I want you to picture the best room you’ve ever been in. It’s an odd request, I know. But there has to be one. Maybe it was in a hotel, on a cruise ship, in a museum, or even in the comfort of your own home. Either way, there has to be one, and if you’re struggling to narrow it down to just one, focus on one of these wall-enclosed spaces now placed into your “best rooms I’ve ever been in” cabinet. Now, mind you, a lot of people want to be in this room. But that’s okay; it’s capacious.
Drifters come in and out. On occasion, they’ll spend an hour and leave. On others, they’ll elongate their stays to months at a time. The word continues to spread to the outside, attracting more people everyday.
In this room is an elephant. But maybe this is in an understatement. Perhaps the prehistoric Columbian Mammoth would be more fitting, an unfair contender to the now largest mammal on the planet. It seems the word of this wooly beast would be one of the things discussed amidst the rampant gossip of this room, no?
Wrong. Very wrong. And if you’ve said to yourself, “I know what’s going on here. The room is hiking trails, and the mammoth is weed,” well then, congratulations. We’re on the same page.
What I’ve Seen
I brought a small amount of bud with me when I first began my insane proposition to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (seems less so now that I am virtually surrounded by so many others who’ve fulfilled the same prophecy, but really, it is pretty insane). I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured stepping foot on a trail in the woods with legal cannabis in a legal state couldn’t land me in much trouble. My intuition was that other hikers would either be diametrically against it or for it.
I was surprised (and pleased) at what I found. Sure, there were those who wanted nothing to do with it, but still these folks weren’t out condemning those who chose to indulge. My general observation throughout my four and a half months was that it was widely accepted. There even seemed to be a subculture of “hippie extremists,” as I liked to refer to them, who thrived off being high in the woods, not excluding mushrooms and LSD from their list of recreational devices.
What surprised me the most was it seemed almost half of young people (let’s say those under 35) routinely indulged, and three quarters were willing to indulge or had indulged one or more times on the trail prior to my crossing with them. I even stayed in hostels that encouraged the use, provided free samples, and took the drug as payment.
There is little to account of this in the media. I typed in “marijuana” in the search bar on The Trek, and nothing came up on the topic. What did appear were a few articles that had the word “marijuana” somewhere within.
Alternatively, I typed in “beer” in the search bar, and the page flooded with articles on the subject. On Google, I had little luck finding anything on weed and the outdoors that wasn’t already in a blog or magazine already denoted for this “edgy” topic. If you think like me, you may say the media is not accurately portraying, or perhaps even suppressing, this topic.
Before I dig too deep into why this may be, I want to touch in on how marijuana affects the hiking community (at least through my lens) on both ends of the spectrum.
The first, and perhaps most obvious benefit of cannabis in the hiking community is the economy. More and more states are legalizing and establishing these prolific economies, and it is now easier than ever to step off trail, go into town, and grab yourself some flower (or edibles, oil, whatever floats your boat). With these sales comes revenue for states. Smoke some weed, build a school, how could you go wrong?
I spoke with many hikers who claimed to find a deeper connection with nature when they had a toke here and there along their trek. I could relate to this, although for me the feeling of being so deep in the forest for so much time, ingrained this connection in a way that convinced me the drug may have actually had more of an effect had I not been there. Regardless, I’m not here to knock anything that puts a hiker more in tune with their element.
Counterculture is controversial. Some say it is a good thing to challenge modern society and its many layers. Others will tell you there is a reason society functions the way it does and has for so long, and these people are lazy bums trying to find an excuse to hallucinate all day and live in shacks.
But whether or not thru-hikers decide to use pot (or other drugs) during their journey, are they not already part of a counterculture? After all, what is more rejective of society than living in the woods for months at a time? I may even go on to argue that long-distance backpacking is the most established counterculture in the country, but that’s for another day.
All this aside, counterculture stands for peace and love, even if it hasn’t always accomplished this to a T. But as the rhetoric I use so often goes, it’s the intent that matters. I don’t know about you, but I was grateful for the laid-back attitude these “hippie extremists” were able to instill in me.
