Working in the camping and hiking department of an outfitter, I get a lot of questions form new hikers and backpackers ranging from proper gear, to whether it’s possible to live off the land on the trail. I love dispelling myths about the dangers of the woods. But I always advise new hikers to be very cautious when reading social media about the trail.
I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of hiking social media. These are my thoughts:
First, The Bad – Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
With the weather getting warmer, and people again gearing up for hiking season, prepare yourselves. Prepare yourselves for the endless “Be Careful Out There” social media posts that will soon be flooding your timeline.
A couple of hours on Facebook and you will be sure that each year 11 of every 10 hikers will contract and die of Lyme Disease. And…experts are predicting this will be the worst year ever!!!
The same goes for giardia, West Nile Virus, and now the Zeka Virus. Ebola, norovirus, infected blisters, mad cow disease, H1N1 flu, swine flu, bird flu, demonic possession and the Ice Capades.
Yes, there are things to be aware of in the woods, but there is no reason to be afraid. And while I know the do-gooders who will be posting these warning think they doing some kind of public service, they are not.
Education and knowledge, not fear, is the best defense against these dangers. For example, did you know that a tick has to be on you longer than 24 hours to transmit Lyme Disease? Sites like the N.I.H., Mayo Clinic, CDC, and many others are great sources for unbiased information that has gone the rigors of scientific discovery.
The Good – Great People
As my thru-hike start date nears, one of the things I am most looking forward to is the opportunity to meet some of the people I have become friends with through social media. Some will be giving me rides to town, some will be receiving mail drops to deliver to me. And all of them have pledged whatever help I need when I’m in the area.
People have given their phone numbers to call them when in heed of encouragement, or just a friendly voice. It’s also fun to follow people new to hiking and have the “bug.” Their excitement on social media is contagious and serve as great reminders of how great the woods and backpacking are.
The Ugly – The Scary, Scary People You Find in the Woods
No, the Appalachian Trail does border Camp Crystal Lake. There are no ax murders, no sexually depraved mountain men (or women), no one lurking in the woods, just outside the shelter.
But you wouldn’t know that if you belong to the numerous hiking and backpacking groups on Facebook. In these groups the endless refrain from people sitting at computers in their living rooms is: “Be careful, I’ve heard stories from the trail…..”
One such post I read came from an ex-Army Sargent, who claimed that while serving he needed to be able to “read people,” and trust his instincts. And then spoke of a “dark, scary person” at a shelter area. Well, I can tell you, his instincts sucked ass. I Googled the local newspapers where this supposed “dark, scary person” was seen, and guess what? Not a single report of a violent or otherwise depraved act on that part of the trail.
What this douche bag did manage to do however, was open a thread for wacked out, apocalyptic, prepper, tin foil hut wearing nut bags, that could find something to fear in Mother Teresa.
People on the trail are wonderful, caring, giving people. But after two months in the woods, hiking 15 miles a day, they sometimes look scary, and definitely smell scary. For some, that is scary. If that’s you, please stay as far away from the trail as you can. For you, it is a scary place. And leave its beauty, and wonder to those of us that know how to live among other fellow humans.