My Tramily Gave Me the Confidence to Say “I’m Gay”

Sean “Orange Blaze” Speckin grew up in Southern Maine, where he was inspired by his elementary school teacher to explore the state’s beautiful wilderness. After high school, he hiked Katahdin for the first time, and immediately fell in love with hiking and backpacking. After two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, Sean hiked the Appalachian Trail NOBO in 2019. He currently splits his time between Maine and Upstate New York.
His trail name was almost “Walking Home” (it was vetoed), but he settled on “Orange Blaze” instead.

On April 3, 2019, I took my first steps on the Appalachian Trail. Though I hadn’t verbalized my goals, addressing my sexuality was the main hope for my thru-hike; I was convinced that I’d find pride under a mossy rock or dangling next to my food bag. I spent years repressing my homosexuality in order to preserve the status quo of my life, not realizing that by suffocating an important part of myself, I had become a passive participant in my own story.

I truly thought the answers were out there somewhere, and I’d find them without much effort.

But finding the guts to say “I’m gay” out loud and to wear the label with confidence would prove to be much more challenging.

I fell in with several hikers within the first few days on trail, and we quickly became a trail family for the duration. Days together felt like years of friendship, and those relationships allowed the exchange of beliefs and stories that challenge, reaffirm, and reform one’s values. Over time, I began to grapple with reality; coming out isn’t a process that someone can do for you. Sooner or later, I’d have to say the words “I’m gay,” and prepare myself for the responses and reactions.

I was on the trail for just over a month when I first came out to Plume, a member of my trail family. It felt like ripping off the heaviest of heavy duty Band-Aids, so much so that I laid in bed afterwards, exhausted and vulnerable.

Yet by the time we reached Virginia, I had told another trail family member (Rubber Ducky) and was openly discussing my sexuality for the first time in my life.

Yes, the trail is that powerful.

At Trail Days, I met my future boyfriend, Showstopper, through a mutual friend, though neither of us showed romantic interest at the time. We found similar interests and talked sporadically over the long weekend like every other hiker. After Trail Days, we stayed in touch to practice Spanish and commiserate over all things hike related, though we both found ourselves wondering if there were romantic undertones. It was only after hundreds of miles and the support of my trail family that we made those feelings known.

The trail fostered personal growth, but the people inspired me to own that growth.

Our new relationship merged our two trail families, creating a super-sized trail family that no doubt created some frustration for solo hikers and smaller groups. From the outside, we were 11+ hikers filling shelters and campsites.

But for us, they were (and continue to be) a fiercely loyal and supportive group of wonderful people that helped Showstopper and me to build a relationship.

I could gush about Showstopper until the end of days. Our relationship grew quickly because we were always together, and we pushed each other to grow as hikers and partners as we hiked north. In New York, I met his parents, and he came out to them. In Maine, he met my parents, and I came out to my mom and sister. Our thru-hike continues to resonate each and every day. I went from repressing my sexuality to sharing it with the world in only five months.

Long-distance backpacking allows you to see the harmful barriers that hinder growth. I left Springer Mountain to find pride somewhere in the woods and the mountains, but it wasn’t out there.

The people helped me grow pride within myself, and gave me the confidence to own my story.

Featured photo: Sean, left, and Showstopper at the ATC headquarters in 2019.

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Comments 13

  • Aidan Tierney : Jun 15th

    I may be biased, but this is a great article and great writing too. 😁

  • Julie : Jun 16th

    It’s amazing the power of hiking a trail with newly formed friendships. I’m so happy for the freedom and love you’ve found! Excellent article!

  • Samantha Thyne : Jun 16th

    Your strength and journey is so inspiring. I’m so happy you had this life changing experience and I hope others will be inspired follow suit and discover themselves as well!

  • Davis : Jun 16th

    A pleasure to read. And an inspiration.

  • Sin Nombre : Jun 17th

    Kudos on your journey, both literal and metaphorical. I’m gay and thru hiked in 2016; I met only one other openly gay hiker and one hostel owner, though obviously there are more of us out there. From my experience, the full gamut of the social and political spectrum is out there on the trail. I naively started my thru thinking it was going to be a big crowd of left-leaning hippie tree-huggers, and while I’d say that demographic is more represented on the trail, it’s not this monolithic community. I remember a thru hiker being vocally supportive of the controversial gas line in Virginia, e.g. Just like in the front country world, all types of people are out there and it’s up to each of us to seek out and find the people that help us grow into our best selves. I’m glad you were able to find those folks on the trail and bring a special one back home with you.

  • Nicki Noodle : Jun 19th

    Hi! Orange Blaze, I enjoyed reading you article. I’m desperate to hike the Appalachian trail either by myself , new friends, my kids niece and nephews ( ages 11-20), or my sister. It’s been I desire for a few years. I hiked 3 days on the PCT, so I do have some experience and gear. I live on Long Island NY. Any feedback would be appreciated. Can I join the class of 2020 even though
    I don’t have Facebook?

    • Sean S : Jun 30th

      I always welcome connecting with aspiring hikers!

  • Slim Shady : Jun 19th

    Bravo, Orange Blaze! I love your journey. I think so many others would be inspired by it. Thanks for sharing, keep it up!

    • Sean S : Jun 30th

      Thanks for the love!

  • FM : Jun 23rd

    ‘Tramily’ is a great experience. I’ve both received and contributed in this interchange. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a number of young hikers take this to an unhealthy extreme, seeing things in the polarization of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, and social pressuring tactics are employed to force the ‘offender’ out. This is the same social dynamic that denied gay persons in this country at least their constitutionally protected liberties in the first place. If anyone has a checklist for what constitutes ‘tramily’, and is zealous for protecting the fold from ‘outsiders’, abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Protectionism of the utopian ideal is always the doorway to degrading it into just another component of the wider social swamp. ‘Tramily’ is not the problem, and expelling zealots of such is not an answer, but spreading awareness that people are different and they all are entitled to the trail as citizens (even visitors from other countries) will go a long way to preserving the sanctity of what is good about those of us who have a more closer relationship to the trail as thru-hikers than others.

    • Sean S : Jun 30th

      I agree; in order to build a community, we have to engage in dialogue with those around us, even if we may not always see eye to eye. The goal is to be open to that dialogue, and to not shut down anytime we’re faced with conflicting ideals (opposing ideals may just allow us to better understand our own, and to allow room for growth). In that way, trail families are a wonderful experience.

  • Shaggy : Aug 31st

    I thru-hiked in 2012 and one of my goals was to come out to at least a few folks. It didn’t happen bc I wasn’t ready, but I firmly believe the trail helped me be brave enough to begin the process post-trail. It took two years of therapy to deal with paralyzing anxiety around coming out, but I have been completely out for five years now. The trail helped teach me that just like every hiker’s journey is different every LGBTQ person’s coming out journey is different and that is ok.


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