Why I Got Off the Pacific Crest Trail After 454 Miles Instead of Walking All the Way to Canada

I’ve told a lot of stories about why I stopped hiking the Pacific Crest Trail at the 454 mile mark last summer, though I intended to hike the whole thing, all 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. They’re all versions of the truth. I missed my girlfriend, it’s true. I hurt my knee, yes, also true. I missed my community and my friends and my life in Portland, yes yes yes, true true true. Oh, and I was scared of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the historic snowfall of 2017, not at all convinced I could do that portion of the trail alone in a safe way. Yes, also true. The Pacific Crest Trail in 2017 was no joke, and those who hiked continuous footpaths (or not-continuous footpaths!) through one of the most popular long distance trails in the United States of America last year deserve praise and recognition.

Most days, I am still sad I was not one of them.

But I decided to stop hiking just shy of 500 miles in, and while all of the very truthful realities I just listed played a part in my decision to quit, the real truth is harder to admit. I’m scared to say it out loud, embarrassed I let it get to me, unsure I want to make myself a spokeswoman for this particular issue. And yet, every time I do speak this truth, other hikers come forward and say, “I felt that way too.” They sigh in relief that someone is naming this problem. And so I’m finally writing this essay, the one I’ve been trying to articulate for almost eight months, the one I have been putting off for just as long. I want other hikers to see these words when they research the PCT and try to decide if it’s the right choice for them to hike this trail. I want to say this clearly, because it has been so hard to admit and has made me feel ashamed and sad about things that are not my fault.

I stopped hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017 because of toxic masculinity and bro culture in the hiking community. It exists, it’s shitty, and it fucked me up.

The first time I heard about the Pacific Crest Trail was when I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. At the time I was living in Brooklyn, and I wouldn’t have called myself outdoorsy, let alone a hiker. I love Strayed’s work and am moved by almost everything she’s ever written, but at the time I didn’t feel called to hike the PCT myself. Rather, I took her advice in Tiny Beautiful Things as a hint to get out of New York City, break up with my girlfriend, and prove to myself I could exist as a human untethered to a computer screen. So in a way, it was Cheryl Strayed who set me on the path of eventually hiking the PCT… it just wasn’t a terribly straightforward line. Bigger influences would appear in my life when I left Brooklyn, and eventually it would be a different woman and a different memoir that set me on my first steps on trail. But I don’t owe Strayed nothing, and the irony of the way she and her story have been treated by the long distance hiking community is not lost on me as I think about my own experiences on trail.

People in the long distance hiking community love to talk shit about Cheryl Strayed.

If you mention Strayed to a specific kind of hiker on the PCT, he’ll be sure to let you know that she didn’t even hike the whole trail, what a liar, and she’s had sex, so you know she’s a slut, and it’s totally her fault that the PCT is overcrowded now, it’s so annoying that all these dumb girls who have no idea what they’re doing saw Wild one time and thought they could do a long trail. You’ll find hikers talking this way on message boards and Facebook groups, which I expected because the internet can be a trash heap, but you’ll find them talking this way on the physical trail too, which I guess I did not.

If you’re a woman, a queer person, a person of color, a fat person, or anyone who falls outside a very narrow set of parameters, you may find yourself discouraged by the online hiking community and the casual sexism, racism, fatphobia, transphobia, and all around shittiness that runs rampant there. I suppose like any community that isn’t explicitly focused on lifting marginalized folks up (and even those communities have flaws, obviously), one shouldn’t dare to have high expectations of the long distance hiking community, especially not on forums on the internet where anonymity and boredom can draw out the ugliness of humanity.

But I actually did have high expectations for the long distance hiking community, at the very least off the internet and on trail, because everyone I met who was involved in long distance hiking told me that the community is incredible. I spoke with multiple women who waxed poetic about their “trail families” and focused only on the positive aspects of trail life. I attended official community events (yes, the long distance hiking world has official events!) where experts gave talks about how to be respectful visitors in trail towns, how to eat healthier foods on trail, what to do in case of an emergency – essentially, presentations about how to be better hikers and better people. The illusion that the hiking community is a safe space for everyone is strong, in part because as far as I can tell, most people involved either don’t realize that it isn’t, or they don’t feel comfortable admitting otherwise. The same women who initially had assured me I would fall in love with my “trail fam” on the PCT messaged me privately when I got off the trail – they felt bad that they hadn’t warned me about the realities of being a woman on the trail. And in retrospect, though the official events worked so hard to focus on the positives of the community and help make us better, the words “misogyny,” “sexual harassment,” and “racism” never once made an appearance on the agendas.

And therein lies the problem, the one I’m not sure how to tackle because it feels huge and inevitable and I feel dumb and naive for not anticipating it, or not anticipating how disheartening and ultimately soul crushing it could be: the long distance hiking community is not a particularly welcoming and special safe space for anyone who is not white, male, able-bodied, straight, cis, and competitive. But those dudes will tell you that it is, and they don’t want to talk about why it might not feel that way for everyone.

Before I continue, a caveat, partially because I feel anxious about backlash when I say things like this and partially because it is true and I don’t want to be misunderstood: Saying that the long distance hiking community (and the outdoor recreational community in general, if I’m being honest!) has a lot of work to do does not mean that every individual in the community is terrible. Saying that I don’t necessarily think the long distance hiking community is a safe space for folks from marginalized communities does not mean that many women, many queer and trans people, many people of color, and many fat humans haven’t had fantastic times on trail and interacting with other hikers. Wanting a community to do and be better does not mean every aspect of it sucks.

But I still stand behind my original point: the long distance hiking community has a toxic masculinity problem, and the bro culture that runs rampant on the trail is hurting all of us.

I told you that a woman and her memoir set me on my trajectory to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. That woman is Carrot Quinn, and her memoir, Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, ripped mine wide open. I met Carrot by chance, after I left New York, took a road trip across the United States, accidentally ended up in Oregon, and decided to stay. I was living on a lesbian land project and trying to rebuild my life after a terrible breakup and community fallout. I’d just left Brooklyn eight months earlier. No one I knew on the East Coast hiked long distances. I didn’t really know that you could.

It was October 2014 and Carrot was fresh off her second Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike and the Lowest to Highest Route, a short but difficult route that requires maps and navigation skills and scrambling and food caches (all things one does not really need to do on the PCT). We met at a queer gathering and she told me about both hikes. I was wearing a snapback that had the words TAKE A HIKE emblazoned on the front and she complimented my hat. I was embarrassed when I found out she was a “real hiker” but she never made me feel bad about it. Over time, she convinced me I could be a real hiker, too.

