Before I begin, I want to tell you that enjoying your thru-hike/long distance hike is like building a really fucking good burrito. In a good burrito you want your meat, beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream, cheese and some assortment of delicious vegetables. All of which are spiced appropriately to make one big, delicious and harmonious angel wrapped in a delicate, floury blanket. A burrito, at the risk of seeming grandiose or dramatic, you will remember forever.
Now, everyone makes their burrito differently. Some don’t use actual meat because they don’t eat it. Others will use a gluten free tortilla and maybe do black beans instead of pinto because sometimes they put animal fat in them. Some don’t add the guacamole because it costs extra or leave out cheese/sour cream to avoid dairy. Also, leaving out the rice can save you some calories and allow you to eat more! There are even those people that will just eat a bean and cheese burrito from Taco Bell; and much like a thru-hiker, will endure unpredictable/uncontrollable shits at some point in time.
However you eat your burrito though, is up to you. If you don’t want something in it, don’t order it or make it that way. If you want to add bacon, shrimp, eggs, cereal or goddamn cat brains to a burrito, fucking do it, it’s your burrito. Guess what? If you don’t finish your burrito, who the fuck cares? You probably had enough and/or maybe it started to make you feel sick. The only person you should be mad at about a bad burrito is yourself. You could blame Chipotle but you’re also the one who decided to eat there.
Here’s my metaphorical burrito story:
Before I reached the top of my final decent of the day, I was hoping that I would be the only one on top of the mountain to sit and chill out without having to make small talk with new hikers. It had been a hard day. It was 100 Degrees that day and I took a 15-20 minute break almost every mile. I was about halfway to Wrightwood, which left me with about 13 miles to go into town that day.
When I reached the top of the climb, there was another lone hiker sitting in the dirt with his 70L Osprey perched next to him. I gave a half smile and proceeded to sit in the shade across from him. He invited me over and to avoid looking like a dick, I took his offer and hoped the conversation wasn’t too monotonous. As someone who has bartended for 9 years and photographed weddings for 8, you think I would jump at the opportunity to talk to someone. However, after a hot day and climbing for miles, it’s the last thing I wanted to do.
As I settled in and removing food from my bag, we made the usual hiker small talk.
“What is your start day? How many miles are you averaging? What’s your trail name? Oh? How did you get that?”
It was all the usual talk you have with new hikers. I learned this kid (I’m 29 and he was 19) was from a small town in Kentucky and out hiking before he set off to college.
“You don’t see a lot of hikers with pink shirts out here,” he said in a condescending voice.
“Well, you know, I’m gay so I just wanted to make sure the people in space knew.”
He laughed and realized what he said might be a little gender-normative. I wasn’t trying to make him feel bad with my comment, I just genuinely make stupid jokes regardless of how I feel a conversation is going.
“I actually love this color and I figured if I ever got lost out here, seeing as this is my first thru-hike and I am prone to getting lost, people might be able find me easier,” I said this calmly so he knew that his previous comment wasn’t offensive to me.
He mentioned to me that he had never met a gay person before. For a moment I wanted to say that he probably has but they just haven’t come out yet, but it seemed like that might subject me to a longer conversation. I decided that coming from a small town in Kentucky sounds bad enough and I didn’t know anything about this kid’s life so he might actually be right.
“So if you’re gay….” He says slowly.
I interject mid-sentence because I know what question is coming next. I figure I will just answer it for him.
“Yes, I have taken it up the butt. Yes, it hurts sometimes and no there is no woman in the relationship”, I say this all the while smirking and rolling my eyes to let him know I am not being argumentative.
He says, “Actually, I was going to ask if you have a boyfriend?”
“Oh. No. I’m single as fuck, dude.”
We have a big laugh and finish eating. He reassures me he wasn’t trying to be offensive and I laugh it off because I knew he was just curious and making a genuine inquiry.
Many instances like this happened along my 750 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. I interacted with people from all walks of life; and more specifically, people who didn’t give a shit if I fucked chicks or fucked dudes. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. If you’re out thru-hiking giving a shit who people go to bed with at night, you’re out there for the wrong reasons.
I met people so different from me that I couldn’t even dream them up in my mind if I tried. Yet, social barriers were broken because we all shared the love of the outdoors and the opportunity to challenge ourselves both physically and mentally.
As an effeminate, small-framed man, most people know I am gay upon meeting me. Like I said, you can see my gay from space. However, despite that, I ended up sharing most of my miles with a group of… wait for it…. straight men (*GASP*); all who treated me as exactly who I was, a person who loved backpacking.
I shared many other miles with other straight people; some men, some women. I even, despite them being straight and me being a big ole’ homo, actually got along with these people. We even talked about our lives and the things that were important to us and made genuine human connection. I even cried in front of some of these straight people – what did they do? They hugged me and we shared a beautiful moment on Baden-Powell as we watched the sunset.
On my hike, of course I experienced some people who were misogynistic, competitive and actual assholes. I even had a hiker I wasn’t friends with make a “fudge packer” comment to me. What did I do? I certainly didn’t write a fucking blog about it (although, does it count that I mentioned it in this blog?) – I laughed and told him, “Dude, that would make a great trail name”. My comment made everyone laugh and immediately he lost his power over me. I hiked the rest of my miles that day listening to Janet Jackson and feeling really proud of myself for not letting a stupid comment bring me down.
I grew up being made fun of for being gay, even before I came out at the tender age of 16. I was always feminine, smaller than the boys (and most girls) and I only hung out with females because they were kind to me, sensitive to my feelings and made me feel loved and included. All through 8th grade, I had a boy that would taunt me, sexually harass me in the locker room (pretending he was gay) and make crude jokes in front of all of his friends and mine. I’ve done the run around; jokes, slams and demeaning comments are all just white noise now.
Now, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering why I mention all of this? Why is it even important that I mention my sexuality or my lunch break with the boy from Kentucky? Well, my sole purpose is to tell you that none of that matters if you are going to thru-hike. Yes, the trail can in fact be a bit of a shitty (also, like literally), drama-filled game of telephone, but isn’t life like that too? The only thing that matters while you’re on that sweet, sweet, beautiful, magnificent trail is your love of hiking.
There will be men AND women who will compete, they will boast about their miles and they will degrade you for hiking your own hike. Luckily for you, you will never see them again because they are doing 30’s while you’re doing 20’s. Which, good for you! 20 miles in a day is a fuck ton and it sucks, but it’s also incredible to know you are capable of such feats.
I will tell you, the 2 months I spent on trail was the most beautifully life-changing thing I’ve ever experienced. It was so incredible that I am returning in April to re-hike my miles and hopefully finish, regardless if people are mean to me or like/dislike or not.
The only person who controls your hike is YOU. You are in charge. If you get off trail like I did, that’s on you. Don’t go blaming Shit Face or Douche Neck (not real trail names) for your inability to keep on going. Don’t let the negative experiences written in a blog by former thru-hikers keep you from following your dreams and living as your authentic self. Don’t let the positive experiences written in this blog make your decision to go hike either. It all comes down to you and your free-will and ability to make choices to want to experience the trail and build it into that fucking delicious burrito you’ve been hungering for.
At the end of the day, the only person who can hike your own hike, make your perfect burrito or decide to not finish said burrito, is you. Don’t blame Chipotle.