This week and a half I covered some good ground through Virginia, and finally passed from a somewhat boring section into a section with way more landmarks and views, including both Dragon’s Tooth and Macafee Knob. I hit a new highest number of miles with a 25-mile day, which wound up putting me into camp at midnight because I took a 4-hour break in the middle at a town to eat, charge my devices, and resupply. Right now I’m stopped in Glasgow, Virginia, to resupply and do my best to hide from a few days of intense storms.
Everyone said that the Virginia section of the AT is pretty flat, but that definitely hasn’t proven to be true. There’s been quite a lot of climbing, including some pretty steep ones. I also didn’t realize until now just how rocky my home state is compared to other places – there’s been several times I’ve had to put my trekking poles down to climb up or down things with my hands and feet. That’s pretty fun to do, but it can also slow your pace down a lot. It also made my ankles pretty upset with me because they had to bend so many new ways. Overall it’s been a nice little section of trail, and I got new boots and some new gear (including a pillow!) in Pearisburg that’s made me a lot more comfortable. My sister Cecelia also happened to be driving from Oxford, Mississippi to Roanoke, VA, when I was in Pearisburg so she stopped and took me out to dinner there.
This week also brought about the start of Pride Month. Although I’m usually a little bit of a stick in the mud about it, I did enjoy opening Instagram to some extra-gay content while being surrounded by so many straight people. I’m really bothered by how many companies use this month to try and sell us things, especially since none of them have done shit to help us over the years. They only started putting ads out when they decided that there would be more profit than risk. It’s all just capitalism. For that reason I didn’t go to NYC Pride for several years, although I did cave and go the past two years – once as part of a protest contingent against rainbow capitalism and cops at Pride and once just to get drunk in the Village and be out and gay in the streets. Even though the commercialism and crowding and cops and all the straight people treating us like exhibits in a zoo piss me off, I will be missing the celebratory atmosphere of Pride this year. They have started offering Prides in more rural areas such as where I grew up, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like timing will line up for me to be at any of those either.
Something I’ve been thinking about a lot out here is how healing the woods can be for queer people. I think that’s one of the things I’ve loved about the woods since I was a little kid (I’ve always been super queer). The forest doesn’t care who you are or what you look like or who you want to fuck or who you fall in love with. It treats you all the same no matter what, and it lets you be anybody you want to be. That’s one of the things I’ve been treasuring whenever I get time to hike or camp by myself. Of course, the overwhelming cisgender heterosexuality of the Trail and the outdoors community makes this a lot harder because the woods might not judge you, but people will. And if they’re not judging you, they still might not be respecting you.
Unfortunately, I’ve wound up in a weird little bubble on the trail that’s almost completely comprised of men. The trail is about 60-75% men overall, but for most of the time I’ve managed to have plenty of people around me who aren’t men. I often don’t get along well with guys, particularly straight ones, and at best I usually find them uninteresting. A guy has to be very special for me to really want to be friends. So, obviously, I haven’t been thrilled at being surrounded by them although I have made an honest effort to be friendly.
What this pocket of men has illustrated to me most is the different brands of misogyny present on the trail. A lot of these guys won’t even really acknowledge my existence until they realize that I can hike as many miles as them or farther and do it as fast as them or faster. While I sometimes get joy out of showing them up, like the pair that were shocked when they realized one day that I had hiked farther than them and finished an hour earlier, I firmly believe that respect I get should be predicated by my humanity and not my physical fitness. Many of the guys, particularly younger ones who are clearly from the suburbs, seem to be trying to access some sort of strange primal masculinity by being in the woods that feels extremely toxic. A lot of the time they get so wrapped up in themselves trying to enact this masculinity that they honestly make fools of themselves without even realizing it. They do the same things every day as the rest of us, but adopt an air of intense superiority as if their daily camp chores are somehow more “manly” than anyone else’s. There have also been a few instances where I’ve seen men out here hit on women in a way that made the women uncomfortable, which of course the men were oblivious to. The least toxic men out here are the older men, who I think feel humbled by often not being able to hike as fast or as far. Close behind them are the working-class men, who are much more laid back and don’t seem like they’re trying to prove anything. I’ve befriended more guys out here than I probably have in the past five years combined, but overall I’m underwhelmed and frustrated by the men on the trail and I can’t wait to get into a bubble where there’s less of them.
Overall this week or so wasn’t too bad. There have been some challenging points, but everything seems to work out in the end. I’m enjoying seeing how much I can do physically and still learning and growing on the trail.