I remember marveling over Carrot’s grit, bravery, and sense of adventure on that autumn evening in 2014, thinking to myself, oh my god, this woman is incredible. And then, quickly, before I had the chance to squash the idea with self-doubt or fear, my brain jumped ahead and whispered a tiny thought into my subconscious: I want to prove to myself that I can be that incredible.

I drove home that night, found Carrot on Facebook, sent her a friend request, found her blog, proceeded to read almost the entire thing in one evening (she blogs prolifically, doing daily posts for every day she has ever been on trail, and her words are sharp and vibrant and really make you feel like you’re right there with her), sent her a message telling her I thought she was amazing and wanted to be her friend, and the rest is fucking history. I was on track to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in a couple of years.

I’m kidding, sort of, about how quickly I made the decision, but not really. When we see representations of ourselves in the world, whether the experiences be small or large, incredible or mundane, fun or difficult or both, it makes us feel as though we can do those things, too.

Knowing that Carrot had hiked the PCT made me feel like I could do it, too. Why not?

I prepared meticulously for my hike. I researched gear, connected with other hikers, bought the “PCT Bible,” and trained as much as I could. As a fat former indoor kid with no backpacking experience, I knew I was at a slight disadvantage, but I also knew plenty of humans had hiked the PCT with similar lack of experience and had been successful in their hikes. I am a careful, thorough, detail-oriented Capricorn, and I did everything in my power to make myself ready to thru-hike the PCT, an adventure that would arguably be the toughest physical and mental challenge I had taken on to date.

One thing I did not do to prepare was spend too much time chatting with other hikers online. I’d heard from more than one woman that the Facebook groups for the PCT were hotbeds for misogyny, mansplaining, and casual cruelty. I joined the PCT Class of 2017 group but quickly saw exactly what everyone had warned me about – for every single helpful comment thread, there were multiple depressing threads. I decided early on that I wouldn’t sink any of my energy into that group, and I didn’t even explore the Reddit forums ’cause I imagined it would be more of the same, or perhaps worse. There was a “Women of the PCT” Facebook group that was a friendlier place than the main group, and I spent some time there, asking occasional questions and offering what little knowledge I had as a beginner thru-hiker. But I was disappointed in that group, too; a woman of color started a group specifically for POC hikers and posted about it in the women’s forum to advertise to potential members, and more than one white woman commented disrespectfully, wondering why those hikers wanted to “further separate themselves.” These comments showed up in a women’s hiking group, one that was separate from the main hiking group for obvious reasons. Casual misogyny is not the only problem on the trail.

And yet, in spite of these negative online experiences, I felt hopeful for the interactions I’d experience on trail. Everyone spoke so highly about the people you meet while hiking! I’ve had such positive experiences with close-knit queer communities! I was excited to meet people outside of my queer bubble of Portland, OR, and ready to leave the negativity of online anonymity with my laptop in the city while I bounded into the backcountry for six months.

When my start date rolled around on April 20, I felt ready.

The first few days were euphoric, though physically painful. I started my hike with a group of other first time long distance hikers I felt comfortable with, I acquired a trail name I loved on the very first day (Scissors – ‘cause I’m gay), and I walked 42 miles in four days. My feet were a mess – even after all my hours of careful research and training hikes, I’d picked the wrong shoes and paid the price in terrible infected blisters – and my body was sore, but my endorphins were throwing a non-stop dance party in my brain. I took a rest day in Mt. Laguna, the tiny trail town at the 42 mile mark, to fix my feet and buy new shoes. I was ready to do this thing 63 more times! I was on track to Canada!

But the rest day I took in Mt. Laguna separated me from the folks I’d been getting comfortable with, and once I wasn’t in my cozy group I was blind-sided by the trail culture. I’d heard tales of generosity and openness, of respect for nature and LNT (Leave No Trace) principles, of a sense of camaraderie I stupidly assumed would feel similar to the way I feel in queer community. That is part of what I want to emphasize: I did not make up the idea of a welcoming and safe trail community out of thin air. Most hikers speak openly and extensively about how wonderful the “trail community” is, how they found their family while long distance hiking, how hikers are the best people, the ones in this world who truly “get it.” But I experienced something different.

This is how it goes: I’m huffing and puffing my way up a steep incline. We’re gaining almost 3,000 feet of elevation in just 4 miles, the next water source is (probably, hopefully) one mile away, and my pack weighs 30 pounds, heavy with food I’ve packed out of town. I’ve hiked a couple of miles so far and plan to hike ten more before I set up camp to go to sleep. Other hikers keep passing me; some have smaller packs, some have larger packs. I stop to take a sip from my water bottle and a tall man approaches me, bounding up the trail effortlessly. He pauses to take a break too. “What day did you start hiking?” he asks me. Everyone always asks this question. What it really means: how fast or how slow are you traveling? Did I start before you and now we’re in the same place? Am I better than you are? Maybe he’ll ask some other questions, seemingly innocuous but designed to make one feel less than. “How many miles are you doing today?” “What time did you wake up?” “Are you walking all the way to Canada or are you just a section hiker?” These questions are baked into long distance hiking culture. No one questions why they’re asked or what they mean. Folks just wanna know, so they can put themselves on a roster and decide where they belong when it comes to being a “successful” hiker.

Sometimes it goes like this: I stop at a water source and I ask a man I’ve been leapfrogging with all day if he can scoot over so I can also have a place to sit in the shade. There isn’t a lot of shade, but enough that I can sit too. He rolls his eyes and I, stupidly, make a joke about feminism and equality on the trail. He immediately snaps that the pay gap isn’t real (what?) and then goes on a rant about feminists ruining everything. We somehow veer into the murky waters of capitalism vs. socialism and then he proudly tells me he’s glad he’s no longer at his desk job because a guy like him doesn’t belong behind a desk. “I should be out here, raping and pillaging the land!” I open and close my mouth but nothing comes out. By now several other folks have shown up – men and women – and they all hear his fucked up announcement, but no one challenges him.

It can be like this, too: A sweet athletic blonde woman takes a liking to me and slows down her pace so we can hike together for a few hours. She admits she knows the trail is a boys club, but she’s used to it because she teaches snowboarding in the winter and that’s a boys club, too. She tells me she kinda likes being in the club, so she makes herself one of the boys. “It’s dumb how competitive everyone is about mileage,” she says, and I’m about to agree but then she continues, “I mean really, we should be most impressed with people like you! It’s amazing that you’re out here doing this!” I think she thinks she is being nice so I don’t say, “Wow, thanks for thinking it is so amazing that a fat slow lesbian could be hiking this trail with you and all these dumb bros!” It’s hot and I’m tired and fuck, I liked this woman, so I just say, “Thank you.”

