Autism on trail
Five or six years ago someone I knew online messaged me privately and said “I think you may be Autistic.” Of course I didn’t take it well, I knew they were a well-meaning person but I took it as an insult.
Of course it burrowed into my brain so I started researching a little bit. Reading lists of Autistic traits and finding that I had almost all of them. Of course you can also google enough to make you think you have cancer so I didn’t assume it was true.
Still, I mulled it other and it took up more space in my brain. I had always struggled, especially as a child. For a while as a teen I overcame my issues with socializing by drinking which wasn’t a good solution but did make me more social.
Eventually I called my mom, awkwardly asking if she thought I might be autistic. Her response was:
I was diagnosed with Asbergers as a child which now just falls on the autism spectrum.
I am able to function in the world without people assuming I’m autistic. Still, it effects my interactions with people, my friendships and my relationships.
It’s easy with people I know and I’m happy to have a great group of friends but I always struggle meeting new people. Plus as an adult it seems like bars are the only place adults are really supposed to meet strangers or Tinder.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the social aspect of the trail. I’m not here for the social life, that would be a lot of pain and suffering which wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t love long distance hiking.
Unlike the normal world where it’s awkward to talk to anyone and you don’t know who wants to be talked to or approached, the trail is easy. We all have something big in common.
So it’s easy to ask where did you start from, how many miles have you done, ect… Plus I don’t feel creepy asking other about their hike or day when I know they are a fellow through hiker.
Friendships happen quickly, people show their true selves when they suffer and bonds form quickly. My therapist tells me there are trauma bonds but if it weren’t for trauma bonding I don’t think I’d know anyone. Don’t tell my therapist.
Stepping out of my comfort zone
Being a tall bearded guy with tattoos my autism can make me come off as rude sometimes or people assume I don’t like them. For years I just leaned into this being kind of rude and accepting how people viewed me.
However on trail I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone, trying to talk to fellow through-hikers on trail. Trying to be open and happy.
Instead of my normal camo shorts and black band t shirt I’m wearing absurd bright patterns that are nothing like my normal attire. I guess I have RBF, Girl Scouts don’t ask me to buy cookies and people leave me alone – which I love in the city but I’m on trail for happiness and healing.
Being open to people and talking to strangers has made amazing connections and deep conversations.
I’m truly grateful that I’m opening myself to whatever experiences and friendships come my way on trail instead of being my normal introverted self.
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