Unexpected Responses: How Can Anyone Hate This?

There you are—you have just summited Mount Katahdin, finishing your AT trek, or you have concluded your PCT on the Canadian border, or reached the Cathedral in Santiago—and you Instagram a picture of the end of your hike, or you post your achievement on Facebook, or like many of us you grab a pint of beer or a glass of wine and write your final blog.

Who couldn’t love this, the daring of the undertaking and the successful completion of a lifelong goal? Yet the next morning, there in your email inbox or under your uploaded image are postings critiquing your trek—the time it took you to complete the trail, the type of clothes you wore, debates regarding your choice of tents, or just letting loose with a list of frustrations about you, your goals, the weather, the influence of trails on public morality, and the political environment. All of a sudden your trek has become the focus of debates and discussions that you never would have thought were related. If you are anything like me, you wonder—how can anyone possibly be this upset about me hiking or me completing this trail? How can me hiking a simple trail seem to represent—for some people—the end of social morality and the collapse of western civilization? Yet these days it increasingly seems that anything—no matter how low key, personal, or innocuous—riles the hatred of people who then feel compelled to rant and criticize you and your achievement. It didn’t take me long to regularly start getting the negative postings or hater emails … and I imagine I am not alone in this situation.

Last year—like many of you—I watched the Crawford family (@fightfortogether) as they gloriously undertook and completed the Appalachian Trail, all while being critiqued, judged, and harassed by online trolls. Inspired and constantly amazed by the resilience of this family’s achievement, I was frustrated as countless people online took it upon themselves to make wild assumptions, post horrid commentary, and outright harass them. Figuring that there was little I could do to shift these comments toward the positive end of the spectrum, I stayed out of it.

However, as I have prepared for my upcoming three-year hike across Canada I have begun receiving a lot of responses ranging from those that are highly supportive and encouraging, to those who challenge my abilities or question my gear choices, to others who seem to critique my choice of trail systems. In addition to this I have received long emails questioning whether women should be allowed to hike, or whether I should hike alone. I have been attacked for what was presumed to be my sexual orientation and political affiliations, and judged to be a drain on the economy and a waste of taxpayers’ money. While these general statements (and some more direct and graphic messages) came my way, I got frustrated but took it in stride by ignoring them. Two months ago, when I announced that I intended to hike for a cause (getting youth outside to experience hiking and birding) all hell broke loose—and what was just a trickle of negative comments turned into a torrent of attacks.

response to haters when getting ready for thru hike

Advice and Debate vs Hater Rants

At the outset I think I should be clear—there are different levels of commentary we all likely receive when preparing for our treks. On the relatively positive and helpful side of things, I have been lectured by some people who view my decision to hike as giving up on a house and career “just to be in nature and go for a walk in the woods.” In addition to these type of discussions—which can be heated—I have also been in outfitter stores and in online forums where there are impassioned debates regarding trail routes, food preparations, resupply points, and gear choices. In both of these cases, I think that these types of conversations are helpful and supportive and—deep down—are meant to provide advice. In such forums, even when the discourse gets heated, perhaps reflecting different camps of thought (ultralight vs comfort campers, blogging treks vs being in the moment, etc.), they are nonetheless clearly well-meaning and really important talks that have improved me as a hiker and aided me in navigating my gear selections. Simply put, these types of talks need to be had and are great. We all need advice and constructive critique while preparing. So we have to be clear that there is a difference between helpful advice on one hand and messages of irrational hatred and frustration on the other hand. For me it is in this second category—the irrational commentary and frustration—where the problems really are online.

Personality, Not Physicality

The second point I would like to be clear on is that I don’t think this is a women’s issue or a female hiker’s issue. Rather, it is a personal issue. I have known small statured women who can control entire high schools of students with a look, and I have known men built like mountains who can be unnerved by the subtlest critiques. So neither biology nor physical stature has much to do with our reactions to these comments. Instead, it seems to be personality rather than physicality that determines our reactions to these situations.

The Issue

With all of that said, let’s continue on.

Recently following an article of ours on The Trek, our Facebook page, blog, and email started to get really negative messages being posted and sent to us. After we began to average in excess of 40 such posts and emails per day, and unsure of what to do since I am hiking for a cause, have sponsors, and want to keep my message positive, I turned to a Facebook forum for advice. In the end I received lots of great support and tons of advice on how to respond to such critiques—which as it turns out many of us who post, blog, or vlog receive. Because of my posting I was soon approached by a great group called Hike Like a Woman (a wonderful forum for hiking advice, support, and encouragement—check it out) suggesting that there was a need to talk about the issue of haters and critiques online.

