My Experience with a Virginia Creeper

“It’s nice to see you with pants on.”

I said, standing in the doorway of the room of the guy who had exposed himself to me and pissed on my backpack in the early hours of that same morning. The cops had kicked him out of the hostel and onto the AT, but here he was, back for breakfast. He looked at me with fuzzy confusion and adjusted his sunglasses. “I’m really sorry if I have the wrong guy,” I said evenly, examining him like a bug under a microscope. He looked at his feet and shifted uneasily. I could tell he remembered me from 1AM, telling him sternly in the glow of the kitchen night light, “You need to put on pants and you need to clean this up.” I continued with my accusation, “But I don’t think I do. You got drunk last night, you came into my room, pissed on my backpack and weren’t wearing any underwear. I’d like an apology.”

He squirmed under my glare.

“I don’t know what you want me to apologize for.”

The fingers of my right hand clenched and my bones began to shake with rage. It wasn’t so much about the pack as it was that I hadn’t wanted to see this guy’s junk. It was about his being in my bedroom unexpectedly. It was about his audacity to come back to the hostel. It was about remembering that not all hikers are awesome people.

“I think he’s sorry.” The hostel owner called to me from the kitchen. He was on the phone with the police, trying to get them to drag this guy away again.

But that’s the thing. He wasn’t.

“What do you want from me?” The guy asked the floor meekly.

I wanted my fist to collide with his face.

But some part of my brain, not blinded by rage, reminded me that I had better things to do than spend a few days in jail. I had the trail to get back to, mountains to hike.

I walked out to the backyard where there was tenting. Everyone already knew what happened and three older men asked me if they could do anything to help. Since the cops are on their way again, I babble angrily on until finally I take a breath and say, “My sense of safety is ruptured. Everyone’s been so cool and I’ve never had a problem until now.” One guy didn’t really see my point. He figured he’s a drunk idiot who couldn’t hold his liquor. While I know there’s truth to what he’s said, this episode was a reminder of every well intentioned person’s warning to be careful around guys. On or off the trail. The two other guys get where I’m coming from or at least try to. “I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep after seeing all that either,” one of them says. I thank them for their support and gather my things to get going when a woman walks up to me, eyes wide with concern. She asks me if the pisser really came back and what he looks like. I feel like we’ve fallen into a black hole, and there’s only three people in existence: her, me, and him. We’re trying to look out for each other, we’re trying not to be scared.

For a few days, I can’t shake the discomfort.

I can’t sleep next to guys in a shelter without waking up every few hours and wondering if they’ve just rolled over a little in their sleep or if they’re trying something. I hate that I’ve become this paranoid, that the tightly braided net of trust I had for AT hikers had turned to cheesecloth, but in the immediate wake of this episode, it had.

I’m sharing this story because it happened.

Not because I’m trying to scare folks or slander a hostel. I think it’s important to talk about every aspect, positive and negative, that happens on the AT. Parts of this experience fall into both categories. Unfortunately, there are people who will piss on backpacks at 1am. But the rest of our community is amazing.

Bound by our passion and goodwill, we are strangers who welcome each other at the end of each day, at the end of each mile, with smiling faces and open arms. This is so worth celebrating as much as the folks who are equivalent to blisters, are worth acknowledging and lamenting.

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Comments 17

  • Kinya : Jun 8th

    I understand that this is more than having your pack pissed on. I’m sorry this happened.

  • cRaZy mom of a solo thru hiker NoBo : Jun 10th

    So proud of you on many levels for just writing the blog and letting us who live vicariously through all our AT hikers know that somethings can not be run away from ! Fundamentally the guilty person is guilty of invasion of privacy, and of lack of courage for not owning his failures. For the others who accepted this as an unfortunate event , shame on them for not raising the awareness and setting better precedent, as we know the AT is heavily self- policed with its passing of stories, news , and general advice critical to helping reach other succeed. Mistakes happen, bad decisions can be forgiven, failures can become successes but not without personal accountability and ownership. The reason you feel violated and untrusting is because you lost faith in the system. It is often why people hike to begin with, when life seems hopeless cause so many systems in society are broken , hiking 2,189 miles and experiencing double that in number of positive ecoerience refreshes us .you will go forward, forward is only direction hikers know, life goes forward and for the guilty person and people who failed to react; life still goes forward but they carry extra weight! Share your experience because it is important and when the weight of the personal failures keeps coming back to guilty person , he –in this case (others cases could be a she ) will break under the weight , acknowledge his failures and grow. Your blog is not only helpful as a reactive piece but more importantly proactive as a reminder —everyone is vunerable when respect is trivialized. Wishing you the best and know your forward is bigger than just your next 20 mile day!

