AT Thru Hike: Racism on Trail?

Undeniable Irresistible Plans

Part II

It’s been a little while since I’ve returned to write part two of my last blog ”AT Thru Hike: Week 1: Undeniably Irresistible Plans” . I had an unfortunate experience with racism on the Appalachian Trail and I needed to process it and not let it consume my hike. I have since found a way to make peace with it and I’ll share about it further into this post.

Hard Things

Picking up where I left off from Part I… I’m about 3 miles into the hike and heading into Woody Gap when I see Ketchup and LM (previously known as Igor) huddled together talking to Turn To by his truck. I continue onward toward the group. They are all staring at me with posture indicating they have some news to share. I approach the group and they share the news. I could hardly believe what they told me!

LM told me that Turn To offered to slack pack us 15 miles so we could make it to Neel Gap!! Slack packing is when a generous host takes your gear so you can hike temporarily with a lighter load. It allows you to hike more miles with ease. LM asked if I wanted to take him up on the slack pack offer. I believe my exact response was “ hellz yeah”! Our first experience with trail magic on the AT and we were thrilled!

Slack Packing

We dropped our bags in Turn To’s pickup truck, except for Ketchup who chose to keep his ultralight pack, and took off down the trail. We glided up and down small mountains and flew up the steep ascent to Blood Mountain. We stopped at the top to take in the views and engage in conversation. We met a Girl Scout who looked upon us with curious eyes. She was proud to tell us that she was going camping with her troop this weekend, something she had done many times.

When we had enough rest, we continued the short three mile hike down the mountain and toward the parking lot to meet up with Turn To. When we reunited at Neel Gap, we took a break to eat frozen Red Baron pizza, chow down on candy and rehydrate. It was likely the best pizza I had ever had. We checked the hiker box for goodies. Then LM and I headed to the cabin we had rented for two nights while the others headed to Walmart for provisions.

Blood Mountain Cabins

The cabin was a dream! It had two queen beds, a couch, a wood burning stove, a full kitchen! When our fellow hiker food runners returned, we made quick work of organizing dinner. A few more hiker friends, who had been staying in their van, also stopped by. Ketchup cooked us sautéed shrimp in butter, stuffed peppers and mushroom soup. I washed it down with three pieces of cheesecake!

We concluded our night in song as Ketchup and Cam played banjo and guitar. We sang along to songs by Live and Tom Petty.

The next morning, a few of us took our first zero. We were reunited with Brett and also met up with James, Emma and Daniel. That night, we all celebrated in the cabin together with more home cooking, laughs and relaxation. When we awoke the next day, it was time to begin the next leg of our journey on the Appalachian Trail.

My Epiphany

We decided to do three 13 milers so we could take another zero in Hiawassee. We hiked on to Low Gap shelter. This is where I had my epiphany and recognized my unwavering strength.

“I don’t like discomfort

I don’t like hard

I’m afraid I can’t do this

I’m afraid I can’t do HARD”

These were the words I wrote in my electronic journal when I had my first big mile day ahead of me. I didn’t want to start hiking that day because I told myself “I can’t do hard.”

As I walked, I realized that telling myself I’m too weak to handle hard things is grossly inaccurate. This is a story I had been telling myself for most of my life.

I have handled “hard” many times in my life and sometimes, even by choice. I have run marathons, biked over 75 miles in one day, raised my daughter as a single mom at the age of 18. I have survived and even thrived from the “hard” that I didn’t choose. I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father, watched as my brother almost died from brain cancer (twice), and was date raped by an older man when I was a teen. I can do hard.

The false idea that I’ve believed most of my life is woefully incorrect. I had been telling myself that I can’t handle a challenge. I was able to poke a hole in this belief by gaining the confidence I needed through completing the miles. The trail provides. Not only did I walk 13 miles that day, but I also did it the next day and the day after that.