The questions asked by the administrator of Hike Like A Woman included: How have the undertakings of keyboard warriors changed my preparations or my views of hiking on the trail? How should we be dealing with these types of comments? What advice do I have for others going through this type of treatment? All great questions to which I had no immediate answers. So I sat and thought for a few days.

Thankfully, my experiences with this type of commentary have, so far, only been brief and rare. Despite this, the vitriol and frustration presented in some postings and many messages has been stunning in the scope of views expressed. One figure wrote questioning my sexual orientation, assumed my political affiliations based on my interest in nature, and then ranted about how (by selling my house to hike for three years) I was dropping out of the economy, not paying property taxes, and that such actions were irresponsible. By the end of the message I was pointedly told not to return to the region after the hike was completed.

Yet compared to this some of the online messages I have been sent have exceeded these comments in their range of frustration. Since announcing my intention to hike across Canada I have been told that the trail does not come through a certain region and therefore is not truly “a Canadian trail” and “not worth doing,” I have been critiqued for not hiking through the Arctic Circle amid the depths of winter, I have been messaged and told off  “that I had changed the name of the trail” since it has recently been redesignated as The Great Trail rather than the Trans Canada Trail, I have been critiqued for my goal of getting youth back into nature, with emails maintaining “that I will be lecturing and indoctrinating people into loving the outdoors” (though I am still confused about how that would be a bad thing).  In addition to this I have been informed across four social media platforms and by email that for all of these reasons and others I am “a simpleton, twit, and heartbreakingly stupid who will waste tax payers money by needing to be rescued.” Thus, while on one end of the spectrum I am being offered sincere support, at the other I have been sent very graphic descriptions of how others know and hope I will die on the trail. Sadly the list of comments—many of which are too graphic to repost—goes on and on. So what are we as hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, aspiring photographers, trail bloggers, thru-hike vloggers, and the like supposed to do in the face of such unconstructive comments and negative criticism?

advice about haters when preparing for a thru hike

A Few Thoughts

First off, I never would have thought that simply hiking could evoke so much passion in people—it seems at times that the activities of others have increasingly become the locus for other individuals’ frustrations and hatred with no rational connection. This fact alone stuns me. Second, while messages sent to me are ostensibly about my coming trek, much of the content of these attacks is irrational and ignores the realities of what my hike is about. Third, though it took awhile, I came to see that these comments have very little to do with me and instead have to do with the individual making them. Fourth, while these comments have been sent to me, I can’t believe they are actually directed at me or even my hike—they are just too generalized, too irrational, and just too frustrated at too many different things. Finally, I realized that these types of sentiments are always expressed online, never in person. It has become far too easy for “RB” or “TrueHiker69” or “WildernessMan007” to post anything with no consequence or sense of how it affects others. I know all of this sounds obvious, but I personally know how easy it is to get caught up in it all and I suspect many of us do get sidetracked on a daily basis by these types of frustrated postings.

I think it can also be a challenge because—from what I see—so many of these keyboard warriors are only commenting to be the ones to get more comments, more responses, more likes, more reposts, etc. And so on one hand you don’t want to bolster them by engaging with this type of commentary and on the other you have to avoid becoming like them. This is not as easy as it might seem. As a trail blogger and Facebook user the results are stunning—statistically postings that have rants, are critical, or which receive hater commentary against them outperform discussions of gear, the newest bird I have seen, or reflections I have about that day’s hike—so if I am pushing to get more users, more responses, or higher engagement I can see how it becomes a temptation to design posts to get negative debates going or foster hatred. So the decision to remain positive amid trying to get a message out does influence how I design future posts and how I respond to others—making it an active challenge.

In addition, as I mentioned before, aside from how I personally felt about such criticisms I have the challenge of having to politely engage with such critics because we are hiking for a cause, because we have corporate sponsors, and because we want to keep our message positive to inspire youth to get outdoors.  As a result, I have had to spend a great deal of time thinking my way through all of this and—oddly—the harsh critiques have helped me clarify why I am hiking, what my message is, and what I want to let other hikers and aspiring explorers know. Sorting through it all has also made me reach out to people and forums I might never have engaged, and they in turn have made me realize how much support there is out there for people who want to follow their dreams. No matter what your goal, you will find a group that will pull together, come forward, and support you. As I have received many of these critiques I have watched old high school friends, university classmates, work colleagues, and hikers from around the world as they rally. To that end, I think these critiques have made me realize how much people want to ensure that other hikers succeed. Now if only we could convince the online community to demonstrate a modicum of self-control and respect in their comments.

Some Advice

How has it changed how I have prepared for this hike?