Ah. Here it is. The most beautiful element we have to the construction of useful ideas in society: the naysayer. Here’s why perhaps you shouldn’t consider using marijuana while backpacking and the negative effects it can have on the community.
On the contrary to the legal economies, pot is still criminalized and illegal in many states. You should not break laws. But you don’t need a 24-year-old old who works for a chicken wing chain to tell you this. Likely, your parents gave you their first lecture on this when you still needed help tying your shoes.
There was a load of spots on the Appalachian Trail where I felt comfortable pulling out the kit for a puff (when I had it). In other locations, I couldn’t walk fifteen steps without passing a family on a day hike. It’s hypocritical to tolerate cigarette smoking around children and not greens, yes, but truthfully, I believe smoking is an activity to be kept away from children at all costs.
John and Darlene (if you will) probably don’t want to pull their young children through a cloud of smoke on a day hike, and no one in the right would put them in a position as such. Kids hike too, and if you can’t keep your adult vices away from them, you shouldn’t be allowed the privilege of a maintained trail.
Of course, there are also always people who manage to take a good thing, light it on fire, smush it, throw it in a dumpster, and then lock that dumpster to assure no one can ever enjoy that once good thing ever again. This is the category I would throw “dependent” users into, or those who can’t enjoy themselves when they don’t have their THC vices.
They are those who I find likely to mooch off others in the absence of it. I met very few of these fellows during my venture, but I can’t deny their existence (well I could, I suppose, but what kind of a writer would that make me?). These guys (or gals—none that I met though) almost never had their stories straight, and they came off to me as less than backpackers and more of homeless people who used the trail as a getaway. This is probably why I never met them on the footpath, but rather at the lean-tos they tried claiming to themselves. In this instance, these people (and the community as a whole) would be much better off without weed.
So, Why IS THIS Talked About So Little?
Stigma. This is the only feasible conclusion I can provide you with, and it’s the same attitude that was construed by those who found it advantageous to construct it in the mid-nineteenth century (timber industry vs. hemp, satanic affiliations, a tool to racial oppression; if you know even the slightest bit about the history of marijuana, these terms likely ring a bell).
While there are still extremists out there who believe smoking a joint will cause you to kill your entire family with an axe, the most common fuel of this still remaining scar on an otherwise common vice has to be the argument of it being the “gateway drug.” I’m still waiting on some more evidence on this one (mind you, I think I started waiting when I was a junior in high school), but if you’re looking for the gasoline to this still smoothly running vehicle, this is probably it. Nevertheless, this stigma has worked to the advantage of a lot of people, specifically people of power, and as long as it continues to do this, it is not likely to dissipate.
Beyond stigma, the only other plausible thing would be fear of incrimination and condemnation. This is probably what my mother’s dreading rooted from when she begged me to change my prospective book title, Boot Camp for Stoners, despite it being derived from a joke within the novel rather than a story of idiotic pot heads. Simply put, people don’t want to write about weed because they fear what it will do to them or their work. Luckily for you, I’m not one of these people.
What YOU Can Do
Do not ever discriminate against acceptable vices (tobacco, weed, alcohol). To shame someone for the use of one of these but not the other two is grossly hypocritical. In essence, if you’re cool with someone ripping a dart or cracking a beer, you have to be cool with cannabis. It only makes sense. People aren’t ruining their lives with marijuana alone, and if you think someone is, I would be willing to bet a week’s paycheck there’s something deeper going on.
Follow the freaking laws. Don’t be that guy. You would probably feel pretty stupid for getting charged with a crime for something that already has a blooming legal economy elsewhere in the States.
Challenge the stigma. If someone you cross on trail has an issue with pot, talk to them about it. Try to understand why they feel how they do. Seek first to understand before being understood. And if you get to a point where you feel you can understand where they are coming from (make sure you do this first; they’re not gonna give a rat’s ass about your opinion if you can’t at least try to grasp theirs), show them your side of the coin. Enlightenment is a beautiful thing.
Don’t forget to still respect everyone’s wishes, however, no matter how hypocritical they may be. If someone does not want you smoking weed around them, don’t.
And for the people who love the outdoors but have never tried the stuff, consider giving it a shot. Seriously! Who knows? You might actually like it.
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