Get Rid of Your Hiking Instagram Account
Like all intense hobbyists, hikers start Instagram pages just for their adventures. Why not integrate it into the rest of your life already?
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From time to time, I wonder if my favorite fellow hiker on the Florida Trail is dead.
I began following this hiker—who shall remain nameless—in early January 2022. She’d started trudging through the swamps of southern Florida a few months before my wife, Tina, and I would do the same. She became our unwitting reconnaissance mission, letting us know about the dangers of hidden cypress knees and drinking Big Cypress’ chocolate-milk water, an unknowing guide who at least knew more than we did.
But also, we just liked her. She was funny and frank, swapping the steady sense of self-pity that so often emerges through distance-hiker social media for good humor amid even bad breaks. She found joy in gas-station pizza, brain-addled amusement in seemingly infinite road walks, endless intrigue in the oddity of what it is we were all doing. Tina and I both had the friendship crush that married, itinerant adventurers often get: If we were in the same place, we’d be buds, right?
Speed as we might, though, we never caught her. By the time we’d reached the sandy shores of Pensacola, she was on her way across the country to another trail we’d been eyeing. The same chutzpah soon appeared online—laughing at the suffering of taming the wild, as best any hiker can. And then, well, she disappeared into the oblivion of Internet silence. There have been no new posts, stories, or even comments in well over a year, just a bittersweet final frame that now feels like a sad wave goodbye.
So, again, I wonder: Dead? An AI-generated simulation of a thru-hike used to promote something I still don’t understand? A figment of my sunburned imagination?
No, I suspect, based on my experience with other hikers, this digital disappearance is simply the predictable end of a problem only slightly less pernicious than mortality or psyops: the Instagram account devoted only to a hobby, safely sequestered from the rest of that person’s life—“real life,” some call it. Name your niche, and you’ve certainly seen it, from rock climbing and record collecting to CrossFit and cross-country skiing, from parenthood and parkour to home-brewing and houses of the tiny kind. It is a way of separating life’s linear narrative from a more idiosyncratic obsession, from not boring other people with the thing that actually inspires you. I hate it.
It is especially prevalent in my weird little corner of long-distance hiking. Think about it: For four or six months, you slink into the woods, often atop ridges where cell service is surprisingly accessible. The trail becomes your life, the thing you think about most seconds of most days, and it seems to you the most important thing anyone has ever pondered. Newton and gravity? Descartes and the interrogation of existence? Betty Friedan and her challenge of the feminine mystique? Nope, it’s you and the Appalachian Trail, baby. Of course you want to post about every deep thought or uncanny encounter or major mile marker, multiple times a day or even hour.
Worrying that you are inundating your friends, family, or followers is totally fair. Do they need to know about everything all the time? Not really. And is it fair to prophesy a near-future in which a love interest or potential employer might judge you harshly for eating a bag of Pop-Tarts you found on a lakeshore, cavorting around town in clothes from a laundromat’s lost-and-found bin, or downing too many day-off beers in some trailside grocery store? Absolutely. Even at its most fashionable, thru-hiking is not often glamorous.
But you have to remember that most people in our world will never have the privilege, luxury, or opportunity to have this kind of adventure. As you traverse one of the country’s rocky spines or one of its deserts, you might as well be an astronaut, documenting a voyage into the alien exotica of deep space. Everything you post, from trail magic and hitches to shelters and privies, will be new to almost everyone you know.
I spend most of my time working in the music industry, alongside people who might get to the woods on a good weekend. The number of those peers who now ask me about zeroes or FKTs or blue blazes—in those terms, a hiker parlance they have gleaned entirely from my sporadically obsessive posts about hiking—astounds me. That is the target audience for your wild encounters with the trail, not some self-selecting group of existing outdoors enthusiasts. The easiest way to reach them? The rest of your life, naturally.
What’s more, those old friends and the new friends you will soon make on trail should, together, keep you honest. The liberation of a trail can be an opportunity for self-puffery, for presenting yourself to strangers not as you are but as who you claim to be. As your fellow hikers and, say, a fantasy football friend from back home follow along in real time from very different vantages, you’re going to have to be yourself online, no posing.
I’ve seen so many people, especially on hiking-only accounts, offer outsized projections of their life and happiness on trail, as though it were all just some beautiful fantasy of sunrise vistas and white-tail fawns beneath fresh white blazes. It rarely is. Life back home and life on trail aren’t that different in one fundamental way: some days are awful. Knowing your hiking buddies and your old pals are watching you in tandem will make you less likely to be, frankly, full of shit. It is hard to hide from everyone.
The most important reason, though, might be the most cliché. Long-distance hiking will change your body, mind, and entire life. It has made me more patient and empathetic, less quick to judge and more willing to listen. I am stronger and faster now than when I began, despite advancing age. It’s made me a better person, tempering the impetuousness encoded into my genome through senses of calm and steadiness. (As I type this, I do worry it’s inflated my ego?) You need to keep a record of that, and there is no reason it should be separate from the rest of your life. It is your life.
When each trail ends and you return to the rest of the world’s hustle and hamster wheel, you will inevitably begin to lose a little bit of the insight and openness you found out there. Scroll through your feed and find the image that helps, that reminds you of a situation where you learned the very thing you must muster in that moment. If you need to look at your hiking-only Instagram account for that affirmation, you might think that trail is the only place where life makes sense, that only escapism works. I’ve been down that rabbit hole, and it’s a dangerous place to dwell. Hiking can and should fit into the rest of your life, to help shape you into what you imagine you can become. That’s as good a reason as any to do it. Don’t sequester it from the story it helped create.
But as we say out there amid the blazes and trees, hike your own hike. If you want to start a hiking-only or tiny-house-only or grommet-collecting-only Instagram account, have at it. Just know that if I follow it and you suddenly disappear because, like, you just stopped hiking or collecting grommets, I will miss you. I might even worry. I might even Google you, especially for obituaries. I might even begin a hiking column in a prominent outdoors magazine about doing those things, knowing that other hikers you met along the way have told me they’ve done the exact same thing with you.
Speaking of which, if you recognize yourself in the description of my online Florida Trail friend, I hope you’re doing OK and that you are, of course, not dead or in any sort of trouble at all. From time to time, I still think of your glee upon reaching roadside Florida gas stations and gorging. If you ever feel like it, log on and say howdy. I’m still here, same account as always.