AT Thru-Hike Lessons Learned #2: Being Sober and Trans on Trail

Here’s my post-Appalachian Trail thru-hike reflections on being sober and trans on trail. I know

Here’s my post-Appalachian Trail thru-hike reflections on being sober and trans on trail. I know my experience isn’t universal, but if you are sober and/or trans and considering hiking the AT, I hope you find these helpful!

Here’s a pic of me being trans AND not drinking while thru-hiking the AT!

I had been sober about 3 and a half years when I started my thru-hike. Under “normal” circumstances, I work on my recovery almost daily with a mix of attending 12-step recovery meetings, staying in touch with my sponsor, and meeting with sponsees and friends in recovery. While on trail, this routine looked different. I could have opted to put all of my recovery practices on hold, but I knew that would lead to a decline in the strength of my recovery at best or a relapse at worst, so I came up with a sobriety “gameplan”.

Schedule times to talk with my recovery supports

  • Whether it be my sponsor, my sponsees, or just other sober friends, staying in touch with people who are aware and supportive of my recovery was so important. It felt easy to say “I don’t have time for this” or “I never have good enough cell service and WiFi” but the reality is that sometimes I did, like when I took Zero/Nero days in town.
  • If I knew I would be in a town and have wifi at a hotel or hostel a few days in advance, I scheduled a call with one of my recovery supports via text. That way when I got into town, I was able to plan logistics around my phone calls, not the other way around. Those conversations with my recovery supports helped me feel balanced and able to deal with stressors that arise on trail.

Be of service to others while on trail

  • I continued to meet with my sponsees and worked on stepwork with them when possible. Even if it’s once a month, finding ways to be useful to others, especially other alcoholics, helped me stay on an even keel.

Attend meetings online and in-person

  • This is where I feel I needed the most improvement. As a result of the pandemic, there are so many online recovery meetings on Zoom and other platforms. If you want links to searchable databases of online and in-person recovery meetings, please DM me on Instagram @seltzerskelter and I’m happy to provide them. I found myself dragging my feet on attending online meetings and in-person meeting and while on trail I only attended a few.
  • Meetings provide me with a sense of community, and constant reminders of why and how recovery is relevant to my life even (and especially) while on trail. I think of attending meetings like adding a brick to my “wall of recovery” that stands between me and relapse. Each meeting you attend adds a brick, but when you stop attending, the bricks start being removed one by one. For me, not attending recovery meetings doesn’t necessarily lead to relapse, but over time I felt it take a toll on my overall feelings of “recovery” and mental health. That being said I plan to prioritize meetings more on future thru-hikes.

By doing my best to adhere to this gameplan, I was able to stay sober and maintain the meaningful connections with my sober friends and loved ones. I certainly wasn’t perfect in my adherence to this gameplan, but as many of y’all know, it’s about progress, not perfection <3

Drinking Culture and Being Offered Drinks

  • As far as the drinking/drug culture on the AT goes, it certainly exists! It’s common for people to drink whenever they get in to towns, bring weed out on trail with them, take other drugs as they can find them etc. The cool thing though, is that you get to choose whether or not you want to be a part of that culture. There are tons of people on trail who don’t drink or use drugs to excess, so if that’s your crowd, you’ll have no problem finding like minded people.
  • I was offered alcohol a bunch of times on trail, so prepare yourself for that. People are friendly and want to share their drinks, and that’s really cool of them. I usually just politely said “No thanks, I’m good” or “I’m all set, thanks for the offer”. You don’t need to launch into a whole story about your addiction and why you don’t drink. Even if you feel like you need to justify yourself, trust me, you don’t!

I’ve received tons of messages from transgender and cisgender people alike wondering what it was like to be trans as an AT thru-hiker. Before I left, I listed being misgendered and dealing with transphobia as two of my biggest “fears” on trail. The reality is that yes, I experienced both of those things. Here’s answers to a few common questions:

Were you misgendered often?

  • Yes, I was misgendered somewhat often by hikers and townsfolk alike. I don’t blame them though and I did my best not to take it personally. For me, it all comes down to intent, and I don’t think most people were trying to invalidate me… and even if they were, I’ve worked hard over years to build up my own sense of self so that people’s validation (or lack thereof) doesn’t impact my self-worth as much as it used to. I’ll always advocate for people developing trans competence, but it doesn’t serve me to stop living and growing while I wait for the world to change.

Were people respectful of your pronouns once they knew them?

  • Yes! If someone misgendered me and I (or someone else) corrected them, I always felt that they made their best effort to get my pronouns correct afterwards, even if they messed up again. Depending on the circumstances, I didn’t always correct people, like if it’s a service worker who I was only going to see once, it’s unlikely I would correct them as it didn’t feel worth it to me to have the conversation. However, I corrected people I expected to continually see on the trail as long as I felt comfortable doing so.

Did you run into lots of transphobia on trail?

  • Instances of blatant transphobia were few and far between. One instance was a thru-hiker who made a rude and pointed comment to me and my hiking partner, where it was clear his intent was to misgender us both. I responded my firmly correcting him, and he backed down after that. A second instance that I wrote about recently, happened while I was hitchhiking and the men who pulled over to offer a ride directed a transphobic insult at me, at which point I refused the ride and kept walking.

Was it difficult taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) medication on trail?

  • No, but I did have to tailor the medications, dosages and and administration methods with my doctor’s support to fit my needs. For instance, I stopped taking spironolactone, my anti-androgen. I did this because spironolactone is a diuretic and I didn’t want to risk chronic dehydration on trail. As a result, by the end of the trip I noticed body hair growing back slightly more rapidly than it would have if I was on the anti-androgen. Secondly, prior to my thru-hike I took injectible estrogen, but using needles and keeping them sterile on trail would have been a huge issue, so I opted to switch to estradiol (AKA estrogen pills) instead,

How did you express your gender on trail?

  • The majority of outdoor clothing companies manufacture clothing that is lightly feminine at best, tending more towards androgynous. Therefore, as a somewhat femme trans woman, I take it upon myself to include femininity into my appearance through jewelry, fun and feminine hair dyes, finger and toe nail painting, and shaving my legs when I have the opportunity.

Were there other trans people on trail?

  • Yes! There wasn’t a ton of us, but the number certainly isn’t zero. I personally met a handful trans folks (that I know of) while on trail and I’m in contact with other trans folks on trail whom I haven’t met in person. If you’re trans and thru-hiking in the future, I suggest trying to connect via social media and start a group chat with other trans hikers that year so people have a place to ask questions, vent when issues arise, and build community.

As always, thanks for reading. All I can speak for are my own experiences, so I’d love to hear what people have to add as far as tips and stories. Follow me on Instagram @seltzerskelter and subscribe to future posts on The Trek by visiting my author page!

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