It happens in so many ways. Almost every man I encounter wants to mansplain some aspect of my gear to me. Men make disgusting objectifying comments about women on trail, calling girls hot or ugly or fuckable or whatever makes them feel powerful in that moment, I guess. One man who I think is my friend hurts my feelings and when I try to communicate with him in the adult way I’ve been taught, by telling him he has hurt me and asking him to please not repeat his behavior, he mocks me and encourages others to join him until I cry. He avoids me after that. I meet so many men who tell me, blissfully, that for the first time in their lives they finally feel completely understood. I am dumbfounded. They finally feel understood? Finally? But…where on this Earth do they not feel understood? What the fuck?

The incidents are often so “minor.” I know when I list them here the folks who don’t want to admit this is a problem will find ways to discredit my experiences, call me crazy and oversensitive, insist that I’m the problem, I’m an anomaly, this has nothing to do with their precious community and everything to do with me. I know what it’s like, to feel protective of a community that means everything to you, to want to claim that the space where you finally feel understood is perfect. But listen, we live in a racist homophobic transphobic fatphobic classist fucked up patriarchal society. To think we can run away to the woods – a place that is touted as “America’s Playground” but in actuality is only accessible to those with the right color skin, the right amount of money, the right physical shape – and somehow escape the oppressions that are wound tightly into the fabric of American life and have a utopian community where everyone feels safe is ignorant at best, toxic at worst. Most of the language we use to describe our “playground,” which truthfully is stolen land from Native American tribes, is racist: talking about “bagging peaks” or “conquering mountains” is as much part of the problem as anything else. It’s not about just one bad man or a couple of jerks, it’s about the entire culture. We all have work to do.

Hikers are familiar with this concept; the only way to walk to Canada is to put one foot in front of the other. The only way to do this work is to do it.

When I got off the trail last year I was profoundly disappointed. I had worked so hard and it was embarrassing to have to call it quits. It has been really hard to let go of the shame and sense of failure I experienced when I came home. I’d written about hiking the PCT on this website, people were following my blog posts. Many assumed I’d quit because of a knee injury I’d written about, and while I said that was part of it, I wasn’t giving away any of the other parts yet. I wasn’t even sure how to articulate them at first.

“I just feel like I failed,” I said to my girlfriend one night, trying to explain why I was so sad.

“I wish you’d stop saying that,” she said. “You didn’t fail the PCT; the trail failed you.”

Now, eight months later, I’ve finally accepted that at least as a partial truth. I’m trying to move past the part of the grieving process where I feel sad and bad and mad that I did not complete the trail the way I intended to and am instead focusing on what I can do to make the long distance hiking community a safer place for women, queers, people of color, and fat folks. Initially I was terrified to talk about the stuff that drove me off the trail – no one else seemed to mention how terrible it feels to be physically exhausted every day and still have to muster the emotional strength to either take on or avoid aggressive, demeaning, oppressive behaviors – and it felt intimidating and vulnerable to name the problems so bluntly.

But, like I said, any time I brought this up in conversation with fellow hikers, their reactions validated my experiences and strengthened my resolve that we must talk about this. When I published an essay in SHAPE magazine about being the fat girl on the trail, I didn’t outright name toxic masculinity as my biggest problem on trail, but folks who knew what to look for saw marks of it all over my narrative. I received many private messages from hikers thanking me for speaking out and indicating they had read between the lines and they, too, had negative experiences with the bro culture of the trail. So I went on my friend Lacy’s podcast, Flex Your Heart Radio, and finally got brave enough to speak bluntly about why I didn’t finish my hike. I used some of the specific examples I’ve outlined here to counter the romanticized myth that I think many people buy into when they think about hiking a long trail. Then I presented at Queer Adventure Storytelling, a local event in Portland, OR, and instead of telling a traditional adventure tale, I named my speech “Talking About Toxic Masculinity And Bro Culture On The Pacific Crest Trail, With Pretty Pictures To Focus On If My Words Are Too Much Of A Bummer!”

The West Coast is beautiful, y’all, and hiking in the backcountry is a very special way to experience it. But hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017 was not enjoyable for me because of the shitty culture on trail. I know, I know: I could just get over it. There are other less populated trails to hike, or I could make sure to recruit queer friends to hike with me next time so I don’t feel so alone (physically and in my ideologies), or I could just give up on thru-hiking. But I’m not the only “me” out there. While I experienced negative effects of bro culture, sexism, and fatphobia directly, I know that objectively, going on a long hike is easier for me as a white person, as a cis person, as a person from a financially secure family than it is for folks who do not have those privileges. Thru-hiking is empowering in so many other ways, and this bullshit oppressive behavior that is passively accepted makes thru-hiking something that is uncomfortable for so many humans who try it. I don’t want any other folks to have to give up on a big dream – everyone on the trail should be able to feel like they’ve never been so understood in their whole lives.

I knew it was over for me, really over, a couple of miles before the spot that I actually got off trail. It was Day 40 and I woke up early to beat the morning heat. I was approaching a popular “trail angel” house – a trail angel is someone who helps hikers just for the sake of it, just to be kind – and I should have been excited. I’d been looking forward to this piece of my journey; I wanted to meet and thank the trail angels for their generosity. Their existence on trail was part of the mythology around “the kind of people you’ll meet in the thru-hiking community” and if I’m being honest, I still desperately wanted to believe that narrative, even as forty days on trail had disproved it for me.

But I felt clammy and anxious thinking about the other hikers I might encounter when I arrived. At least a few of the men who’d made unkind or thoughtless comments to me would probably be there. A lot of hikers would be there, and I was starting to feel skeptical about meeting new people in large groups, rather than excited and hopeful, as I’d felt at the beginning of my journey.

That morning the air was not yet stifling hot and the trail was gentle, mostly flat. I was alone for most of the ten miles I had to hike to reach the trail angel’s house, surrounded by impressive rock faces and interesting plants. I stopped as often as I pleased; I had plenty of water and knew I’d be able to fill up my bottles soon, so I could drink as much as I wanted, a rare gift in the desert. I even had a fresh apple to snack on. I should have felt pure joy. Instead, two miles before I reached my destination for the day, I reached for my phone to take a photo of a particularly beautiful plant and noticed I had service. Before I could think about it too hard, I was opening the Google Chrome app, and then I was typing in letters, L-A-X and P-D-X, and then I had looked up plane tickets. Home. Back to my girlfriend, to my community, to my life where I felt more understood than I ever had on trail. I didn’t want it to be true, but I knew for sure in that moment: my Pacific Crest Trail adventure was over.

