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 didn’t know if you’d ever find out.”

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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Comments 6

  • JW : May 28th

    It’s amazing what the trail did for me as an autistic individual and I hiked it a decade ago before I’d even been diagnosed. I’d always just assumed I was an overly anxious weird person who didn’t fit in properly anywhere. I never felt that way out there in the woods, on top of a mountain or talking to other hikers around a shelter at night. I’m glad to hear the trail is always offering a chance to be a positive place for all. Despite the rain, the rocks, the bugs, the heat, the sweat, the insatiable hunger there was always another view up ahead until you get to Katahdin (or Springer for us SOBOs).

  • Randy Chase : May 29th

    Love this. Being a bit on the spectrum and planning a 2024 thru hike with my autistic daughter, I wondered about the intersections of trail stuff and autism stuff. My daughter feels that being on the trail would be almost the opposite of her present life and push her to be more willing to have less comfort and accept things that happen.

    • Dave Menier : May 29th

      That is huge. 🙂 Good for you and your daughter

  • Dave Menier : May 29th

    Bless you guys and thank you so much for writing articles and replying with comments. I am a dad of a son with Aspergers and maybe I have some of those traits too, so I understand the landscape better than a neurotypical person. I watched as my son struggled with activities growing up, but Scouting seemed to work fine. Then he suffered a car accident with numerous injuries and a traumatic brain injury, which didn’t ‘increase or decrease’ his autism, but just made it different. Time on the trail has been good for him. I don’t think his back could handle a thru-hike like you warriors do every day. But I can tell the trail has wonderful regulating properties; the breathing, the scenery, the appreciation for wildlife, being one with your own thoughts and working those out – growing as a person on the spectrum. The trail helps us connect with our selves and with each other. Though it’s not thought of most times with autism, connection is often sought after the most. Happy trails. -Dave

  • Beckie : Jun 1st

    Thanks so much – you and the commenters. My daughter was diagnosed, but way before that I realized outdoors was the best place for her. We mostly dayhike and do a few overnights. I’d like to emphasize that neurodiverse folks are often very helpful in the woods, sometimes seeing what others are missing. My daughter can see the most obscured trails and is great at finding good stealth sights. Don’t know what I’d do without her!

  • Jake Hacker : Jun 1st

    Wow. I did not think this was possible.

    I camp/hike/thru-hike regularly.
    For me it is still the isolation, the known singular repetitive activity that appeals, and the independence that appeals.

    The most I communicate is to post (like this) once or twice a month, and am not completely comfortable even with this.

    So, I do not understand, however I hope this continues to work for you!


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