This week I went from Hot Springs, NC to Roan Mountain, TN with a stop in Erwin, TN, which added up to around 120 miles. The terrain was a little tougher than last week, with lots of climbing and extremely rocky sections. There were a few places I had to throw my trekking poles ahead of me and climb with hands and feet. We also hit a few rainy days, and those always make everything harder. Through this section we hit an increasing number of balds, which are basically spots where the top of a mountain has grass instead of trees on it but nobody is entirely certain why. They’re really beautiful and usually have great views, unless of course it’s cloudy or raining. If it’s raining it’s much worse to be on a bald because it’s creepy and misty and extremely windy. Every time it happens it makes me think of the scene in Lord of the Rings where they’re in the marsh full of dead bodies. I also climbed Roan Mountain, one of the highest mountains on the trail, but unfortunately it was storming so I didn’t get to enjoy it.
I put in some good miles this week, but I had some rough days too. I lost half a day of hiking (and $30) because I sent a package to an inconvenient post office and USPS wouldn’t forward it somewhere else for me (even though they’re supposed to). My ankles started swelling up and have been causing me a little pain, which doesn’t seem serious but can get annoying. I also camped alone for the first time in my life, which made me a little nervous at first but was actually really refreshing. There are so many people on the AT that it’s rare to get a camping spot all to yourself unless you work really hard at it.
Although things have overall been pretty good, I’ve definitely been struggling with being trans out here. If you weren’t aware, I’m non-binary, which basically just means I’m not a man or a woman, and I identify as transgender. If you want to learn more, you can read a longer explanation here. I meet so many people, often not knowing whether or not I’ll ever see them again, that I don’t wind up telling most people. It takes a lot of energy and investment to have that conversation with people, especially if I have to explain being non-binary to them. Explaining can be really, really exhausting even when people react in the best possible way, and often their reactions are less than ideal. Besides the people I haven’t told, there are a number of people I’ve told who don’t make much of an effort to get my pronouns or gender right (I can basically always tell). That’s also really frustrating and makes it even harder for me to tell others. Because of this confluence of factors, basically everyone on the trail winds up assuming that I’m a woman, which doesn’t feel good. The same thing happens to me frequently off of the trail as well, but somehow it feels different out here. I think it’s because everything is so much more exposed because the trail is it’s own semi-isolated world, and because I don’t have as many friends around to retreat to. I’ve been trying to not get down about it, but it does sometimes make me really upset. Sometimes I wind up just wanting to be alone because having to deal with all of it wears me out.
Although I’ve had difficulties with coming out to people here, I’ve been trying to make it a point to tell people that I see regularly or that I feel like I can trust with it. I find it really difficult to bring up most of the time because it feels like something that I’m forcing on people even though I know full well that I deserve to be gendered correctly and that people need to learn how to do it. It’s also really difficult for me to correct people when they use the wrong pronouns because it can feel pushy, and also because people sometimes react defensively. There are a lot of things that I can be pushy about, but advocating for myself has always been incredibly difficult for me. When I first came out as trans to my close friends, I actually had a friend who told most people for me so that it would be easier. I really just need someone to do that for me out here, including correcting everyone when they misgender me. The difficulty I have in standing up for myself sometimes makes me feel very small for letting people treat me that way, even though I know my trepidation is totally valid. One of my goals for a long time has been getting better at gender self-advocacy, and it’s definitely been a challenge out here.
However, on the bright side, I did make one friend (shoutout to Honeybun) who I came out to immediately upon meeting and who almost always got my pronouns right, and corrected herself every time when she didn’t. I have also been able to have some good conversations with other people that have hopefully broadened their horizons some. One of my hopes for being out here was actually that I would get the chance to educate some people, and I feel like I’ve done that – just maybe not quite as much as I’d like.
There have been a lot of challenges lately, but I feel like I’ve been able to continue growing out here. Trail life has very much normalized and settled in, and I’m continuing to figure out how to handle things like my transness out here. Even despite those difficulties, I’ve still been enjoying my hike. This week I’ll be hiking back into my home state of Virginia and hitting Damascus for the Trail Days festival!
I made a fire to celebrate my first night camping alone.