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Reader Poll: Breaking Bad on the Appalachian Trail?

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

I know this is distressing to contemplate, but there’s been some talk lately (in the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association Group on Facebook) about the increased use of Crystal methamphetamine and other hard drugs on the Appalachian Trail.

Have you encountered thru-hikers or others using drugs and/or abusing alcohol on the Appalachian Trail, in trail towns, or on other National Scenic Trails? How prevalent is it and how has it affected your hikes?

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36 Responses to Reader Poll: Breaking Bad on the Appalachian Trail?

  1. Guthook September 18, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    Whaaaaaat??? This is the first I’ve heard of this.

    • Philip Werner September 18, 2013 at 7:25 am #

      It was a discussion kicked off by triple crowner and author Karen Berger. Apparently there is a lot of hard drug use down south that spills off the trail and into trail towns that is unpleasant for those affected. I was shocked to hear about it, and some people take the HYOH (bury your head in the sand attitude about it), so I thought I’d ask people how prevalent it really is and what they thought about it.

  2. Matt September 18, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    In the south I heard several times that meth labs were the new stills, though I didn’t come across either producers or users while in the woods. Resupplying in Pearisburg, VA, I overheard about a meth bust at the high school that seemed to underline that meth is a problem. Other than that, I’ve met several hikers that smoked pot and several that had alcohol. Only once did large bottles of Vodka give me the impression the “thru hikers” were alcoholics aiming to keep their living costs low.

  3. Guthook September 18, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    Hey Philip. I just went through the comments on that Facebook discussion, and I found nothing more than rumors and a discussion of the types of highs hikers will get. One person said hikers are on more drugs than two decades ago, another person said “what kind of drugs do you mean, because when I hear drugs I think of meth not weed.” And then the discussion devolved into the nastiness of meth versus soft drugs.

    The only part of that conversation that said anything about meth use near the trail was someone saying “meth use was out of hand north of Damascus last year.” That hardly sounds like anything more than a rumor from one person, and I would have a lot of trouble believing anything a person on Facebook says without reference to a reputable news source.

    • Philip Werner September 18, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      That’s why I moved the discussion to here – to people I trust. (forget the reputable news…there’s no such thing). Karen has a bit of an anti-trail culture thing going. I thought I’d try to see if there was any substance to the issue given that I have a much much larger daily audience than ALDHA.

      If my readers have had experiences with hard drug users on the trail, I’d sure like to know about it. I’m not trying to stir up panic, just survey a larger group of people.

  4. mike September 18, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    I’ve seen some liquor and pot on the the LT but nothing more than that – but I doubt folks would be open with harder drugs if you don’t know them. It doesn’t seem to make sense – folks who use hard drugs would unlikely to be the type to walk miles and miles outdoors and camp considering how much effort and attention it takes.

    • Guthook September 19, 2013 at 6:51 am #

      This is pretty much the case, as far as I can tell. Pot and booze aren’t super detrimental to a hiker’s physical capabilities, but harder drugs would make long distance hiking very difficult. Meth has been a major problem in poor, rural areas all over the US since the 90s (especially the south), so it makes sense that a lot of towns that the AT goes near down there might have problems, but I’d have a hard time imagining that spilling over into the trail community. Hikers may be big ol’ stoners or semi-alcoholics, but probably not tweakers. The hardest drugs I’ve ever heard mentioned on the AT were psychedelic mushrooms, which are a far cry from “hard drugs.”

  5. Marc September 18, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    It makes little to no sense to me. The closer to this is a friend of mine who hiked Saint James Way (El Camino de Santiago) -Well, the last 7 days, which are basically a stroll through the countryside, sleeping each night in town- on what seemed a perpetual high, and, as far as I know, there are quite a lot of pot lovers on the last kilometres of this trail, but I can’t picture even marihuana smokers doing a serious trail, let alone hard drug abusers.

    • renegadepilgrim September 18, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      Speaking of the Camino….When I was a hospitalera in Santo Domingo de la Calzada in 2011, I had two pilgrims ask me where they could get pot. I was shocked. I’ve traveled all over the world and can’t imagine using drugs based on some of the stories I have heard. I guess since they knew I was from Portland, OR that I would know what the hook up was in town. :) Unfortunately for them, I have never smoked.

      • marc September 20, 2013 at 10:58 am #

        Then you’ll know what’s the thing about. The Camino Franc├ęs is not that demanding (especially from O Cebreiro onwards), and you can sleep under a roof each night, so I know more than one and two that mistook it as an opportunity to get stoned every day. But put them in the High Pyreneean Route, or the GR-11 itself, which looks more or less as difficult as the AT in the northern sections (Even if it gets higher) and I doubt they would last for too long.

