Once you finish a thru hike one of your first challenges becomes staying in touch with all of the wonderful friends you made on trail. Some of them will be really good friends, you have their phone number on speed dial and you have already made plans to visit them, wherever they live. But, due to the nature of the trail, you probably met dozens of other people whom you enjoyed immensely and you would like to reconnect with them… but how?
Trying to find fellow thru hikers poses a unique problem. Let me explain for anyone reading who has never done a thru hike. First of all, there is the whole issue of trail names. Pretty much everyone on trail is hiking under a fake name, which can be great fun, but trust me, it is not productive to search Roadrunner or Flavor Savor on Facebook. Even if you did happen to catch someones real first name on trail you probably didn’t get their last name.
Perhaps if you knew it was going to be your last time seeing a fellow thru hiker whom you would like to stay in touch with you could swap information with them, but one of the amazing quirks of the trail is that you can rarely be sure that you won’t see someone again. Heck, we ran into a guy in Maine whom we had originally met our very first night on trail! So you never quite expect any meeting to be your last, and then suddenly you are finishing your thru hike and realizing that you never got to say goodbye to so and so.
One thing that many people do after they finish the trail is they make their trail name part of their Facebook name. For example, someone would change their name to John “Buck” Doe. This makes searching for people easier, but isn’t necessarily everybody’s cup of tea. Other options for finding people including browsing through your year’s Facebook page or your trail’s Facebook page and see if someone you know is posting there. If you get really desperate you can just type everything you know about the person into google and hope something turns up. Best of luck to you.
So you have finally hunted down someone you hiked with and now you are going to add them as a friend. Should you? I know what you’re thinking, “Why wouldn’t I, I shared a crazy hard experience with this person, I want to keep in touch with them!” Well, from my own personal experience there are pros and cons to becoming Facebook friends with people you met on trail.
- You get to see what that person is up to!
- They get to see what you are up to!
- They might post pictures with you in them or their own pictures that you can reminisce over.
- They might post interesting things about thru hiking or might be planning on thru hiking another trail which can be fun to follow.
- If you are still posting things about the trail or future trails they will be the most enthusiastic about your adventures.
- There is really only one con, the person you thought was your friend turns out to be an asshole.
This can happen in a million different ways. Maybe they constantly post really annoying, although harmless, Facebook status that rub you the wrong way and make you reconsider all of your time spent together on trail. OR maybe they post extremely racists or sexist memes and it turns out that you two are on complete opposite ends of the political or social or ideological spectrum and you never knew it because those topics don’t exactly come up while sitting around a shelter and talking about what food you want to eat or how much you love your backpack. I have had quite a bit of experience with the latter example and I am still not sure what to do about it. And since I too post my political, social, and ideological opinions on my Facebook I am sure I have alienated just as many people.
I certainly don’t have a solution to this conundrum. Part of me wants to scold myself for not getting to know people better on trail because that would seemingly solve this problem; I would have figured out these differences first hand and vetted people in real life instead of on the internet. But then the other part of me respects that thru hiking is an activity that can bring all sorts of people together, despite differing opinions that would drive them apart in “real life”. In that case, maybe it is just best to let those friendships exist in my memory, frozen in time the way they were, and stop searching for fellow thru hikers online. But that too feels wrong, because now that I know what I know about certain people I am glad to change my opinion of them because the things that they say on the internet are hurtful, to myself and many others. It makes me realize how privileged I am, to be white and well off, that I can exist in any space, the trail for example, where all these other problems can just melt away. And so I go back and forth and back and forth, friending hikers on Facebook and defriending others who I can no longer stomach listening too.
So that is my advice on finding or not finding fellow hikers and adventurers on Facebook. Don’t even get me started on Twitter or Instagram…