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  1. #1
    Minimalist shoe geek dtougas's Avatar
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    Default Is thru-hiking like a big frat party?

    My family and I are planning on thru-hiking the AT in 2014. On a recent post on our blog, there has been some discussion in the comments about the appropriateness of thru-hiking with kids (funny thing is, the post wasn't even about that). Not for reasons to do with anything physical, but because of all the drinking, swearing, and substance abuse that supposedly goes on. Like a big frat party where everyone kinda loses control.

    This has us a bit concerned. I would like to hear some other opinions on the matter, to help us decide if it really is that bad, and if we should consider doing something different - more family friendly - instead.

    If you happen to leave a comment on that post, even if you disagree with what is being said there, please be civil :-)

  2. #2

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    You could start before or after the "bubble" and probably miss a lot of it. you'd hope folks would clean things up a bit if kids were around but that is asking a lot from some people sometimes.

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    I am not a thru hiker, just a weekend section hiker that hikes with his kids.

    The AT is not one big frat party at all. However just like any other place where groups of younger adults congregate you have that kind of thing going on. It is really no different than taking the family to the beach in Florida for spring break. Just don't hang out in the same places that the party folks hang out and you and the family will be fine.

    For the most part people behave themselves quite well around kids, if they don't, just hike on. Once in a while you will run into an anti social jerk (or group of jerks), but they are generally few and far between and are usually just townies hanging out close to a road or parking lot.

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    Personally I don't think drinking problems are from thru hikers as much as it is weekend hikers at shelters that are easily accessible from a road. Over the last couple of years on section hikes I have noticed an increase in people getting high at the shelters. I would like to think they wouldn't do that around children and I wouldn't be overly concerned about. Calmly but firmly express your concerns for your family and you should be OK.
    Pain is a by-product of a good time.

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    That element is present but way overrated here on WB imo. You can adjust by camping at out of the way spots. The frat boys and their kind are pretty much weeded out between Gatlinburg and Damascus for the most part. By the time you get to pa., most definitely the herd has been thinned out. yes, they are annoying but like the bugs and the rain and the PUD's and the mice at the shelter, you just have to ignore them.

  6. #6

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    IMHO- your concerns that you mentioned happen on the trail. Period. I doubt that you will find it to be a problem when hiking with your family b/c I think it's a somewhat rare occurrence. Certainly NOT the norm. I know of other familes that have hiked the trail and not encountered the problems that you listed or have dealt with them in such a way, they didn't become a problem for them. You can control many situations on the trail, if you stay alert. Now, it you attend Trail Days and go into certain areas to camp, you might not want to camp, with your family, in those places.

  7. #7
    Registered User kayak karl's Avatar
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    stay away from shelters and ask about hostels before you stay. some are party places, some aren't.
    I'm so confused, I'm not sure if I lost my horse or found a rope.

  8. #8

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    The heavy drinking is mostly limited to town stops and even then you can stay clear of that crowd.

    Swearing, there is a lot less judgement going on hiking the trail so peoples tongues are a bit more relaxed. Swearing is more of an etiquette thing in my book and one thing I love about the trail is a lot of the etiquette BS that is part of town life is gone.

    Substance abuse, there is lots of weed around on the trail. In the presence of families though most will hold their safety meeting in private, but there are some who just don't care.

    I have heard thru hiker season referred to as a mullet: business in the front and party in the rear. The crowd kind of separates into people who are dedicated and those who take too much time off in town.

    You can easily get by all this by camping on your own and avoiding shelters and hostels. In my opinion though you loose out on a big reason to hike the trail when you don't hang out with other random hikers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by yellowsirocco View Post
    In my opinion though you loose out on a big reason to hike the trail when you don't hang out with other random hikers.
    I find there are plenty of well behaved hikers to hang out with, so there is no reason to be reclusive, just selective.