Once I made the decision, which I’d been agonizing over for about 20 days if I’m being truthful, everything happened very quickly. I called a close friend who lives in LA and explained my situation; she immediately agreed to come get me and assured me I could stay at her place as long as I needed. I bought my plane ticket for two days later, called my girlfriend and my mom to let them know what was happening, and within 48 hours I was on a plane back to Portland. It was bizarre to see my dirty smelly pack, which had accompanied me for 454 miles on the trail, in the overhead compartment next to clean and shiny carry-on cases. It seemed to protest: this is not where I belong.

I still miss the trail all the time, but I do not miss the long distance hiking community and the behavior I contended with during my hike. I have some friends who had to get off the trail this year – for a variety of reasons including injuries and running out of money – who plan to return next year, to try again. I envy them, but I don’t think I’ll be returning to the Pacific Crest Trail until there’s a deliberate shift in community values and attitudes. This makes me sad and frustrated, but I’ve been trying to move forward and be grateful for the time on trail I did have, and hope that as more people speak up, things will change.

When I think about the PCT now, I like to remember my favorite day, instead of all the bullshit that accompanied my hike.

It was hot, because it’s always hot in May in Southern California, but there was a significant amount of tree cover and I wasn’t sweating too badly, all things considered. I’d climbed and climbed and climbed until I’d finally done it — I reached the top of Mt. Baden-Powell! At 9,407 feet, it was the highest mountain I’d ever summited. It was late in the day so I was all alone on trail; I’d been aiming for a campsite many miles ahead of the mountaintop but suddenly I realized I was tired, the sunset was breathtaking, and I’d been offered the gift of solitude. I decided to say thank you to the universe and make the most of it – the PCT is such a busy trail that being truly alone is rare, so I was extra grateful. I pitched my tent easily and made a hot dinner. I’d packed a fresh avocado out of town and it was such a luxury, cutting chunks of it into my dehydrated chili with my tiny knife. I sat on a log stump and ate my decadent meal as the sky changed color a million times over and then was dark and cold so I clambered into my tent and curled into my pink sleeping bag.

I was warm, and I was full, and I was proud of myself, and I was alone — and happy. I was happy.


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Vanessa is a queer feminist writer and photographer currently based in New York. She really misses Portland. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 250 articles for us.

113 Comments

  1. Vanessa this was beautifully written and the pictures are amazing and it makes me want to slap every single bro in that toxic pea soup of bro-culture across the face. You are a pure soul IN SCISSORING SPATS, FOR FUCK’S SAKE and I hope you know that it’s inspiring to me that you did any thru-hiking alone, because that scares me! You’re a superhero.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Vanessa. As someone who once belonged in the sailing community it shares many of the same issues.

    I wonder if the violence of sexism you felt on the train wasn’t just experienced because of how much of a let down this space/community was for you, but possibly also because these bros you tried to push back against were also clinging to that dream?

    They’re being promised this narrative too, of this wonderful experience where everyone is kind and supportive, so (in their heads) how dare you push back and make them uncomfortable by addressing their unacceptable behaviour? It reminds me of what Sara Ahmed says on doing diversity work/feminist killjoy… The person speaking up and saying there is a problem BECOMES the problem.

    Of course that’s the point of privilege: they remain comfortable as long as we don’t say anything, and we are uncomfortable no matter what we say/do… until we begin the amazing work you’ve been doing, of talking about it, organising, writing, doing workshops… thanks for these, I hope the next class of women hikers will find your words.

    • ugh yessss! ” It reminds me of what Sara Ahmed says on doing diversity work/feminist killjoy… The person speaking up and saying there is a problem BECOMES the problem.

      Of course that’s the point of privilege: they remain comfortable as long as we don’t say anything, and we are uncomfortable no matter what we say/do…” soo much this!!! i just want to scream this into the void until someone listens! thank you for saying it so succinctly and sharing Sara Ahmed!

  3. I very much appreciated your reflections on how hard it was to write this, how hard it is to say something that goes against so much of what you’ve been told… even when that something is just so TRUE. Thank you, Vanessa!

  4. Well done for writing this. I personally have no desire to sign up for extreme physical challenges, but I think in any context it is important to offer an alternative perspective to the loudest narrative and to acknowledge problematic behaviour.

  5. Thank you for sharing! I know there is some work being done, but it’s a pretty engrained culture. Outdoors Magazine has been pretty good recently, and REI has been advocating. There are some parent (read- mostly mothers) focused hiking and adventure groups that I have heard of or involved with. Hoping things get better.

  6. Mmmhmm, I get this same feel when they ask me to stay after the door opens at work. Big box retailer, lots of strangers having to experience my whole Self for the first time, making the exact same normal-for-them mistakes, every. one. of. them. And worst of all, my co-workers and managers not even realizing because they’ve forgotten what it was like to meet me, what I must have looked like to them before that.

    We all need well traveled trails and familiar faces
    as breaks from being reminded how odd and gay or whatever else we are

  7. P.S. VANESSA YOU WALKED 500 MILES SO TELL US: WOULD YOU WALK 500 MORE JUST TO…never mind. But as a kid I really wanted to know how realistic the Proclaimers’ 500 miles was and apparently IT’S DOABLE so thank you for this

  8. Thank you so much for writing this. I admire you very much for getting out there, and actually chasing your dream down, and getting a heck of a lot of miles under your belt. I absolutely hate the toxic competitive masculinity thing that seems to happen in entirely inappropriate places- in the UK, I can barely bring myself to go into a bike shop, for example, because of all the showing off and belittling that happens in there.

    I always want to ask these people if they’re all competing for a prize I don’t know about, or whether they realise that actually, by smashing the trail as fast as they can, all they’re achieving is soil erosion, when they should be taking it at a sensible speed and enjoying the beauty and the experience of it. (Your photos are awesome!)

    I hate to think of you giving up hiking (heck, can we call it walking? It’s what we say in the UK, and it takes away from the aura… Sometimes we call it rambling, and there’s a Rambler’s Association… which is definitely not about showing off!) Have you thought about other places? Less well-travelled routes or parks? Or if you fancy going further afield, I was just in S Korea, and the hiking there is absolutely incredible, and definitely not a bro culture at all- it’s mainly terrifyingly fit old people!

      • The Rambler’s association is huge in numbers and incredibly owerful and the reason we’re legally allowed to walk through almost ANY field so I’ll always have a spot in my heart for them ❤️

    • PCT Through Hikers are obsessed with daily mileage and speed because there are hard time constraints. If you arrive at the Sierra mountains too late, your chances of a successful completion are greatly diminished as winter weather sets in much earlier at the northern end of the trail. Most of us cannot afford to take large chunks of time off, and cannot rely on the possibility of returning the next year to finish the trail.

