers that year so people have a place to ask questions, vent when issues arise, and build community.

Follow Along!

As always, thanks for reading. All I can speak for are my own experiences, so I’d love to hear what people have to add as far as tips and stories. Follow me on Instagram @seltzerskelter and subscribe to future posts on The Trek by visiting my author page!

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Comments 21

  • Goblin : Sep 5th

    go off queen

    Reply
  • Deen “grateful” : Sep 6th

    So happy to hear your voice!

    Reply
  • Kat B : Sep 6th

    I love this. Thank you for sharing about this part of your journey.

    Reply
    • Lyla Harrod : Sep 10th

      My pleasure, thanks for reading 💖

      Reply
  • Monica Williams : Sep 6th

    Stumbled across your blog and loved reading this! Thank you for your courage and sharing – and so glad to hear your experience was overall mostly positive! 👏🏻 Also loved reading how you’ve put in so much work and realized your self-worth doesn’t come from others validation (or lack of) – I think this is something we all can be reminded of! 💙

    Reply
    • Lyla Harrod : Sep 10th

      Thank you, Monica!

      Reply
  • Shanan : Sep 6th

    I enjoyed your article. I never knew that thru hiking was a thing until I got too old and unhealthy to do one. I read books and blogs about it when I can. I am glad that you had a good, safe hike.

    Reply
  • Butch Taylor : Sep 10th

    It seems to me that every “trans, gay, or alt-something” believes the rest of us are just dying to know “what their experience is on the trail, etc.” Most of us are not. Your perspective means nothing to us. We are not opposed to your choices, so in our eyes you haven’t accomplished anything of note. This blog was a waste of space. Live your life as you like, it just doesn’t interest me.

    Reply
    • Lyla Harrod : Sep 10th

      Hey Butch! I wrote this article primarily for trans and sober folks (please see the second sentence of the article). If that doesn’t apply to you, no worries, you don’t have to read!

      Remember, as Trek Bloggers, our job is to share our experience of being on trail, and this was a part of my experience. I understand if you can’t relate to my specific experience, and I hope you find some other bloggers here who you enjoy reading more.

      Best wishes,

      Lyla

      Reply
    • Leah : Sep 17th

      Dear Butch….”most of us”…. Speak for yourself or not at all. You don’t speak for “most people”…. And because something doesn’t interest you, personally, doesn’t make it invalid or a waste of space. It just means you need to move on and stop attempting to invalidate people with your vague notions on what “most of us” actually care about. You have no idea.

      Reply
    • Kevin Tierney : Sep 19th

      Butch, It seems to me that every “a-hole, jerk, and/or insecure-chud-something…” believes the rest of us are just dying to know “what their opinions are about life, society, interesting artciles by interesting people etc.” Most of us are not. Your perspective means nothing to us. We are not opposed to your choices of being triggered by nice blog posts by nice people, so in our eyes you haven’t accomplished anything of note. Your comment was a waste of space. Live your life as you like, it just doesn’t interest us.

      Reply
  • Linda s hiker : Sep 16th

    Thanks for your insight and sharing it. Those of us always sober may understand how the added a stress made it more difficult for you.
    Those who don’t ‘get’ your transition just do not bother to comment. Completing the trail is a MAJOR accomplishment for everyone! Congrats.

    Reply
  • Leah : Sep 17th

    I’ve been sober for fifteen years and I think your experiences and insight are extremely valuable, in many ways. I think that part of the AT experience is the culture of the trail .. And it’s important for other people in recovery to see that you can maintain your sobriety and identity and perhaps still be a part of that AT culture without drinking or pretending to be someone you are not. Congratulations on your accomplishment and thank you for sharing

    Reply
  • Gwen : Sep 17th

    im so impressed by you! AT thru hiking is hard enough without recovering and being trans.. You handled both beautifully to complete a difficult challenge.

    Reply
  • Jeremy Bosco : Sep 18th

    Claiming to be “transgender” means you’re mentally ill, and you need serious help from a professional psychiatrist or psychologist. DO NOT perpetuate this like it’s normal or okay, because it absolutely is not, and people have to stop acting like it is.

    Reply
    • Kevin Tierney : Sep 19th

      Hey Jeremy, great post my man. You seem like a super well-adjusted normal dude who clearly knows what he is talking about. Thank you so much for your insight. I’m sure your friends and loved ones must be thrilled to have you around all the time.

      Like it must be constant “hey everyone, Jeremy is here!! Yay!!” Or “Awesome! Jeremy is here! Can’t wait to get some of that awesome unsolicited advice and opinions” or “OMG! Jeremy came to church today! I hope he takes what he learned on Bret Weinstein’s podcast and sets this priest straight on the whole transubstantiation issue”…or “Yay, our very considerate and incredibly qualified mental health provider friend Jeremy came to the party!! Now things can get super normal!!”

      Thanks for coming up big again Jeremy and setting us all on the right path buddy. You really are a regular normal person doing normal things.

      Reply
  • Jack : Sep 19th

    Jeremy,
    Claiming to diagnose mental illness on someone’s blog when you clearly have at best a tenuous grasp on the definition means you need some solid self reflection. DO NOT perpetuate this bigoted behavior like it is normal or okay, because it absolutely is not, and people like you have to stop acting like it is.

    That aside, thank you Sugar for sharing your experience here, I hope people can benefit from a wider perspective, and I hope it helps others feel more confident about a thru

    Reply
  • Maddy : Sep 20th

    Hey Lyla,
    You totally rock! Thanks for sharing! As a sister queer, trans hiking enthusiast it’s really reassuring to read about family on the trail! Stay true to yourself! 🙂

    Reply

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