Can’t We All Just Get Along

So far the biggest surprise I’ve encountered out here isn’t bears or weather, it’s the division within this community of crazy hikers.

It started several weeks ago when a kid and his ultralight ZPacks gear sped past me on an uphill. He stopped briefly only to comment on the chacos I had hanging from my pack saying, “you shouldn’t carry those shoes, they’re too heavy.” He then sped past me and kept going before I could even shake the confused look from my face and react. “Thank you random person I don’t know on the advice I didn’t ask for,” I thought. If I want to carry a full size camp chair strapped to my pack, I will! (Which I have seen done before, and props to that guy).

The judgement, oh the judgement!

It’s only continued from there. Is lighter better? Or is it about comfort? Is it ok to take a blue blaze around a summit? Is slack-packing cheating? Is it more about the miles or the experience? Luckily, you don’t have to hike long before people will start answering those questions for you – and it’s usually in some speech against your will.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’d love to debate all things hiking if you’re willing to meet me and sit down to chat about it. I find hiking culture fascinating and truly enjoy talking about it for hours. On the other hand, it’s the drive-by Chaco comments, whispers under people’s breath, and the general “what you’re doing is wrong, and therefore everything I’m doing is right” attitude that’s really caught me off guard out here. That’s not the kind of community I was expecting to walk into.

So, is it about the miles or more about the experience of the journey?

Why can’t it be both?

The ATC defines a thru-hike as “a hike of the entire A.T. in 12 months or less.” That’s it! Any other rules you impose on yourself are part of your hike.

Do you want to wake up at 5am and hike 30 miles a day? Go for it!

Huge fan of slack packing and meeting as many people as possible? More power to you!

Are you the last one out of camp and love a 15 mile day? Do it!
(This one is me by the way)

We don’t have to sit around a fire holding hands and singing songs, although that would be a ton of fun, but we’re all out here doing the same thing: hiking the AT.

I think the lighter gear gets and the more options there are for every single aspect of hiking, the more combinations exist to customize this journey. That’s what makes it so cool! What works for you may not work for someone else, but we don’t need to be constantly telling other hikers they’re wrong.

I’m no angel, I was guilty of this at the beginning of my journey. I was so surprised by what another hiker was carrying or how they were doing something that I couldn’t help but comment. Unless someone is really endangering themselves or asking for help, let them hike their hike.

So high fives all around – whether you’re ultralight, a 70lb packer, a slacker, a 5-month(er), a 10 mile-a-day(er), or believe the last one to Katahdin wins.

– Bottles

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Comments 20

  • Brian Bowden : Aug 4th

    A-MEN to this story.

    • Mary : Aug 5th

      That was an excellent post! You learned some great lessons of life by coming to your conclusion. I find the problem to be pretty much the same in the whole spectrum of life. There is way too much do it my way and you’re right, do it different and your wrong. It’s a horrible pattern in human behavior. Hence the creation of hike your own hike, and live your own life. Take this glorious attitude you have found with you in life and you will live in Freedom. Just the thoughts of an old Grandma.

  • Bob : Aug 5th

    Great post KT.

  • Bonsai : Aug 5th

    Yes! Love this, thanks for the post. I’m thru hiking the PCT right now and the judgement stretches out to this side of the country as well. It always amazes me that people can judge another person’s efforts to completing a long trail on their terms. Best of luck with the rest of your trek!

  • Kelly Anderson (Sleeping Beauty) : Aug 6th

    This is a great post (even though it stirred up annoying memories of similar encounters)! My favorite were the judgmental looks by 5am-ers rolling into the shelters at 10am to find me still there packing up or drinking coffee!

  • Mark Stanavage : Aug 6th

    Spot on! If someone complains about sleeping on hard surfaces I will venture an opinion on hanging because I’d like to help if I can. But taking a whiz on somebody else’s corn flakes is just wrong. Most uncomfortable time on the trail for me was when two hiking partners asked me which was right (hike every moment of daylight vs take it easy, frequent breaks, at 4:00, stop and hole up for the night) . If your curious, I just pointed out the positives of both and busted out hoping they didn’t catch up. Never heard HYOH spat out like a curse before or since.