Walking down the trail with two miles left to Low Gap Shelter, I was in a state of euphoria. I couldn’t resist so I took my pack off and danced in the middle of the trail to the beat drop of “Thief” by Ookay. The lyrics go:

“I know you’re scared

Because somebody told you I was up to no good

But I’ll be here

Waiting for the chance to take you out this neighborhood

There’s a whole wide world for us to see

The only thing you gotta do is follow me”

I read these words and think about fear of success because I told myself I was not good enough, not strong enough. I was standing in my own way. There’s a world of opportunity waiting for me and all I have to do is believe in myself. I’m eternally grateful to break out of this lie that has held me back for years.

The Noro Shelter

When I arrived at Low Gap shelter, I was pleasantly surprised to see a creek running through the campsite, a blazing fire and a space that had been held for me in the shelter. The tears of the hard day had been washed away.

Ooh my first shelter night! This was a treat. It was the perfect shelter to stay in. I had been avoiding the shelters due to Norovirus but since there were only 3 of us in it, I decided to go for it.

I started to fall asleep on the warm night gazing up at the tree tops and stars though the opening of the shelter. The campfire was flickering in the backdrop. There was a 3/4 moon that lit up the night sky like a soft nightlight. I listened to two different types of owls converse from across the forest.

Then, suddenly I stirred and sat up quickly. I had startled a mouse that was coming toward the shelter. The mouse was the size of a NY sewer rat and it hopped away from the shelter over the fire. A dinosaur mouse!! I tossed and turned for the next few hours as I had heard stories of mice crawling across people’s faces in the middle of the night. Turns out mice encounters were to be the least of my worries…

At about 2 am, one of my shelter mates began puking out of the shelter!  Noro had hit again. I asked if he was OK and then proceeded to exit the shelter. I set up my tent across from the shelter in an effort to avoid the germs and the dinosaur mice. As I was in the tent, I grew fearful of bear. I had broken my bear safety tent setup protocol. I had no choice but to set up my tent between a creek and the hanging bear bags. I didn’t get a good night’s rest but at least I was grateful for the refuge.


High Highs Low Lows

The next two days we walked. We did 13 miles each day. I understood how previous hikers felt when they expressed that the trail brings high highs and low lows. There were moments I felt like my legs could carry me forever. Then in the blink of an eye, my middle back was burning and it hurt to take another step. We made it to Around the Bend Hostel where we stayed in a beautiful cabin overlooking the forest that we had just emerged from. I celebrated with a Klondike Bar.

The three of us staying in the cabin decided to go into town for some food. It would be my first hitch! We stood on the side of the road with our thumbs out waiting for a ride. About 6 cars came down that county highway but no one stopped. We tried Uber but no ride was available. We availed ourselves to googling a taxi.

The Racism

I called the taxi and 20 minutes later, it pulled into our driveway. As I opened the door to the beat up passenger vehicle, soda bottles spilled out and a stale stench emerged from the ride. The driver wore a Charlie Brown patterned  button down shirt over his pot belly. I reluctantly hopped in the backseat trying not to cut my legs on the torn upholstery. I looked around the vehicle at the exposed glue that once held the interior of the vehicle together.

The driver moved a bag of half eaten McDonald’s fries off the front seat so Marina could get in. The fries were food for the squirrels. He felt bad for the squirrels that didn’t find a mate, because apparently, this would cause the other squirrels to ostracize them. His empathy for squirrel love was a stark contrast to what was about to happen….

As we drove, we excitedly looked around at the scenery – the winery, the big lake, the impressive houses. We were hoping for a tour of the town but instead we got something we didn’t bargain for. The driver began to tell us tales of woe about how the cops, which he comfortably referred to as pigs, harassed him. The driver only cared to hear the sound of his own voice and it began to bore within my ears.

The “N” Word

Then something unexpected happened. The  driver began to tell us a story about how he was robbed. He referred to his alleged assailants by the “N” word, which he comfortably repeated numerous times. From the back seat, I also heard him say “the black boy reached for his arm”. And then more “N” words. Was I really hearing this?? Had we stepped back into 1965??