  • Batman : Jun 10th

    It took a lot for you to write about that very unfortunate event. The guy is clueless about the implications of what he did and how he reacted to you on the next morning. One doesn’t hike the AT to run into unthinking people who really aren’t capable of relating to other people appropriately. I have to say that I also admire the previous reply. That was well written and echo my sentiments exactly. I hope the rest of your hike goes well and your mental state and emotions will heal from the hike and positive experiences from hikers that you encounter along the trail.

  • Greyhound's mom : Jun 10th

    As another “cRaZy mom of a solo thru hiker NoBo”, I agree with her assessment! It is an unfortunate instance you experienced with the “Virginia Creeper”. As with all negative experiences, this one, whie disturbing, will become another chapter, another memory filed away (hopefully) faded by positive experiences. My daughter is 22 (will be 23 tomorrow!) recently separated from her Uncles and has had guys in shelters creep into her space as well. Luckily it didn’t follow a naked, drunk pissing on her bag, but by itself alone can be unnerving. I pray that’s the worse experience you encounter, and that the rest of your journey is filled with happiness and good will. Just like a blister, this too will heal and be replaced with fresh new skin! Best Wishes!

    • Gerard : Jun 11th

      Wow! Greyhounds mom. I just read her story. Wondering how she was getting on.

      • Greyhound's mom : Jun 14th

        She’s doing GREAT! We’re going to meet up with her on Bear Mountain, N.Y. next week! Can’t wait!

  • ShesADrunk : Jun 11th

    Classic alcoholic move, pissing in weird places, and unaware the whole time.

    It can be hard to be sober on the trail. Beer drinking is celebrated as a big prize when hitting town.

    Old timer alcoholic hikers are romanticized.
    Bleeding out from ruptured esophageal veins, one way to die from chronic alcoholism, is not pretty.

    I pray the affiliated get help. That’s hard on the trail.

  • Frank Bilbro : Jun 11th

    You would think there would be at least one MAN among the other hikers to kick this misogynistic idiots ass out the door and down the trail and keep him away. You can blame it on alcohol and being in a fog all you want, he has NO place among the society of decent hikers. Those three older men shouldnt have asked, they should have acted and the hostel owner should not have been so apologetic for that moron. There is no place for that behavior in sane, normal, respectful society much less on the trail where women of all ages often hike alone. I would have been delighted to have thrown his happy drunk ass out …..and dare him to return

    • Jeff Jarrett : Jun 11th

      You are so right. I guess there weren’t any MEN there at the time after all. Great reply Frank.

      • Karyn : Jan 26th

        Just one of my life observations:
        *men REACT – appropriately so – to a situation such as this when the person disrespected “belongs to them” (i.e. if it had been “my” wife, “my” daughter, etc.), otherwise, ‘not my problem’.

  • George Turner (Old Growth) : Jun 11th

    Anyone who acts like that when they are drunk, shouldn’t drink. Alcohol never washes away responsibility. Geez…can’t believe the police let him go. They kept Otis in his cell until morning in Mayberry!

  • Slice : Jun 11th

    Wow, this makes me so glad that I’ve been paying a little extra to get my own hotel room for me and the other few thru hikers I’m close with on the trail this year. Hostels are cheap for a reason – you run into garbage like this. The party scene is strong this year on the trail and the partiers tend to flock to the hostels.

    I’m so sorry this happened and I hope this doesn’t derail your hike!

  • Mary : Jun 12th

    As a person who’s experienced plenty of Virginia creepers, this experience probably also made you feel like you were in the twilight zone. How could nobody understand the enormity of the situation?! Why is no one reacting normally?! just remember not every person out there is like this. It’s hard to move on and hard to squash the paranoia and fear but like crazy mom said, they have to live with their actions or lack thereof. You focus on you, chicka. Surround yourself with positivity and those you trust because without that, what does it leave you with? Where does it end? That fear can take over and the world is too beautiful and great to miss out on for this to happen. Positive thoughts out to you 🙂

  • Taylor Ciambra : Jun 13th

    Thank you all so much for the overwhelmingly positive and supportive response. It means a lot especially when I had been feeling so vulnerable. Much love to you all & happy trails!

  • Robert Sutherland : Jun 14th


    Sorry for this trial. Glad you wrote about it so care-fully.

    I like you and people who are like you. You belong on the Trail and everywhere else.

    Hope our paths cross someday. I’ll buy you a Diet Dr Pepper.

    Your post should be required reading. May I quote it, if I give you the proper attribution?

    Let me know if I may ever be of help to you.


    Robert Sutherland

    • Taylor Ciambra : Jun 15th

      Hi Robert! Thanks for reaching out and for the kind words. Sure, you an quote this.

  • Karyn : Jan 26th

    Good job posting this; writing is cathartic and it allows those of us reading (and planning our hike) to see some of the more unpleasantness that accompanies a thru-hike as we, realistically, know must exist even though it is usually avoided in the posts of most writers in lieu of being ‘positive’.
    Thank you


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