  9. Great article. I’ve recently gotten into climbing and it seems like it’s a similar thing: this sport I’d assumed was just a chill gender-neutral activity turns out to be packed with dudebros who seem to think taking their shirts off gets them up the wall quicker.

    For now I’m just glad I have queer/female mates to go with… after reading this I will value them even more as I build my muscles towards my ultimate goal of being able to kick a grown man’s ass.

    • Yuuuup. I don’t climb with any straight cis men that I don’t personally know so I can avoid the dudebro toxic masculinity climbing culture. It’s real and it’s a problem. I only climb with women and queer folks, and so far this is working out for me.

    • Omg, yes. I have observed over time that the most showy of these dudes tend to be the least confident of what they’re doing, flailing all over the place, which gives me comfort.

      I am gonna put in a plug for Alpenglow collective (alpenglowcollective.co) as a place to link up with fellow climbers who aren’t cis-men. Mostly bc it’s still a new site and there are only 7 other folks registered in my city, and I want to meet more queer climbers!

      • ha so true, watching the Arrogant Man Shaky Legs is my absolute favourite

        and alpenglow collective looks very cool, thanks for the heads up!

  10. You’re so inspiring Vanessa. Your words and your photos are so beautiful!!! Thank you for telling the truth about your experience! I’m sure you will help so many others feel less alone.

  11. Love you Vanessa, thanks for sharing your words! Serious Talks Interspersed With Stunning Photos is my new presentation style, FYI.

  12. Thanks for writing this Vanessa.

    I’m not often the fastest or strongest but I do have a competitive streak and this did make me reflect on how I might need to keep that in check and make others feel more comfortable when giving those activities a go – particularly because one of the things I really like about community running events etc. is that all different types of people are out there to enjoy themselves, not just the super hardcore bros.

  13. This was beautiful written and the colors are amazing in the images. I am sorry you had to experience that. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for being you!

  14. I had a very similar experience working as an adult leader for a conservation corps. I felt guilty for quitting, too, but i had to prioritize my own physical safety and mental wellbeing over the work and the work culture, which was isolating and extremely bro-y. My immediate bosses were (straight, white) women, and I felt guilty by letting them down/being weak, but i couldn’t face the possibility of being the only women-shaped person out in the wilderness for two weeks with teenage boys and male fellow leaders, nor the physical and emotional danger of that isolation. The whole training and getting out to work and feeling that competition and fear of not being able to keep up was an eye opening experience, for sure.
    (This was two years ago and I’m still processing it. Damn I’m gay lol)

  15. Thank you for writing this, Vanessa. Speaking as someone who has been in and out of the outdoor industry for the last 15 years, I have experienced exactly this kind of toxic behavior, from surfers, to hikers, to cyclists. Part of it is the competitive nature of these activities, sure, but it also speaks to a larger issue of the culture of the outdoor industry being steeped in sexism, misogyny, ableism, and racism, to name just a few major problems. I’m so sorry that you felt so out of yourself on the PCT. It’s a particularly hurtful feeling of unwelcome. I truly do believe that nature and those wild, open spaces are for everyone, but unfortunately society, in one way or another, keeps those of us who probably need it most are forced to feel the least welcome. I hope you find your own people in the Portland area to go on hikes with, people who support you and who you can support, and always remember that you made it 454 miles of one of the most challenging trails on the planet.

  16. Thanks for writing this Vanessa. Sadly, I’ve had similar experiences in recent camping adventures. This helps me start the discussion with my camping “friends” in a way I wasn’t able to articulate. So, I’m glad you put it out there.

    Also, your pictures are amazing and I love those Dirty Girl gaiters! (I have the same ones.) Rainbow scissors!

  17. Vanessa, you nailed it. I hiked the PCT in 2015 and can share some of that disappointment in the hiking culture. And this is coming from a straight white male who checks basically all the boxes for the kind of hiker that is seen as legitimate out there. So by no means do I think I experienced the toxic masculinity of the trail the same way you did, but I think its existence hurts us all.

    I mainly experienced it in the form of social anxiety, especially in the desert section, which is the first quarter of the trail. People (by which I mean young men) were all vying for social status like it was high school all over again. I was taken aback – I thought these people were adults! Like you, I wanted to believe that the trail community was faultless, and I ended up believing that there were a few bad eggs out there that made it uncomfortable for everyone else. But no, your explanation makes a lot more sense – the competitive culture turned otherwise decent people into dude bros who talked up their miles. I was guilty of falling into this role myself. It’s just what one did, right? It’s what we talked about, all the time. And the magnitude of the thru hike disguised the fact that this talk was dumb for one, and worse yet, it mostly served to put people down.

    I’m really happy you posted this, and feel like it puts voice to that disappointment I felt towards pieces of hikerdom. The main critique I could vocalize at the time was a poor regard for Leave No Trace ethics within the PCT community, but I think it comes from a similar place as the toxic masculinity – a lack of respect, or perhaps a misplacement of respect. We were taught to respect big miles and pink blazing (not gonna explain that one), instead of respecting the hikers who picked up trash or hiked their miles slow and steady. I’m not trying to say the hiker community has 100% shit values, but I agree that it has some work to do.

  18. Vanessa, thank you for writing this! I don’t have a whole lot of nice things to say about Cheryl Strayed, but that entirely stems from her lack of preparation and testing (gear-wise) and how if she had bothered to do said gear testing it would have solved like, 92% of her problems (can’t do anything about that lost boot, however, that’s just bad luck). However I realize I am a goody two shoes rule-following stickler when it comes to gear but that is seriously neither here nor there and not why I am commenting.

    ANYWHO, I have several actual useful things to say:

    1. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Hiking the PCT is something I’d like to do some day and to hear that this is the community along the trail is extremely disappointing, although not surprising. BUT SUPER DISAPPOINTING AS FAR AS THE BODY NONSENSE! Christ. It makes no goddamn sense and should have no place on the trail. Can we make a queer trail on the desert side of the Cordillera and run it north to south and end it in December in Mexico and call it – stay off this fucking trail if you’re going to be a dick or body shame anyone! I mean it’s an idea and I will 100% map it up on GIS if you want (and test it and go on it with you – the wife would be down I’m sure) – I got all the good GIS/GPS toys/freeware

    2. I was in Yosemite in June of this past year on the John Muir trail (which is part of the PCT, everyone else who isn’t Vanessa), it was EXTREMELY difficult to navigate due to all the snow (and we were there in 2016 where the snow was already bad, 2017 was so much worse), the only way we were able to navigate up to Cathedral Lakes from the trailhead in Tuolome Meadows was using GPS and waypoints, which is a power luxury that thru hikers can’t afford, so, dickhead toxic bros and knee injuries aside, I think safety-wise you made the right decision as a solo hiker.