    I will say the one thing you will run into often is smoking . I have never figured it out, but for some reason in the last few years the smokers have multiplied exponentially. You would think people hauling packs up and down the sides of mountains would be the last people that would smoke.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bfayer View Post
    I will say the one thing you will run into often is smoking . I have never figured it out, but for some reason in the last few years the smokers have multiplied exponentially. You would think people hauling packs up and down the sides of mountains would be the last people that would smoke.
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    I saw some "safety meetings" but not many. Saw a few who didn't care who they did it in front of but most were discrete.
    I think your kids will enjoy most of the people they meet and they'll learn more about life during your hike than a year in the classroom.
    "Chainsaw" GA-ME 2011

  12. #12
    Registered User Wise Old Owl's Avatar
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    Uh AAAAHhhh? crazy but there is camaraderie and very good people...You have a good question, but you need to form your own opinion.
    Dogs are excellent judges of character, this fact goes a long way toward explaining why some people don't like being around them.

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  13. #13
    Registered User Danl's Avatar
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    You cannot keep your children from learning or seeing these things. Your only hope is to teach them and hope they do right. The more you hide lifes lessonsthe more curious they will become.
    I start out the Day with nothing and by the end of the Day I still have most of it.

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    Minimalist shoe geek dtougas's Avatar
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    I am not trying to shelter them from the big bad world, but there are definite limits to what I would feel comfortable exposing them to. That is just plain common-sense parenting as far as I am concerned.

    I wasn't originally concerned about it, but after I started reading comments about another family's experience on the PCT, I started to wonder. We want to do this for the experience, and part of that experience is meeting interesting people.

    Wise Old Owl: crazy? form my own opinion? I am just trying to do my homework here so that I know what to expect, just like any other aspect of trail life.

  15. #15

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    Alcohol will be limited mostly to the towns, and in the south there are dry counties...the first town you can buy alcohol in is about 100 miles up the trail...the next one is hot Springs over a hundred miles further...so follow the rule of never camping near a road and you probably won't have any problems with alcohol...you will also eliminate many security concerns by never camping near a road...the locals like to camp and party near road crossings too.

    Other issues you might eliminate by not camping at shelters. That is where you're most likely to run into other kinds of problems. The fact is you're probably going to see marijuana out there at some point if you don't follow the above advice, and you might see some anyway.

  16. #16
    Registered User Donde's Avatar
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    Not starting in early April will cut out a lot of that. What partying there is usually happens in motels, or in bars in town. There will be pot around. I agree with the above statement to be selective not reclusive. i.e. If you stay at the Doyle you will see drunk hikers, if stay mostly at shelters, you will catch the scent of people smoking pot nearby, (unless they are one of the rare a-holes who tries to do that **** in the shelter in which case they be confronted). Really I think that's about it. I wouldn't worry, but I might start early.

  17. #17
    lemon b's Avatar
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    Certainly wasn't my experience. Not that I didn't have more than a couple a few times. Just at the time there really were not tons of hikers out there.

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    I think it would be a shame if you didn't take your family on the AT over this. It's not that prevalent and the benefits far out way the negatives.
    It will be an experience you and your family will never forget.
    "Chainsaw" GA-ME 2011

  19. #19
    Registered User Drybones's Avatar
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    I can't speak for up north since I had to bail after 414 miles but what I witnessed down south was fine, nothing I'd mind my kids seeing. Some hostels might be iffy. I didn't use shelters much but when in or around them there was not an issue, in fact, the best part of the hike was the people, met some really great folks, but I'm sure there's an apple or two you may need to avoid, which you can. After the first week or two the crowd seemed to thin out, those not serious went home. IMO it would be a great family experience.

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    I asked the same question a few years ago, it wasn't directly related to kids though, but https://whiteblaze.net/forum/show...highlight=frat was the old thread. Since that original posting, I have logged hundreds of miles on the AT and have found that everyone was right. You'll find some partiers, but the trail is what you make of it. It's easy to avoid the drinkers/ smokers/ rude people, etc. To be honest, I've only met a few and they were generally very respectful of my decisions. Most people asked if it was ok if they did __(whatever)__ or would just leave the shelter area and "go for a walk". If they were rude or obnoxious, it was my sign to move on. I imagine most hikers would be considerate and try to improve behavior around children, but you never know.

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