If I don’t post about my thru hike on social media, did it even happen?


Social media and I have a love/hate relationship. I literally joined Facebook and Instagram THIS year. Let that sink in. I went over 30 years without having an online social media presence. I am a shy, dorky introvert who didn’t want her weirdness on display. My oldest brother couldn’t understand how I didn’t have or want a Facebook page. When I was a teenager there was no Facebook, no Instagram, no YouTube. And no cell phones.  We entertained ourselves by playing outside, reading books, talking to friends FACE TO FACE and on the phone. A corded phone, mind you. And God forbid you talk to your friends (and boyfriend-now husband) for hours, tying up the line while your Dad is trying to call. Sorry Mom.


Sharing is caring

I debated strongly before jumping into the pits of hell that is social media. However, I wanted a way to share my thru hike prep and journey with my friends and family, and this was the easiest and most popular way to do it. My family needed to know I haven’t been eaten by a bear and I also wanted to connect with the other thru hikers who are headed out in 2018. I belong to a few AT Facebook groups, some better than others. The best one by far is the AT Women’s group. There’s only positivity and support there, no meanness or belittling. No one is afraid to ask questions there because they know it’s a safe environment. So this is the good side of social media, meeting great people and getting helpful advice without a snarky “I know better than you” attitude. Then there’s the dark side.


Social media envy


I read an article in the January 2018 issue of Backpacker Magazine written by Ted Alvarez who stated “recent research rates Instagram as the worst social media platform for mental health and wellbeing, leading to documented cases of anxiety, depression and even bullying”. Ouch. It’s true though, because even I am guilty of Instagram envy. Seeing these beautiful girls on the tops of mountains, not sweating at all, hair perfect. Seriously?! After I have summited a huge mountain I’m red faced and super sweaty, snot everywhere and my thick curly hair has just manifested itself into a dangerous tangle of Medusa locks. And that’s AFTER I tried to control/hide it under a Buff.

Now my feelings of accomplishment, bad-assedness, and self-confidence have just been wiped away in a second, because there’s no way I measure up to those mountain goddesses. I haven’t felt this inadequate since high school! And it’s all thanks to social media because my self-confidence was perfectly fine before I perused Instagram, thank you very much. After going through these emotions your reaction is to go out and do SOMETHING, to take pictures and immediately post it to get likes and validation of the awesome human you are. Guess what? You ARE an awesome human, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Unless you are like, a murderer or something. Or Justin Bieber.


To vlog or not to vlog

In the same Backpacker article Ted also encouraged putting your phone away while out adventuring. He wrote “The constant focus on snapping the perfect wilderness photo can actually rob us of the memories we’re trying to preserve”. Ted stated he was guilty of this as well and has started a new approach, every other trip will be just for him, present in the moment of the hike with no phone. I admit, I have gotten in the habit of viewing scenes as social media worthy, instead of being present in the moment. Most of the time I can do both, take an Instagram worthy photo but then close my eyes, breathe in the fall leaf smell, listen to the birds, and just….be. But there’s still that pull to post about it. Because if you didn’t post it on social media it didn’t happen, right?

Which brings me to one of the more popular ways to share your hike, YouTube. I thought about doing this for a hot second, before realizing it was WAY too much work. I truly want to enjoy my hike, and if I think I’m missing things now by just taking pictures, I can’t imagine how much I’d miss by filming stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watching other people’s videos, and appreciate all the work they put into doing it. But I’m not going to join that group, which I’ve heard is at least forty channels now for 2018 and growing every day.

The support system for these YouTubers is phenomenal, which I think is why a lot of people decide to do it. However, there are downsides too. Fans tracking down hikers to meet them on the trail, which is kinda scary. I know they mean well, but still… creepy much? I have also heard a rumor that people BET MONEY on which YouTubers will make it and which ones won’t. So they post horrible, negative comments on the ones they are betting against. I really hope this isn’t true, because that is DEPLORABLE if it is. For my fellow 2018 hikers, if you are YouTubing be careful. Post your videos long after you have left that area and if someone posts negative comments, shut that s**t down. You don’t need that crap, bet on your own damn self!!

Even though I struggle with social media, I will be sharing my journey on Instagram, Facebook and (obviously) blogging for this amazing website. You’re welcome to follow along if you’d like. And if you don’t see anything posted for a while, I’m probably fine, Mom and Dad. I’m just taking it all in, enjoying the sights, sounds and joys of the Appalachian Trail. Phone in my pocket, smile on my face, being present in the moment. Because some things are better left to make their mark in your heart and soul, not on social media.


Until next time,






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Comments 4

  • Adrian Redgwell : Dec 9th

    Good day Sarah,

    Very interesting article. Early Riser had some negative feedback on his videos too but he addressed it on the next video about how damaging it can be to someone who is hiking and spending akit of their time taking pictures and videos.

    But for me, I have some mental issues and brain damage from military service so once I see somethI guess, it is almost forgotten the next day. That is frustrating to say the lease.

    So I have my iPhone and I take as many pictures and videos and make comments as much ad I can so I have that memory when things get worse.

    My last hike on the Quebec Section of the international AT was incredible. Only 30 people from all walks of life Hike this every year. It is the last pre tundra very well maintained trail in NA. A 35 day, 650km Hike. If you board and want to see a very unique hike, by all means come watch it and put it on your hiking list.

    Anyway on my AT NOBO Thru Hike, I will be uploading while inhike just as early Riser did. I do hope your flop is awesome and you get great weather.

    • Sarah Southard : Dec 9th


      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Early Riser’s videos are where I heard about the Thru Hiker YouTube Bets. And I can only imagine how demoralizing it can be to put yourself out there and do all that hard work to do videos AND deal with the stressors of trail life and read negative comments.

      But what a great memory to have, videos from your epic journey! I really enjoy looking back on my photos from my hikes. I’ll definitely check out your channel, sounds like an amazing adventure. I love watching thru hike videos, just don’t want to make any. And thank you for your military service. Happy trails next year and have fun with your videos! Just ignore the jerks who leave bad comments. Since I’m starting my thru hike next year as well, maybe I’ll see you at some point!

  • stealthblew : Dec 11th

    My suggestion would be to take pictures of people / friends/ fellow hikers for future memories. Otherwise, I agree with Ted. Having an inner dialog while hiking can lead to a closer connection with oneself, and a long distance hike can be the perfect environment for such growth.

    Journaling is a great way to preserve daily memories along with any special insights / ideas. However, too much stimulus (radio/ books on tape/ phone with social media) can oftentimes be a distraction and impair this process.

    Not to mention the weight savings of leaving the phone, charger, backup battery and cables behind. This can equate to 2 pound removed from the pack. A few sheets of paper and a disposable paper camera are a much lighter alterative.

    One last thought… Post cards may be sent along the way to family / friends. Town is always only a few days away on the AT and almost all have Post Offices. These PO’s sell blank post cards for 5 cents more than postage as a backup to those pretty ones with the photos on them.

    Have fun.

    • Sarah Southard : Dec 11th


      Thanks for your feedback! I have heard a few times now that thru hikers wish they took more pictures of their friends and trail family, so I’m definitely going to do that. I also want to get pictures of my campsites and shelters too, because I love looking back on those memories.

      I’m going to be journaling each night, so I can capture the good, bad & ugly of each day. I’m still bringing my phone for pictures, music, and Guthooks. But I’m staying off social media!!! At least until I get to town I guess.

      I also love the idea of postcards. I’m a huge fan of snail mail, I still send thank you cards, so I think that is a great idea to send post cards to friends and family. And maybe keep some for myself too.


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