I started to chime in when my hiker friend encouraged me to wait until the vehicle came to a stop. After all, our lives were at the mercy of this self-loathing, lonely, and ignorant man. I resisted the urge to tell the man to pull over so I could get out and walk the rest of the way.


When the vehicle finally reached the destination, a Mexican restaurant on the far side of town, the car came to a stop. The driver interrupted one of his drab rants to tell us he would pick us up later. My blood was boiling so I don’t recall exactly what I said, but it included calling him out on his racism and vowing to never get back in his car again.

My friend paid the fare and we walked into the restaurant feeling shell shocked. We were seated and began to pick at the tortillas and salsa while we unpacked what had just occurred. Was I hurt? Yes. Was I insulted? Yes. Was I mad? Hell yes.


Where is the equity of treatment for full freedom to move around this country? Why must I have to fear being targeted by racism? Will there be more racism up the trail and am I safe?

These questions remain unanswered. I decide I need to  determine how to put this unfortunate incident behind me and move on with my hike. I recognize that there are people in this world who have nothing better to do than wallow in negativity, live small lives, and judge others. They have no drive to grow and handle hard things. While these people exist on and off the trail, there are many more people with good intentions, open minds and kind hearts. I align myself with these types of people.

I will continue to do “hard” and hike this hike.

I don’t like discomfort

I don’t like hard BUT

I can do this

I can do HARD

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Comments 11

  • Pauly101 : Apr 22nd

    You are in the South, what did you expect?

  • jhonY : Apr 22nd

    Disgusted to hear about your hateful experience. I guess for all too many, the ameriKlan way to behave. I just bet the slob thinks he is one of the “master race.” Also seems too, that more and more of that type are crawling out of their sewers all the time.

    • Stretch : May 9th

      Thanks for the support! Hoping I don’t come across any more of these types of people in the future

  • Stuart Manson : Apr 22nd

    Sorry that you had to put up with someone else’s ignorance, unfortunately these people still exist even now. They don’t deserve the time and attention they seek, you have set out on a fantastic adventure try to put it behind you and enjoy what your future travels bring

    • Stretch : May 9th

      Thank you! Agreed…They don’t deserve my time or energy

  • scoot : Apr 22nd

    Get real, suck it up buttercup, you described his race, if it was someone of a different race giving you a ride saying the same thing would that be okay?

  • Billy bob Thorton : Apr 22nd

    Been a big fan of TheTrek for a long time, this is the most embarassing post ive ever seen on this web site. Looks like The Trek is trying to jump on the “everything is racist” band wagon for people who cant handle adversity. Just because a dude drops an N bomb doesnt mean you can be a victim your whole hike…. wait 0 miles? Looks like we havent even started hiking.
    Keep moving forward, its the Appalachian trail, your hiking through some backwoods communities. Just because its not as woke at california doesnt mean the whole world is like that.

  • Jingle bells : Apr 23rd

    As you said, the driver didn’t have a whole lot going for him. It’s easier to be ignorant and disrespectful when you’re in that situation unfortunately. Sorry you had to deal with it. Good news is it was just words from a blowhard and regardless of it being his job and you paying, you did get the ride needed, safely to destination. Hoping you don’t have to deal with that again ever, especially during your adventure. Thanks for sharing.

    • Stretch : May 9th

      Thank you!

  • Anthony : Apr 23rd

    I am really sorry to read about your experience of getting a cab ride from a boring fat slob who was also a racist. I can’t believe how he targeted you with his racism and understand how difficult it will be to put behind you this experience with someone who wallows in negativity and judges others. You deserve full freedom to move around this country with equitable treatment. Hopefully this will be the last time you experience such a disagreeable person on this great adventure. I am glad you had the presence of mind to tell him off before you went to the restaurant.

    • Stretch : May 9th

      Thanks for your support!


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