When Your Thru-Hike Is One Big Joke: On the Trail with Backpacker Comics
When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, I didn’t have many easy days. I tried complaining about it, but as a hiking strategy, complaining was a bust. So I tried laughing instead. That worked.
When I summited Mount Katahdin on Sept. 10, I could honestly say I’d been fueled in part by laughter. By then, laughter was also a way to keep from screaming. My entire body hurt. I stood on the Katahdin sign anyway. Two days later, back home in Nashville, TN, I began the long process of trying to figure out what had just happened to me.
Pain, illness, the rainiest AT season on record—there were plenty of reasons I shouldn’t have summited Katahdin at all. Anyone else would have recognized my trauma as the start of another thru-hiking memoir. Me? Rather than writing a memoir, I put my modest drawing skills to work at Instagram. Still laughing, I called my new account Backpacker Comics.
Why Backpacker Comics?
Here’s the premise of Backpacker Comics: considered as a level-headed, responsible adult, backpacking is a wildly freakish thing to do. Sleeping outside with snakes and bears, when you could be sleeping inside with air conditioning? Walking 20 miles each day while carrying things on your back? Arguing with your best friends about gear?
These two screaming backpackers? I’m pretty sure they’re my core audience. They’ve probably left comments too, which are half the fun. The idea seems to be to improve on my jokes with much better ones.
Judging by how seriously backpackers take the things they hold most dear—their choice of a tent, for example, or whether to use trekking poles—it’s surprising they can be funny at all. Their comments prove otherwise. Not only are backpackers funny, but they get a kick out of being lampooned.
Backpackers = Easy Targets
Here are a few more examples from Backpacker Comics. You might recognize some of these “veteran thru-hikers.”Backpackers are easy targets. The more seriously we take an issue, the more absurd it seems when examined up close. The quest for a lighter pack is an endless source of fun. So is social media, which for some backpackers has become a favorite way of experiencing the outdoors.
Backpacker Comics isn’t all jokes. Every so often, I stop mocking backpackers long enough to engage in their suspect behavior myself.
I’m not immune, for example, to the virus that impels all backpackers to pay homage to their own favorite gear. On the Appalachian Trail, I carried a tarp rather than a tent or a hammock. Under the tarp, I used a bug bivy. I was so enchanted by my bug bivy (and still am) that I honored it in a post.
Occasionally, Backpacker Comics takes a poetic turn. My post about “things you might miss if you hike too fast” got some blowback from those who thought I was criticizing their hiking style. I wasn’t, really. My point was a little different: if you’re going to take the time to get out in nature, spend some time paying attention to it.
My choice of comics over a memoir has been a good one for me. What began as a strategy to get me to the end of the Appalachian Trail—joking and laughing with my trail companions—has endured as a way of making sense of my thru-hiking experience. I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling a little nostalgic about my thru-hike.
And I’ll never get tired of mocking my thru-hike either—
If you’d like to follow along, please join me on Instagram at @Backpacker_Comics.
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