American Long Distance Hiking Association - West

Opinion from a Member: Marmot

04 Apr 2017 2:30 PM | Kate Hoch (Administrator)

The “Opinion from a Member” section of the Gazette, provides a forum for members to write a letter to the editor expressing their views and opinions on topics which concern the hiking community. The views and opinions expressed are the those of the author and may not be the opinion or view of ALDHA-West. Should you have a letter you would like to submit for possible publication, please submit to: editor@aldhawest.com.


Letter to the Community - 


For six years, between 2006 to 2013, I re-hiked the PCT, having first thru-hiked it in 1994 and then for the 3rd time in 2015 I re-hiked the first 800 miles. From my recent experience, I would like to start a discussion about new behaviors that I find troubling before they become entrenched in the trail culture.

What I saw -- on the part of some hikers -- was a sort of entitlement attitude and "frat boy" drunkenness that I believe will negatively impact the trail community as the numbers grow.

My observation: some groups of people spent their time on the trail serially binge drinking at each resupply town. I'm not the only one noticing. It has already caused neighbors of Kennedy Meadows to officially complain to the licensing authority about bad behavior including public urination. I saw and heard about publicly drunk hikers surrounded by empty beer cans lying in the street or in front of resupply stores.

What makes anyone think the stores and towns who now help us will continue to do so if this is what they have to encounter? In fact, I had hikers tell me that they skipped miles of the trail -- not because of weather or injury but to be able to spend another day drinking.

Years ago one hiker acting out like this would have no impact. But each year more hikers leave the border. That huge mass, plus the section hikers, makes it look like hikers are some sort of group of drunken fools. Many times, I heard from people in town that they did not want to give these "stoners and drunks" rides to the trail. There was also the hiker who left an uncovered dump in every campsite wiping his butt with a section of the map. Drunk? Stoned? Stupid?

Being on the trail means that people are probably the most open and vulnerable emotionally since childhood. Some studies suggest that hiking can make you smarter. But not if you are drunk every five days. You are doing an activity that opens brain pathways. It literally changes you neurologically. That can cause one to use something to try to shut down. The hike can seem like too much. But, maybe, slowing down, taking a deep breath, an extra day off, finding someone to hike with, or talking about it, or crying (I did lots of that on my first thru-hike) might be a better choice than getting blind drunk in every town.

Everyone should now understand at what level body weight-to-alcohol ratio makes you drunk. Drunk people do and say really stupid things.

We lost a number of towns and hostels on the AT because of that sort of behavior. I don't want to see us have to hitchhike miles to some town because no one in the small stores (like Manzama campground) and small towns wants us there.

There isn't one house angel that hasn't lost money or possessions to hiker thieves.

It is amazing what each of us is doing, but that does not mean that we get to run roughshod over the people that help us.

I also read sexist, racist, homophobic rants in the registers. Don't you think the public reads this stuff?

You might think about how it looks before you go into a town with 30 percent unemployment and try to use food stamps to pay for food and lodging. Your choice, but enough people already think we are bums and parasites. In that town there may be people desperate for a job, needing food stamps to feed their family. We affectionately call ourselves "hiker trash," but I don't want us to get that reputation in the outside world.

Also, if you are not staying at a commercial hostel, then maybe using their facilities is inappropriate. Those people give much more than they are getting back in money -- but they are not there to be taken advantage of.

The trail has developed, at least with some hikers, a "speed is the only value" mentality. I was talking to some hikers about wishing that a temporary injury didn't slow me down and require me to carry more food. I hate extra weight on my back. A hiker countered, "You cannot compare yourself to the best." At first, I didn't know what she meant -- then I realized that she saw "best" as "fastest." Not the most skilled, not the most comfortable, not the happiest, not the most knowledgeable or any number of ways of valuing the hike, only the fastest. Often the only conversations were about how fast they hiked and how many miles hikers were doing. What a relief when someone actually talked about the flowers, trees, and views.

I heard many hikers just complaining about being out there. They just wanted it to be over and were miserable. Maybe that was because I was in the first few hundred hikers and attitudes were different back in the pack. Of course, some people are forced to hike fast because they only have so much time off. We don't have to hike the trail the same way. I just would like people to think about how they might be hurting themselves, other hikers, and the trail.

Another thing to think about: never using natural water sources because "angels" have brought the faucet to you -- just like you have in town. I know we have been in a drought. Sometimes the only water is from Angels. I'm not referring to that. Originally "angels" brought out water to help hikers who were really in stress. But now there are so many hikers who don't even bother filtering. How long do you think those angels will continue before you burn them out? Topping up, finding yourself short because you were too hot all makes sense -- but never taking water from a stream because you know there are jugs of H20 out there? I would suggest that is something to ponder. "Trail Magic" usually means a surprise, not something that you expect and then become irritated that you don't get it.