  • Ray Coffield / Beep : Aug 6th

    Great read, hike your own hike.
    I agree 100% with you.
    I love my greagrey pack and can not count how many times someone said you need to get a lighter pack
    “It’s my pack don’t worry about it”

  • richard morriss : Aug 6th

    Right on target. It seems people need to try to convince you that you are wrong in order to justify that what they are doing is right. Applies to all life not just hiking.
    Remember to plot your own path, pick your own pace and pack your own pack. Go solo if you must….. but HYOH.

    • FM : Aug 18th

      Narcissism is more about self-fascination, in this particular case, the humiliation of another to inflate one’s self (as opposed to deriving pleasure from healthy reflection on earned accomplishment). Oftentimes, their opinions of themselves transcend reality. When reality conflicts with their estimation of self, cognitive dissonance arises (conflict in the mind) from which emerge unsettling emotions that drive them to compensate until the stability of delusion is reestablished, most often at the expense of others.

      I’ve seen this happen on the trail in reverse. Imagine yourself excited at accomplishing a goal you set for yourself. It’s not “olympic” in scope, but you may have gotten behind schedule due to rain and mud and the effect that has had on your motivation. So you get psyched up and determine to hike at a fast past all day and manage your time more effectively. You succeed and add 10 miles to your day, making up for lost time.

      At the shelter, you’re talking back and forth with someone about your hike experiences and you bring up how happy you are recently at accomplishing your goal. The person says “there are many people who have hiked this section doing that many miles.” You’re humiliated by reverse narcissism. The person has prepared a defensive posture to protect their own feelings about themselves. They deflect the supposed “attack” by belittling your accomplishment with a comparison that is aimed to “knock you back down to size”, even though you made no comparison other than your past performance with recent performance.

      The deflector now can’t tell the difference between healthy competition and pathological competition and is now in fact pathological himself, attacking an innocent bystander that merely reminds him of a former bad experience–he is attacking a ghosts. And these ghosts haunt them to the point they do things like invade our schools and confuse our children with warped concepts like “everybody gets an ‘A’ !” and “everybody gets a ribbon!” Instead of teaching our children the difference between healthy competition and unsportsmanlike conduct.

      When we encounter people like this and the other, our goal should be to prevent the spread of the disease. We should think to act in a loving response so that we do not destroy ourselves in the process (not destroying yourself by loving others is the Golden Rule). I could have ripped into that person who belittled my sense of accomplishment with a prepared response like “I didn’t compare myself with others like you just did to me–jerk”. Frankly, I didn’t know how to respond to it at all, so I just let it roll off me and realize later what I was dealing with and what that pathological response was designed to do to me–pull me down to his level and spread it like a contagion to others.

  • Liz : Aug 7th

    Wow, I thought I was going crazy and was the only one who felt this way. This is my biggest surprise as well!

  • Ruth morley : Aug 7th

    I’m only in week two of my flip flop on the AT (doing the south late summer/fall, the north next spring/summer). I have been corrected that this isn’t really a thru hike. Get out of my face. 12 months is 12 months. And if it turns out to be 12 months and a week, it’s still my own thru hike.

    Amazing how arrogant insecure people can be. I appreciated your post.

  • lorrie hess : Aug 11th

    Glad to have the heads-up before I hike NOBO next spring. It will help me let the unsolicited comments roll off and drop to the trail behind me…. I hope 🙂

    • deegee : Aug 14th

      planning a nobo next April-newbie so i’ m sure i’ll do most things wrong. i’ll be prepared to consider helpful suggestions and unhear superior commentary

  • Jeff A : Aug 11th

    So true. Unsolicited advice is never well received and although we all know that, we seem to forget; a lot. All in our lives seems to be a competition. Not sure if this is more collateral damage from social media, or has been part of humanity from the beginning. We seem to need to be righter than everyone else and if we can convince someone else, then that must validate that we were right all along. Right?