(1) Well, I am a fairly independent person and not normally unnerved by people’s views, but these types of comments have led me to reach out more for advice and support to groups and forums I might not have.
(2) It has shifted my message in trying to talk to youth. As well as getting them outdoors, I want to let others know that if you try anything different, people will attack and critique, but that you need to keep going.
(3) I now intend to talk about some of the issues and comments I have received as I go, and I also now tend toward defending others online who are clearly being trolled and harshly criticized.
(4) When I write blogs—for The Trek, or postings on Facebook—I am much more aware than I was previously about what I am saying and how I am saying it. I am more self-conscious about how I present things—which is crummy to feel that you have to consciously shift how you express yourself, and to change your voice and your message in an attempt to limit the types of attacks you will receive.

Advice to those undergoing similar commentary

(1) First, you are not alone in this; most people doing anything creative, adventurous, or unusual get tagged with such commentary. Take it as a reflection of how great you and your plans are. Keep doing what you are doing.
(2) Most of it is just talk and online ranting, not a personal threat. It is irrational frustration and has little basis in reality.
(3) Don’t take it personally. If you are hiking and know your achievements, know your abilities, know what you can do, then there is nothing these types of people can say to take away from that. Let them rant into the wind, and keep on keeping on.
(4) Don’t become a hater yourself—whether against others or to boost your own online footprint. The more negativity out there the more it keeps spreading.
(5) Realize how much support you have out there with friends, family, colleagues, through online forums, with other hikers.
(6) If you want to respond, do so once, politely, rationally, and then let it go.
(7) Finally, as I was wisely told by Mel Vogel, another hiker currently on Canada’s Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail)—Haters are going to hate, get on with your thing and get on the trail—out there real is real.

In the end remember three things. First, that haters are going to hate, no matter your plans, your intentions, your goals; someone is going to create an arbitrary line to judge you by. You are going to be judged, and critiqued. And often there is no end to the negativity at times. But there is also no end to the support, positivity, and amazing times you will have on the trail. Second, be respectful even when you disagree. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Finally, Stay calm, this too will pass. In the meantime, get out there and hike.

“The world belongs to optimists. Pessimists are only spectators.”
Francois Guizot

See you on the trail.

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Comments 10

  • Stealthblew : Mar 12th

    I suppose the easiest response would be to forgo the social media experience. Hiking without cell phones or blogging might enable one be more fully immerse in the experience and without such distractions, possibly gain a greater spiritual experience from the journey.

    If on the other hand, sponsors or go fund me accounts are a necessary component to the trip, it may be necessary to undergo the feedback associated with such a planned approached. It may be helpful to remember that we have little to no control over how people act or in this case respond to our posts. However, we do have the ability to control our thoughts and feelings and as such have the ability to take these matters in stride. When our plans are well conceived with good intentions, we shouldn’t be overly concerned with those who judge others…especially because these critics could not possibly understand the complete story behind our actions.

    Reply
  • Patricia Callahan : Mar 12th

    Really makes me think just how many ignoramuses are out there! I am sure that your preparatory work is a given and you would not be taking on this great endeavour without already knowing that you have the physical and mental capacity to do so. Ignore the naysayers and touch base only with those who’ve already had the experience of hiking The Great Trail.

    Reply
  • Vince : Mar 12th

    It is most unfortunate that there are so many naysayers who deem it necessary to piss on your parade. Pay them no mind. HYOH and enjoy the journey. Sounds like you and Sean are preparing for your own version of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. I wish you well on your journey. Enjoy every bite of the sandwich.
    Vince aka The Dude, A/T, SOBO, ’16 – ’19

    Reply
  • Pat : Mar 12th

    I want to commend you on such a well-written piece. You have something to say; so you blog. That’s what people do these days. It’s the trendy way to share of oneself, make connections and make your statement to the world. Humans have always done this in one form or another from hieroglyphs to the current social media. As humans, we communicate, and we do that by whatever is the most effective means of the era. You have a helpful message, you write well and I urge you to continue.

    That being said, unfortunately you can’t stop the people with unhelpful, hurtful messages. You are smart enough to realize it’s about THEM and not you, but it’s really hard not to take things personally because we aren’t built that way. Back in the day people with ugly messages were largely ignored (although not always, eg Hitler), but now the internet gives voice and it doesn’t matter the nature of the voice. It gives malcontents the ability to get attention which they maybe can’t get otherwise.

    I know I’m not alone, nor is my perspective new, but I personally am finding the constant social connectivity that has become the basis of our society to be more harmful than beneficial. As we have evolved into this too-much-information society, people are able to become far too personal. It’s too easy to say/write things that we would never say if we had to look the other person in the eye. This is the nature of the beast sadly, and the only way to avoid that is to simply not participate. Disconnect. Flip side is that your message doesn’t get out there. But there IS that choice.

