Avoiding Your Trail Nemesis: A Guide

The Appalachian Trail is unique. In spanning the United States from Maine to Georgia, it walks through perhaps the most politically and culturally diverse segment of America. In my time on the AT, I met beliefs and lifestyles drastically different from my own. It was humbling to develop friendships with people I might never have spoken to otherwise.

That said, when young and old, liberal and conservative, religious and nihilistic are piled on top of each other and at their most vulnerable, tensions can arise. Tensions may also have nothing to do with belief systems. Maybe that person just rubs you the wrong way. Also, ladies, we occasionally contend with gender-specific irritants.

Whatever the reason, it’s possible you’ll encounter someone that you simply cannot stand. If you move at a similar pace to this person (or if they’re intentionally moving at your pace, #pinkblazing), this can become problematic.

But first: Have you tried to accept them? Some hikers are hard to stomach initially, but eventually, you learn (and maybe even grow to like) their quirks. This doesn’t have to be some zen-Buddhist-chia-seeds thing, either, by which I mean you don’t need to meditate on their good qualities. Just give it some time. One of my favorite trail characters started as someone I thought I might sucker-punch.

That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes, it just ain’t meant to be.

The best option is to distance yourself, either by slowing down or speeding up. If you decide to slow down, be prepared to commit. A zero or two on-trail or in the next town will lose them for a while, but they’ll be taking breaks, too. You’ll have to repeat this practice often to separate your schedule from theirs. If zeros aren’t your style and you’re physically prepped, a week of big days can make a significant difference.

You can also get some space by avoiding populated campsites. Unless this person is literally hiking step-for-step with you, you probably only bump into them a few times a day, and mainly at camp. Try stealthing for a while. Most bad blood seems to happen around shelters, so if you can end your day at a one-person campsite, your chances of hiking in peace go up.

In the case of unwanted pink-blazing (AT slang for male hikers changing their speed to keep time with female hikers), it’s best to tell the person point-blank that their attention isn’t appreciated. In the wake of Twilight, a little benefit of the doubt is okay, but be firm. Pop culture tends to imply that women want to be hounded mercilessly by suitors – they may honestly not know they’re a bother. Or they may; manipulative and passive-agressive behavior can crop up anywhere. Trust your gut.

If, for whatever reason, you cannot shake your nemesis, it’s time to consider skipping ahead. This may sound frustrating and unfair, but you’re at a point where Hike Your Own Hike has been compromised. Unless you want Your Own Hike to be full of animosity, you need to change your environment.

If you feel endangered at any point, please tell the other hikers around you and report the incident to authorities as soon as possible. The trail is historically and statistically safe, but traffic goes up every year, and it’s possible something bad could happen. But unlikely. You don’t need a gun.

At the end of the day, remember that no one thru-hikes just to troll other backpackers (or at least I hope not, although that would be an impressive commitment to trolling). Your obnoxious/rude/careless/creepy nemesis is out there for their own reason, and they probably don’t mean to piss you off. As Bill Bryson is always saying, “Control your own destiny, or someone else will.”


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