  • MGD : Aug 11th

    Funny I never heard of this before we started our adventure. Remember the 26 miler guy whining about shin splints near Grayson? You asked if he was going to zero and he said ‘I’m here to hike, not take zeros.’ Or the people that go stoveless but want you to heat water for them when it’s cold. I think we both took something from all of those judgie moments and it made us better people. You are one of the sweetest, most chill people I’ve ever met. I know you won’t let it get to ya. Love ya Bottles. Rock it sis

    • Bottles : Sep 1st

      I actually found the lyrics to that song we wrote at the shelter about petting ponies the other day. The trail provided those sobos to set our minds right for a reason haha. Miss you, dude!

  • FM : Aug 12th

    You appear to be the victim of a narcissist drive by shooting.

    Here’s a happy thought:

    Aren’t you glad he’s light as a feather and moving so fast that you’ll never have to see him again?

  • Bottles : Sep 1st

    If only there were fewer feathers. 😉

    • FM : Sep 7th

      Well, here’s a story then that might cheer you up.

      I had one of those “feathers” became a thorn in my side from Atkins, VA to Dismal Falls. Every time I said something while he was within earshot, he was butting in with uninvited know it all criticisms to demonstrate how superior his intellect was. I remember him outside a shelter burning aluminum cans and laughing maniacally to show everyone their perception that you can’t burn metal was wrong. Maybe *he* didn’t realize metal could be burned, and he was amazed at his new knowledge and wanted to impress everyone with his awesomeness.

      In a shelter, we were discussing pack weights, and he questioned mine, certain it couldn’t possibly be so low. When I told him I weighed individual pieces and summed them to arrive at my pack weight, he critically insisted I couldn’t do it that way, which was completely irrational and wrong. It had to be weighed all at once to be correct. Comeletely ridiculous and a move of desperation to be right. Exasperated over the ceaseless criticisms , I finally just came out and said, “Are you critical of everyone or is that just me you enjoy bullying?”

      Eventually I reached mile point 975 and became very sick. It may have been contaminated food I ate at a Burger King after finishing SNP on Naked Hiking Day (which I didn’t, by the way). I had to leave the trail for a month to recuperate.

      When I returned, I came to read one of his journal entries in PA. He left a note boasting he had done a 30 mile day. I knew the spirit of this guy. He was tickled with himself, contrasting his own performance with other hikers. 30 miles is not to hard to do there, especially in the section crossing a wide and flat valley with the cornfields, which it was. I don’t think he realized that.

      He had done the same in VA, boasting directly to me that he was doing 20 mile days since TN. I mentioned I was doing the same except for one day when I only did 15 and took an early day. He virtually pounced on me, insisting that was no comparison since one of those five days was 5 miles short of his. He just couldn’t accept that the trail had just become easier since leaving TN and that there was nothing special or different about his days. He wanted so badly to believe he was suddenly some kind of super-hiker that finally found his trail legs. Narcissism–Self-deluded narcissism.

      Finally I ran into him someplace in New England. I think it was Vermont. We got to talking, and I explained how I had become sick and was off the trail for a month. You should have seen how his face change at the realization that I had taken 30 zero days and still caught back up with him. That wasn’t intended that way. He really didn’t like what that said about his view of himself as a fast hiker. The cognitive dissonance kicked in. He was quite perturbed.

      You just have to realize, the reason these feathers are such a pain in our side is because of the warped, unreal sense of self they entertain. They desperately grope to discover they are special, but they aren’t. And that bothers them. Every attack they make is just further evidence of how psychologically crippled they are. The chances of them recovering from their personality disorder is very slim. Best you can do is not allow them to waste your energy and knock you down to their level.

      I found there were a lot more pleasant people on the trail than there were feathers. Consider: There is often more space between the feathers than the feathers themselves. Enjoy it!

  • Carolyn burman : Oct 8th

    True. This is so true it hurts. Snaps for you.


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