    3. For real, if anyone wants to design a couple month queer only hiking thing not on a main trail like the PCT, I have mapping skillz and tools and I feel like we could make this a thing. I’m a geologist and I know many trails that aren’t main trails.

    • Liz, Cheryl gets a bad rap for being unprepared simply because she had the nerve to hike the PCT before the Internet as we know it existed. I hiked the trail when she did and was nearly just as unprepared (I didn’t pack a saw). I didn’t know anyone who had hiked the PCT to ask questions. There were no Facebook pages, blogs, etc to gather information from. You basically had to do what she did, buy a bunch of stuff and go out there, figure out what you did wrong, and adjust from there.

    • I mean…you do know that we don’t like you weirdos….so you wanting your “own place” is exactly what we want, but if you’re willing to do it yourselves then, shit…I’ll sign the petition!

  19. Thanks for talking about this, Vanessa. I run in some outdoorsy circles and I know I’ve become pretty numb to the toxic masculinity that’s rampant in them. When I do stop and really recognize it, it makes me want to step away from the groups, even though I love what I do and some of the people in them. I hope you can find a space that lets you follow your interests without the layer of crap on top.

  20. I haven’t done any real hiking, but I have done long distance bicycle touring. The vast majority of it was with mixed groups of friends or my then-boyfriend, plus one short trip alone down the coast.

    When bicycle tourists see each other, it’s the same damn questions every time: Where did you come from? Where are you going? How many miles are you doing today? Everyone is sizing up each other’s bicycles and gear–are you a wealthy credit-card tourer who stays in hotels every night and has a top-of-the-line bicycle and clipless pedals and spandex everything? Are you riding an 1980’s-era bicycle with secondhand panniers and wearing sneakers and normal clothes with your padded shorts? Are you taking your time and stopping a lot or are you trying to do a lot of miles per day? It does seem like there’s less macho posturing or competitiveness among bicycle tourists, but maybe I just didn’t see it. The worst we seemed to get was a couple of drunk dudes at a hostel in the Canadian Rockies who criticized us for how much stuff we were carrying.

    Bicycle touring tends to have lots of women–but mostly with male partners, or on groups that are lead by another organization. Doing a few days alone was fantastic! I was doing a really common and popular cycling route (the Oregon coast, from Tillamook to South Beach), the whole route is dotted with state parks and mid-sized beach towns, I always had at least some phone reception, I was staying in yurts every night (kinda like cabins, and their doors have deadbolts), so it truly wasn’t the most adventurous trip–but judging by people’s reactions, they clearly thought I had lost my mind or had no sense of self-preservation. On top of the usual “you’ll get hit by a car” worries (which is a legit and reasonable thing to worry about), people assumed I’d be sexually assaulted. I’m not even sure if they had any logic behind this–exactly when and where did they think it was gonna happen? In broad daylight at viewpoints full of people? Someone running me off highway 101 and grabbing me and my bicycle, somehow, without blocking traffic or being noticed? In a state park campground where I was always within shouting distance of other people?

    • I’ve had similar experiences bike touring, mostly good. I’ve actually done a few days on that very same route on the Oregon 101 (I did Astoria to Depoe Bay). The hiker biker sites make it so easy in terms of deciding where to stay and also meeting other cyclists which I liked.

      I also did a bike tour in France, Belgium and the Netherlands and it was mostly good but also I feel like unfair to compare just because the cycling culture, and even culture in general to some extent, is so different. But anyway, people still ask about miles and destination and what not in cycle touring but I have found it to be less loaded. A lot of people are doing it more for the travel, and to see things, maybe stopping to do things for an afternoon or even whole days if they are passing through cities. The PCT seems very trail focused and that’s ALL you’re doing to the meanings are different.

      That said in bike shops and cycling in general there is still a lot of toxic masculinity too and I’m currently working with a feminist bike shop to help combat that. Exciting things ahead I hope.

  21. Toxic masculinity ruins the party AGAIN >:(

    Vanessa, I’m so sorry you had this experience. You’re amazing.

    Folks might also like to check out the LesBeInTheMountains instagram account, lesbeinthemountains_lbitm. This is a New England based group of awesome ladies that meet up for group hikes pretty regularly. Hoping to join in on one myself in the next few weeks….

  22. You’re incredible! I had been following your journey through Instagram and you are absolutely amazing. Screw toxic masculinity and the crap you had to deal with on the trail. But thank you for sharing your story and opening up these conversations <3

  23. Wow this was amazing. I’ve missed your writing and seeing you here on Autostraddle. I actually followed your blog posts when you were on the PCT because it was so cool to see a more non traditional person out on the trail. I used to dream of doing the AT but a new diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis has me sidelined and I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but your pictures and your words touched me while you were out there 🙂 but I totally get why you stepped away from that. And hey you walked 500 miles! And took care of yourself! We’re all proud of you! Thanks for your bravery and for opening your heart to us. Good luck in your next adventures. So glad to have you back on here <3

  24. Yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes

    I grew up with brothers who skied and was always into hiking and I thought something was weird with ME that I didn’t fit into the same culture in the same way that they did, or that others did. My pinnacle of adventure was a cross-country bike trip; when I failed to bond with others who did the same thing, or when my experience was one of checking my safety at every step while theirs was one of everyone being SO nice and SO friendly, I thought I was being a coward. I have compromised SO MUCH of myself to try and fit into the outdoor community, until I found my own small niche within it. But it’s SO hard to do that, because it is SO bro-ey. I stopped rock climbing, a sport that I LOVE, because I’m not 100 lbs and the community can be hostile sometimes. I needed to get away from the culture and back to the friends I have within that world. Sometimes stepping away is the best thing.

    And it sucks that you went out to the PCT to get away and meet more down to earth people only to find that the same toxic culture exists out there in the woods. Not to mention, hostility out there can be dangerous: you’re at the mercy of the people around you and if you can’t trust them it’s important to listen to that voice. You weren’t just afraid; you were in the middle of nowhere alone surrounded by guys out for their own satisfaction, and women who don’t get it because they fit the narrow mould available to women in the outdoors community: generally white, thin, straight, and eternally optimistic even in the face of sickening sexism.

    I’m proud of you for quitting, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone else. It didn’t feel good so you stopped; that sure sounds like self-care to me.

    Also 500 miles is effing magical.