        • Jim September 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

          Hi Marc,

          I know this discussion is about hard drugs… but I’m wondering what your credentials are as far as your knowledge on THC and how it affects the body. IOW – why do you think that regular mary-j smokers can’t do a strenuous hike? Can you supply some real-world rhetoric, or are you just being judgmental?

    • Dlew September 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      One of the biggest expenses on the Appalachian Trail is pot for those who use it. Pot is all over the place anyways and I knew a lot of people who would smoke before banging out miles for a couple of hours. Helps some people get into the zone. People into harder drugs like meth and coke don’t last long in what boils down to distrust from the larger hiking community money and dependence. You probably won’t meet anyone in Maine who is a habitual user of harder drugs.

    • Aaron Bennett March 8, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

      Not really, most pot smokers I know are pretty hard working. I smoke occasionally, and have done the AT in 2010 and am a combat vet. My friends that smoke are all married, have good paying jobs, and volunteer.

      Never saw hard drugs on my thru, just occasional weed and alcohol.

  6. RevLee September 18, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    I haven’t seen any evidence of hard drug use on the trail. My biggest substance concern has always been boozing by non-hikers near road crossings. There’s always been bad behavior by a small group of hikers in trail towns. Sometimes from drinking and sometimes from a self-centered “I’m a Thru-Hiker” attitude that a few develop.

    Now I have met a few hikers who seemed a little “fried” and spacey from recreational drug use in their youth. The biggest threat they pose is how to politely disengage yourself from a long and rambling one sided conversation.

  7. znara September 18, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    I have come across marijuana and drinking, of course, but the only time things have ever been a problem have been the use of these substances by non-hikers. Most of the time hikers are much more considerate about their recreational drug use :)

  8. Mr Pancks September 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I’ve come across a little pot-smoking, which didn’t bother me at all. Nothing more serious. But while we’re on the subject, let me put in a word for a dram of fine scotch at the end of a long day. And sharing it with new trail acquaintances makes for good fellowship. Cheers!

    • Steve M September 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      Ardbeg 10 – just as mossy as some of the trails I hike.

      • Mr Pancks September 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        Yeah! Or Lagavulin 16, like a peat bog on fire. Slainte!

        • Chuck Lafean September 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

          Always leave a little Lagavulin behind for the spirits…

  9. StephenM September 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm #


    A bit off topic.

    I have never been on the AT but I know you have spent time in Scotland, a friend of mine who uses Bothys a lot mentioned never use one that’s within 5 miles of a road or else there can be Neds (Non Educated Delinquents) having a right old piss up (and more) in said Bothys.

    • Philip Werner September 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

      5 miles is a bit far, more like 1-2 miles.

  10. eddie September 18, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    This is new? And they just heard about it? Having retired from the Sheriff’s Dept. 10 years ago, we knew it was a problem back in 1998 on the PCT and the Liberal Yuppies out of L.A. and San Franfreekshow, invading the Sierra Camp grounds in old RV’s to make up a batch or two. Same out in the Mojave Desert and the Salton Sea area. Since I have been here in Georgia it is well known along the trails like the Pinhoti. But then again hikers have been getting drunk and or Stoned and High on the Trail since it was built. Crystal Meth is the new green leafy vegetable and Alcohol replacement of early hikers. Now it is all about speeding through the trail. The biggest abusers and who keep the Dealers funded are generally women who use it to try and lose weight. Their easy to spot, lots of Acne is the first clue.

  11. prairiedog2013 September 18, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    I am currently an AT thru-hiker and have noticed that pot smoking is a daily occurance. We were in a shelter last week because of the rain, when fellow hikers pulled out their special pipes after dinner. We have seen this particular group smoking pot nearly every time we see them. I am sure they smoke as much in town as they do on the trail.

    In NY there was a group of young men who smoked a joint every time they stopped for a break or lunch. We even passed their stash pinned to a tree that was waiting for them at a road crossing. Pot smoking thru-hikers are very generous as we are always given the opportunity to share with them. We always decline.

    We have been surprised by how much cigarette smoking, drinking and pot-smoking fellow thru-hikers do and still hike faster than we do, granted they are thirty years younger, but still.

    I’m not sure about meth on the trail, but if other addictions are any indication, (because I’m not really sure what it looks like), then I’m sure its going on a all around us.

    • Mr Pancks September 19, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      About cigarettes…. I’ve noticed a lot of roll-your-own smoking among through-hikers on the AT. It seems to be part the trail machismo some guys acquire as their legend grows in their own minds. Which is fine, as long as they don’t expect me to breathe their smoke around a shelter. It’s no less obnoxious there than at a bus stop in the city.