When 2,000 hikers leave the border do you really want it to be like back in the days when we had to carry 2 gallons of water to get through the desert because the "angels" have quit?

Just so there is no confusion, no one is talking about having a couple of beers when you get to town. I'm talking about passed out drunken fools in every town. I'm tired of hearing "I've never seen this.” I saw it over and over. The trail is not the inconvenience that you have to put up with between towns. Hiking the trail is the point. Give yourself the chance to experience it.

Each year there are hikers out there doing what my father used to call "poor mouthing.” They mooch meals in town from other hikers but seem to have plenty of money to buy booze and dope.

Hiking is the most joyful thing I do. I love being out there. I met hundreds of wonderful hikers including some of those, when they weren't drunk, that I have been referring to in this letter. I struggled for a long time before writing this. I fully expect some angry response to this letter. No one likes their painkillers to be challenged. Let's talk about this.

Marmot


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Note from ALDHA-West: We encourage you to take a look at our "10 Commandments" of good hiker etiquette!



Comments

  • 04 Apr 2017 6:41 PM | Mark Webster
    I do not really qualify to comment as I have not thru hiked the PCT. I am planning on 2020 date post retirement hike. I am saddened from your description of activities on the trail. As a career fire fighter and paramedic over the past 30 years I can tell you that this behavior exists in large parts of our society. This behavior has made it onto the trail. Maybe it will take local ordinances to combat this unbecoming behavior. Otherwise public education is key. Your organization does wonders so keep up the great work. On trail lead by example and insist this behavior is selfish and not attractive. When I am on trail I will happily confront this problem and educate. Thank you for standing up to this ugly reality. All you hikers of accomplishment, you have my respect and admiration. People just need to do the simple thing-CARE.
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  • 05 Apr 2017 8:42 PM | Brian Montgomery
    I echo Mark in many ways... I too do not qualify... but I am planning a post retirement hike in 2018... I have spent the past 30+ years teaching, mostly in a public high school... I too can attest that this is our (now regular) society invading the sanctity of the trail. I agree that confronting the "problem people" is part of the solution...

    I might add a suggestion that we (shouldn't have to but it is best if we) clean up after the trouble makers as best we can. Take a moment when you wake up at oh-dark-thirty to start your day's hike clean up the mess the (thoughtless) others have left behind the night before so the "locals" don't have to. It is the simplest way to "redeem" the community.

    We might also consider making available the numbers for the local authorities (much as we do the numbers for trail angels and resupply points) such that when we see littering or public drunkenness or worse we can at least inform them so they are aware.

    I do not use social media much, but in school the way to stop the bully is for everyone to get out there phone and just start to record the behavior and let them know that "The Whole World is Watching"... Hey, it worked in Chicago in '68'...

    I can't wait to hit the trail and meet all the nice people I have read about through the years of "lurking" on Postholer and the PCT blog... Please still be there.
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  • 06 Apr 2017 2:19 PM | Anonymous
    Marmot, you've written a compelling opinion. Thank you. I would add only one problem that I have encountered -- people who carry guns. At the risk of sounding sexist, those I have encountered have all been men. What on earth do they think they need to protect themselves from? Perhaps others with guns?

    I have been solo backpacking for over 50 years. Twenty years ago I began to use trails only to get to areas where I could take off cross country . It's more peaceful that way. My only caution about doing this is don't go during hunting season -- neither bow nor gun. And, of course, there are no resupply points unless you stash provisons ahead of time.
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  • 07 Apr 2017 11:46 AM | Mark Davis
    I am sorry to read about the behavior described by Marmot but I guess I am not surprised. When I thru-hiked the PCT in 2000 I rarely encountered such activities and never saw them on the CDT in 2005. I left the AT in 2012 in part because I got tired of being around so many obnoxious entitled hikers.

    Simplistically it all seems to be a matter of numbers. One person misbehaving is amusing or sad, but a group of miscreants becomes a problem. Due to the Strayed book and related movie it appears that the PCT has achieved a level of popularity that may destroy the reason many of us wanted to hike it in the first place.

    That last statement troubles me because it feeds the accusation of elitism that gets leveled against the long distance hiking community. As long as a self-selected few are hiking our spectacular long trails, we are all free to hike our own hike. As the number of hikers increases, the need for rules and permits increases exponentially and the tolerance for quirky behavior decreases even faster.
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