    One last thing: check out instagram accounts like @unlikelyhikers; very fat queer and POC friendly. There are lots of accounts like that and following them feels like a warm hug on a cold day.

  25. You are awesome, thoughtful, and have great pics! I hope your story can help build a groundswell and that more of us can feel comfortable on the trail.

  26. Vanessa, thank you for articulating your experience and for having the courage to put it out there so that it can do good in the world. My partner and I will be on the PCT this summer (straight couple, 56 & 60 years old) and I pledge to contribute to a more positive and inclusive culture on the trail (and in life).

  27. p.s. I just read the book “Pacific Crest Trials,” about mental preparation for the trail. I think your essay, or a version of it, would be a perfect add-on chapter and should be included in their next edition (the book is short, so it seems to me there should be room for this important issue)–How about contacting the authors?

  28. Yeah, the toxic masculinity is so real in so many outdoor sports (and is one of the big things keeping me away from climbing even though I very much would like to get back into it. My unfortunate tendency to pass out if I am in a stationary vertical position is the other big thing because I’m less worried about it happening while I’m the one climbing and more worried about how it could affect my ability to safely belay someone else.). My local whitewater crew is much better than other areas because some of the most prominent dudes do a lot to push back against that shit AND because we’ve got several prominent women–not a 50-50 split by any means unfortunately, but more than many communities (especially for class IV-V boater communities). We still have a ways to go (especially re: racism because the local crew is literally 100% white people and also ableism but the ableism is…complicated to deal with because of the responsibilities a crew has for each other’s safety and is worse in small groups where EVERYONE might need to be helping in a rescue, and this is by no means excusing ableism, but that’s one of my biggest fears is someone else getting into trouble and me not being able to help when I need to; I’m way less concerned about my disabilities causing me a serious issue on the river most of the time (excluding remote multi-day trips like the Grand Canyon or some of the rivers in Quebec where the only way way out is through…or maybe a heli ride if you’re (un)lucky)). But really, my crew is my family, but slightly better because the Homophobic/Misogynist/Etc Uncle Figure is way less comfortable voicing his shitty opinions in my crew than my blood family because saying that shit gets you Uninvited To River Family Events and also because the river fam provides A+ first aid (including stitches and relocating dislocated body parts) that can prevent a costly ER visit.

  29. Vanessa, this essay was amazing! I regularly read your blog and thought it was fantastic and I admired how you could write these long detailed dispatches from the trail when I bet you were super exhausted and dealing with what you wrote in this essay. I don’t know anything about thru-hiking but enjoyed reading about your journey and was rooting for you the entire time! Thank you for writing about your experiences and shining a light on a topic that needs to be discussed.

    The part where you described men feeling like they felt understood for the first time on the trail sounds absolutely terrifying and reminds me of Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” It seems for so many men hiking is like going back to the great outdoors, reliving manifest destiny, like being a conquistador, the whole exploring and living off the land and being free to do whatever the fuck they want like it’s the wild west and pretending like those acts don’t have an extremely racist history. it’s fucked up to feel so entitled to land that was never yours in the first place and then they get upset when you try to “politicize” these things because it’s supposed to be wholesome. It’s so maddening!

    • With the utmost respect and compassion, why is a man having an emotional reaction to an authentic experience “absolutely terrifying” to you?

      Do you want to affect real social change?

      If so, I genuinely communicate to you that this type of “toxic” attitude can alienate those of us who are allies & supporters of your community.

      (BTW, despite your perceptions, a large majority of thru-hikers self identify as progressive/left-leaning, not as MAGA supporters. Most, not all, respect the land & practice Leave No Trace principles.)

  30. this essay was breathtaking. the pictures: breathtaking. vanessa… YOU are breathtaking. I love you with all my heart and I’m so proud to know you. thanks for unpacking all of this with us. <3

  31. wow, this is such a great read. this is something i knew very little about but i look forward to learning more about it in the future as the culture shifts.

  32. Vanessa, thank you so much for writing this. I’ve hiked 300 miles of the PCT in Oregon and have had a lot of feelings about my experience, a lot of which you explained so well here. I also love in Portland and am hoping to reinvigorate my hiking soul this year by getting involved with the Unlikely Hikers Community and attending some Queer Adventure Storytelling nights. Hopefully I will see you there sometime? <3

    • Hoo boy, I totally mistyped in this comment. I hiked 200 miles, NOT 300. And that almost killed. So you hiked over double what I did. In the desert. You are a badass. I also LIVE in PDX, but, ya know, I love here too.

  33. Thank you so much for writing this! I work in the outdoors and I’ve encountered a lot of this in my work and it’s so frustrating to attend workshops or trainings that I am qualified (or even over-qualified) for and to still have bros mansplain things. I feel like even anytime I walk into REI to buy gear for my work or personal use, I have to defend my right to be there. I loved reading the comments here as well to know so many others experienced this.

  34. Thank you. This was beautiful and validating. You are not crazy or oversensitive, you are not the problem, and sadly, you are not an anomaly. I’ve experienced the same thing in the hiking community, and actually decided to not do the PCT (at least right now) because of what you described. Toxic masculinity is not ok, talking about my body with your bro-dudes is not ok, using the wrong pronouns for me on purpose is not ok. It’s shitty and infuriating, and as much as I want to stick it to “the man” and hike the damn thing anyway, it would be a poor choice for my mental health and psychological safety. For now, I’m (mostly) content with hiking the many less popular, but still breathtakingly beautiful, trails that exist. For me, the hardest thing has been the fact that I briefly thought I found a community who got me, and then realized I would have to keep looking. Kudos to you for your hike, but moreso for your transparency.

  35. Thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry this was your experience. I am also made uncomfortable by bro behavior on the trail (and elsewhere) and I am a white male. I can only imagine what you truly went through. These men appear to miss the whole point of “hike your own hike.”

    This has been one of the main reasons I hike alone in remote areas and also why I haven’t tried the PCT yet. I tent to strive for that feeling you got atop Baden-Powell. That solitude, bereft of anything else besides being there.

    There are many great hiking people in the world, though there is enough bad behavior to force us to talk about this.

    I am hoping your article contributes to positive change in our community. Thank you again for sharing. I wish I could have met you somewhere on one of my home trails in San Diego. I would have tried to look as non-threatening as possible, wished you a good day, and happily left you to your commune with nature. I could have at least been one positive data point in your experience on the trail.

    Derek

  36. Thanks for sharing this story, Vanessa. It’s astounding to me, as a non-hiker, to think about hiking for 454 miles (I’m literally tired just thinking about it) and the impact that that must have on your body…and then coming to learn that the 454 miles of physical wear and tear is not the thing that sticks with you the most…that’s how debilitating toxic masculinity is.