    • Dlew September 23, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

      “I noticed that how many cigarettes I smoked directly correlated to how shitty I felt the next day and so I cut back some, maybe one or two a day. Then after a month of hiking, I noticed I was getting stronger and stronger and could smoke as much as I wanted and it wouldn’t effect me. Now I smoke as much as I want.”

      This is what a fellow hiker told me about his cigarette smoking as we were sitting in a hostel in PA. He had a light pack, and he could do 25 mi. no problem if he wanted.

      I think the real truth is that if you live the life of through hiker, then you can smoke whatever you want, drink whatever you want, and eat whatever you want and still make a regular 15 miles or 25 if you want to push. The amount of sleep that we get, along with a regular schedule and regular exercise far outweigh the negatives of poor diet, drink and smoke. I for one only felt restless and ill when I spent too much time in town and wasn’t walking.

      • Philip Werner September 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

        Do you think that smoking or heavy drinking doesn’t affect you because you walk a lot? Seriously? Maybe you intended to say something different.

  12. Stephen Outten September 18, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    While I saw plenty of “green blazing” on the trail, that was about it. I don’t participate but I never ran into an out of hand incident involving some weed. Now when you get a group of energetic and excited hikers in a one night in town mentality things can escalate quickly haha. It surely happens but i’d like to say that the group I associated myself with, had our fun in a responsible manner and didn’t leave a bad taste in any locals mouth. The same can’t be said for everyone though. Thankfully I never even heard a whisper of any “hard” drugs. That would have bummed me out a bit

  13. josh camp September 19, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    I live in Atlanta and do a fair amount of section hiking in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I think guthook and revlee are spot on with their assessments. There will always be a lot of weed and alcohol on the trail. The only other drug use that I have seen on the trail has been from “weekenders” using psychedelics. These folks are rare and have always been pretty harmless in my experience. Liquor stills are becoming meth labs in lots of rural areas but I honestly think most of that stays off the trail and I’ve never met a crackhead or tweaker that wanted to hike 20 miles up hill unless it was for their next fix.

    • Stan April 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

      Best comment here about this topic here!

  14. BAJ September 19, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    I think Mr. Section hiker just wanted to get on the Breaking Bad band wagon to drum up some hits. Pun intended.

  15. manuel September 20, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    I only been hiking in Colombia and Patagonia, but I know a lot hikers and truly hardcore alpine climbers that smoke weed. I was hiking 2 weeks a go in the Patagonian forest around a city called El Bolson near Bariloche for 4 nights. all the people in the town was asking me if I carry enough pot for all the hike, I was only carrying Hierba Mate to make some hot infusion. Dirtbags and Rock Climbers love weed I don’t thing that pot is a problem at all.

    Excuse my English.

  16. Peter September 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    Back in April on the A.T. we met a fellow thru hiker from CO. Several days later as we came into a gap we saw him being taken away in a police car. Other hikers there said he had had his pot mailed to a nearby hostel and asked that they deliver it to this trailhead. But an undercover cop delivered it instead and when he claimed it was his package, they nabbed him. We saw him back on the trail the following week. He said CO was more tolerant of pot and he only had a small amount. But we saw people smoking up regularly. It was my first time on the A.T. and it seemed part of the culture of the 20-somethings.

  17. Dennis September 27, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    I hike daily and smoke a little mj, usually, it helps with the joint pain that becomes associated with hiking, getting older and arthritis. Seems like the two activities should go hand and hand, now drinking liquor and doing meth or any other hard drug while hiking seems pretty dumb considering you can lose control on you’re faculties fairly easily on those recreations. I can picture an addict lying at the bottom of a cliff with a needle stuck in their arm and a glass pipe broke next to them. I’m not condoning weed over any of them because everything should be used in moderation but I don’t think it should be mentioned in the same sentence as most other drugs.

  18. Dave September 4, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    A year ago, which is right around the same time this thread was being commented on I came into the Glencliff,NH shelter. Pouring rain with a young guy pacing back and forth. He was from Texas with very little equipment. Talking, rambling and not sounding like any hiker I had run into. I remember my thoughts as I headed south were that he was high on meth. No way would I have stayed in that shelter.Let me say in general I don’t care what people do in camp as long as it is mellow and respectful.

  19. Phil February 6, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

    Discreet alcohol or pot use on the trail is okay. However if you’re going to do hard drugs please don’t use the trail while doing them. The Appalachian trail can be a very dangerous environment all by itself. Bringing drugs in the mix is a recipe for disaster. Bottom line, always be in control while hiking. Some of the ridgelines can be very tight even if they are wooded. One wrong step can have serious consequences.. Happy Hiking Folks

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