I’ve talked about how rumors are on the trail before: they don’t weigh anything, so everybody’s packing ’em.
So when Scott Jurek celebrated his record-breaking thru-hike by spewing champagne all over the top of Katahdin, it didn’t take long before every hiker on the trail knew about it and Baxter State Park’s reaction.
It’s against the State Park’s rules to litter, have alcohol, hike with a dog, and to hike in large groups on Katahdin. The rules are there because of the rare and fragile tundra environment on the mountain’s vast peak. When Jurek got fined for littering, possession of alcohol and taking his entire camera crew up the mountain, Baxter State Park had a great way to go public with their concerns about the increasing number of hikers on the AT.
The issue is protecting the environment, which should be the top priority always. But, suddenly, there’s a lot of press about AT hikers (especially with Bill Bryson’s movie coming out), and not all of it is positive.
There are places up and down the AT that are closing their once wide-open and generous doors to hikers because of bad behavior. It happens that some of the people who are taking advantage of this hospitality are people who can’t help but drink alcohol in the numerous churches that offer us showers and bunks. There are people who litter their cigarettes and snack wrappers. Some people get rowdy and loud in the woods while other people are trying to sleep in the shelters.
But in the wave of bad press following these individuals, I think its important we don’t lose sight of one important fact:
There are assholes everywhere. Even in the woods.
If you want a place completely devoid of jackwagons, you need to find a deserted island surrounded by man-eating sharks. Maybe they won’t find you there.
A lot of these people who are causing problems along the trail aren’t even thru-hikers. There are section hikers, day hikers, weekend warriors, etc. who are using and sometimes abusing the trail. There are all kinds of people on the trail! We’ve even met genuinely homeless people who live from shelter to shelter.
The typical thru-hiker hikes all day, makes camp, eats dinner, sleeps, wakes up and repeat. It’s a very rhythmic way of life.
And it takes a lot of energy. I simply do not have the energy to get wild after hiking 20 miles. If we pack out beers, it’s a special treat and it’s usually one each because that’s all I have time for before my eyes close on me.
So for those of you who read the news about hikers behaving badly, read it like you would any other news. There’s a slant to it and it doesn’t apply to everyone.
Please don’t lose faith in the trail.
Because its an amazing life out here.