    I don’t know how to say this without seeming critical, and I don’t feel critical of your choices at all; but I want to remind you that privacy is a choice. I think the reality is that if you want to have an alternative lifestyle, and you don’t want people criticizing your choices, then maybe don’t put your choices out there on the world wide web. Or develop some thick skin.

    Generally, you are entitled to privately go about your life and do whatever the hell you want to do as long as it’s legal and doesn’t harm anyone. The pursuit of happiness and all that. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had the attitude of “live and let live?” But we don’t and THAT’S the reality. People will criticize choices that are different than their own, because that validates their own choices, which they may be feeling insecure about.

    Maybe I’m just old and can remember a time when people that you didn’t know weren’t all up in your business (haha only the people you DID know). About a year ago I decided I was just tired of the social media hoopla and I disconnected by about 80%. I only read nice blogs, ignore all the silly tweets, and filter through the news to determine what actually happened as opposed to what people spin. And I go into the woods when I can. Life is a lot better. Because you know, I don’t actually have to care about what other people think…and I don’t have to go looking for their opinions.

    Good luck with your trans-Canada hike. I hope you reach lots of youths with your message and have an amazing experience!

    Reply
    • TaoJones : Mar 12th

      Pat’s post says what I would have wanted to say, so I’ll just sum it up this way: 1 – It’s just the Tall Poppy syndrome, and 2 – Don’t Feed the Trolls!

      TJ

      Reply
    • Tosh : Mar 12th

      Pat, I love this thoughtful response. Sonya, I hear ya girl. When I was hiking the AT in 2015, I got randomly Insta-famous before it was thing and was destroyed on the internet. I was called a trust fund baby (earned every penny I have) and irresponsible for leaving children at home (single, no kids, but thanks) and that I would never make it in the real world (I’m currently 38 with a successful career and have taken at least 3 years off for international travel and hikes…I’d say I’m crushing the real world.) After that I still wrote my blog because it was a release for me, but never looked at comments. I don’t care about likes. I don’t want to be famous or make it big on the internet. And I’ve accepted there are shitty people out there that say shitty things. The world is big and everyone has something to say. You’ll go crazy listening to it all. Control what you can and let go of what you can’t. And enjoy the crap outta your hike.

      Reply
  • Bruce Hall : Mar 12th

    Sonya,
    Thank you so much for posting this. Your message is spot on. I applaud your courage and perseverance.
    I think some people have such small lives, that people like you doing things they dare not imagine in their own lives; makes them feel inadequate. They react as if you living your life is a criticism of their life.
    I am thru-hiking the AT in 2020, so I expect I may learn some things from reading about your adventures that will help me be better prepared.
    Hike On!
    Bruce

    Reply
  • John : Mar 15th

    Honestly, when I read of someone planning an expedition like this a large part of what I feel is a pang of envy. Envy that you’ve got what it takes to hike a trail like that. Envy that you have the confidence to leave it all behind figuring it will still be there when you get back. Envy that you have the passion for the outdoors to undertake the planning along that a hike like this must require. And, to an extent, envy that you have the freedom to do such a thing.

    Personally I’d feel that envy and wish you well, hope you succeed in your hike and look forward to the pictures of a hike I may spend my life dreaming about. I can imagine that the kind of person with the mentality that they can’t do something and therefore nobody else should either would feel a comparable level of envy (although probably a more spiteful envy) and turn that into a rant about how you’re doing something you shouldn’t and are therefore less of a person because (insert choice of insult here).

    Frankly it boggles my mind that anyone could wish that another human being should die while pursuing a dream but I guess there are people out there with sufficiently little meaning in their lives that it’s the best they have.

    Encouraging young people to put their phones down (says he, writing on a tablet – oh, the irony) and get outside and be more active can only be a good thing. Following your dream to the extent you have is truly admirable. I don’t think my wife would take a very enlightened view of selling our house so I could go hiking, otherwise I’d very likely follow in your footsteps myself.

    Reading your blog (which I enjoyed very much) compared to much of the useless comments you describe reminds me of a saying. The wise man speaks because he has something to say, the foolish man speaks because he has to say something. Your blog is clearly coming from a place of having something to say. The people griping that you’re doing something they can’t do seem like people who just have to say something.

    Good luck in your endeavours, I hope you succeed and have a wonderful time out there.

    Reply
  • Mark Stanavage : Mar 15th

    Honestly never had that problem with trolls, but then again I only post to friends so they can share in the experience. I still use an external frame backpack, so I have broad shoulders. Trolls get you down, I have a shoulder you can electronically/social media-wise rest your head on for support. I don’t care who you are, you have lofty goals! Enjoy yourself and live your dreams! All the best wishes to you on your journey!

    Reply
  • Scott : Mar 16th

    As a past thru-hiker I would really like to follow you adventure across Canada. Do you have social media I code follow?

    Reply

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