    This is an amazing piece (the pictures are truly breathtaking) and, I hope, will begin an honest and open dialogue in the hiking community.

  37. Wow. How VERY disappointing. Thanks for the alert. It underscores my determination NOT to be that kind of guy. Its a shame more people don’t realize how special and unique each of us is on this challenging journey we call “life.” If we ever meet on any trail, I hope to be a man with respect and appreciation for all. You rocked it. MOST would never try and never succeed as you did. I’m proud to call you a fellow hiker.

  38. Vanessa!!! This was so deliberately and delicately written, while still being direct. There are so many quotable parts, but I felt like this was such a succinct all-purpose summation of why representation is important:

    “When we see representations of ourselves in the world, whether the experiences be small or large, incredible or mundane, fun or difficult or both, it makes us feel as though we can do those things, too.”

  39. I hiked the AT this past summer, and I can relate to some of what you said about the bro culture and the disappointment you felt in your experiences with some of the people you met. A lot of the 18-25 year old males that I met, especially in the beginning, were all full of piss and vinegar, high on a cocktail of youth, testosterone, and unbridled freedom. The vast majority were good kids, but I couldn’t get on the level of all that young male energy. I too expected to meet a lot more like-minded people, and while I definitely met some cool and interesting people, I made few real connections. I realized, however, that my hike was never about the other people. Do they enrich the experience and provide you with great stories? Absolutely. But thru-hiking is all about proving yourself to yourself and what struck me about your post is that you say more than once that you feel regret when you think about quitting. Believe me, I know it is hard when you are physically and mentally exhausted and are surrounded by people who don’t necessarily offer the kind of company or support you wish you had, but you have to hike your own hike for your own reasons. I realize that constantly being asked how many miles you hiked in a day, or what day you started can make the trail feel competitive, but it sounds like your own insecurities about your athleticism compared to everyone else may have colored the way these questions sounded to you. A lot of people ask them simply because the trail is the first thing they know you have in common. And even if they are being competitive, who cares? I guess what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t give up. If you set out to prove something to yourself and you feel disappointed about giving up on it, try again. You CAN do it. The greatest challenge of all is mental. I know it is really hard to shut off the noise, both external and internal. But it sounds like you owe it to yourself to prove what you set out to prove. Don’t give up on the PCT. If you can’t stop thinking about it, that probably means the trail has more to teach you.

  40. Hi Vanessa, thanks for sharing. I know it’s not an easy thing to do, but I am glad you did.

    As a straight, white male who has been working in the outdoor industry for the last six years, I have to agree, we do have a serious problem with elitism and exclusivity in the outdoors from the top-down. Personally, I hate it. I may not be a victim of it, but I observe it practically every day. Your account points to a real issue that needs to be talked about before it ruins the outdoor experience for so many people who could benefit from it greatly.

    Ironically, it’s usually the most inexperienced, insecure, and less competent individuals who exhibit this behavior in order to seek validation. I see it all the time, someone who’s eager to prove themselves will come up to me talking shit about other hikers, cyclists and skiers who they barely know. They start by judging someone’s performance relative to their own, then they move on to other petty things like their looks, choice of equipment or attire, and then finally, it progresses to judging other’s based on their background, race, sexual orientation…you name it. It’s unfortunate.

    The saddest part is that this validation-seeking behavior is being rewarded. Eventually, they find someone who is just as desperate for approval as they are and they begin to reinforce each other in this behavior. In the end, I think we’ve built a homogenous culture in the outdoors that is based on exclusivity and judgment. As a player in this game, I just want to say I am sorry you had that experience and that I want to let you know that personally, I am committed to changing that.

    I think the only way to get people to snap out of this behavior is to have our mainstream leaders and influencers in the industry speak up about it, so that people like yourself who are trying to enjoy their time out there aren’t made to feel awkward, but are celebrated instead. I hope you could find it in your heart to forgive these “bros” and pick up where you left off on the PCT and finish for your own sake.

    – Mike

  41. Sorry for your bad experience Vanessa. I must admit, I’m constantly amazed & frustrated by societies total lack of understanding when it comes to the concept of kindness and equality. I’ll never understand why people can’t treat literally everyone as equals. That includes: all races, all ethnic groups, all religions, all genders, gays, straights, white males, black females…. EVERYONE.

    Each day, people need to ask one simple question: Am I treating every single person fairly and equally or have I decided that it’s okay to single out one entire group because of the disappointing behavior/actions of a very small minority of people within that group? I promise you, every single group has an exactly equal proportion of bad apples (or possible good apples having bad days). No more labels. No more us against them.

    It’s time to wipe the slate clean and put everyone on equal footing. If particular people treat you poorly, deal with them or ignore them. But don’t take it out on entire segments of the population…. ouch. I just fell off my soap box. Have a nice day and try the Colorado Trail next time. I guarantee… you’ll love it and love the people on it.

  42. I’m so sorry that you dealt with this crap. Reading this really bummed me out. I hiked the PCT in 2007 and had such a different experience – one filled with joy and awe, and wonderful people. It makes me wonder, has the trail changed post-Wild, or did I (ever the optimist) just not see it? Was I part of the problem? I’m a woman, and a lesbian, but am also white, athletic, and an experienced backpacker. Thanks for this essay, and for the reminder to always be mindful of the impact of my actions on others.

  43. Thank you Vanessa! You articulated perfectly my own experiences. So many times in life when I “fail”, I come to realize the times failed me. Even so, it just seems there are too many roadblocks, too deeply ingrained to ever make true progress and despair sets in. Sharing our common suffering and injustices validates the harms we’ve endured and focuses my aim on what must be done. We must harm them twice as hard. I say the next “women’s” march (after we make it more trans inclusive of course) should be along this trail, like a critical mass type protest to ruin the experiences of the dudebros that did you so wrong. Bring attention through numbers. Imagine the headlines as 100s of thousands of us, free from the toxicity, complete the trail and stand united.

  44. Registered just to respond to this comment! The outdoor community in general is pretty leftist and inclusive. Conservatism is definitely the minority. I say this as an avid rock climber and outdoor person. I read your article. It really sounds like you just kind of gave up and in order to protect your psyche blamed this phantom menace of toxic masculinity; instead of trying to actually better yourself as a person.

    And that’s really the core problem of this whole social justice movement. It’s really, really easy to blame something else for your problems. It’s hard to actually go out and accomplish something.

    Best of luck to you next time, if you try something like this again. Maybe then you’ll be better prepared and you can reach your goals.

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