like, whoa instagram


meet virginia
“So you’re really blowing up on Instagram. How are you doing with that?” my sister asked cautiously.

I was sweating underneath a towering metal power line in the Virginia mountains when she called, just 2.8 miles separating me from a much needed shower, Pizza Hut and overdue Zero day in Daleville. Something in my sister’s voice made her question sound more like my dog had just died, rather than my Instagram account exploding to 11.2k followers.

“Uh, fine? Why do you sound like that? How am I doing with what, exactly?”

“Oh nothing,” she said quickly, trying to brush it off, change the subject. I had zero clue what she was referring to, but now I had to know, so I pressed her until she mumbled, “Just some comments on Facebook, there were only two! And poor Mom…”

Mom? WTF? 

I’m terrible at directions. I like how the AT keeps it simple.
Let’s go back to last week, when Instagram contacted me with a few questions about my thru-hiking adventure and asked if I would like to be featured on their blog, noting that, “features can drive significant traffic which has the result of quickly increasing someoneโ€™s follower base by quite a lot.” When I was Freshly Pressed by WordPress last year, I experienced the same thing, a couple hundred new followers, and it was great; I sort of figured this would be similar. Why not, really?

So I very carefully answered nine thoughtful questions and sort of forgot about it until I turned my phone on a few days ago and it immediately started having seizures. SO. MANY. NOTIFICATIONS. At first it was fun, watching the number of followers grow from 430 to over 2100. I posted a Facebook status update about my new “fame” because, I mean, it was sort of cool, watched the number grow a little more, and then blinked, shook my head, quickly realized I was just staring at my phone, alone in my tent, and I was hungry, so I went out to join Emily (who had long ago become bored with the number tally) for a nice hot bowl of spicy ramen dinner.

When I turned my phone on the next morning, I had over 10k new followers. 

The great McArthur Inn at sunset
I still hadn’t read the feature, I didn’t even know where it was posted or how to find it, which is why I was so confused when Tessa called, mentioning “the comments,” because everyone on my Facebook page had been extremely positive and kind and awesome, just like FB friends are supposed to be. Because they know me (debatable, I know) and for the most part, they know my story.

Enter: Internet Strangers

See, I grew up with the Internet. I had an AOL account in 6th grade. I know how easy it is to shoot off your mouth, post immediate, reactionary comments to things you see or read; how easy it is to hide behind your computer screen while you type these things, how mean people are, how ignorant and ridiculous the cyber world is, how vicious the cycle can get, and how silly it is to try to stop it…or worse, to reason with it. 

waking up in the clouds
But my wonderful mother didn’t grow up in this world. She uses the Internet for truly pure things, weather forecasts, keeping in touch with her family, sharing pretty pictures. She’s never had a reason to be a part of the cruel side. So, being the proud mother she is, she reposted Instagram’s blog featuring me, reading every new comment with pride…until she started seeing some not-so-nice things, things she knew, as my mother, to be very false. And she was truly shocked. And hurt. So she started replying to every not-so-nice-comment, defending her dear daughter from the cruel reality of the Internet, like an angry cat, backed into a corner, back arched, claws out, hisses for all.

Hey Internet World, you don’t have to like me, and I don’t really care what you say about me, BUT YOU LEAVE MY MOTHER ALONE. 

How I really felt after walking 700 miles
Immediately after I learned she was furiously defending my honor against the Evil People on FB, taking no prisoners, while I was happily bounding up and down the beautiful Virginia ridge line, thinking deeply about how many pieces of pizza I could eat and still have room for an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s (four pieces of pizza, five pieces of cheesy bread), I called my mom and told her she could stop, thanking her for being the best Mom.

While I am 100% aware of how pointless it would be for me to respond directly to these interesting comments, some of them are simply too good not to share. And since it’s very hard for me not to have thoughts on some of these well-posed, well-informed, extremely entertaining comments and questions, I’ll share those too. 

Besides, I can’t leave my Mom all alone in that corner.  

Tonya, Sean, Tessa!! Did you hear that?! Great news! We’re trust fund kids! If my Dad were a Facebook kind of guy, this would have definitely made him LOL. I had an amazing childhood, but it wasn’t fancy. We basically grew up in a three bedroom trailer home without the wheels and without the park. I shared a bed with my sister until I was in 6th grade and a room until I was 18 (which yes, explains the severe separation anxiety we experience when we leave each other.) My brother was able to move up from the concrete basement with no windows and join the rest of the family only after my oldest sister went off to college, a college which she paid for, like all of us kids did, the first generation of Kowalski’s to get a college education. 

We did not receive an allowance; my dad owned a ServiceMaster at the time, in which we were on the payroll as soon as we were legally able. We earned money cleaning hospital toilets, and elementary school toilets, and car dealership toilets (which I especially enjoyed because I could swipe the chromies from the cars and put them on my sweet bike…sorry Dad. I think that’s technically stealing.) One time my parents visited me when I was student-teaching in Milwaukee (read: working 70 hours a week for no money) and my Dad did open my fridge to look for something to eat, and upon finding only a cucumber, offered to not only take me out to dinner, but to take me to Sam’s Club for a resupply. It was super generous, but I don’t think that quite reaches Trust Fund Kid status.

So if I have a trust fund that you are holding out on, “Mommy and Daddy,” I could really use it to pay off my remaining $26,585 of student loans from six years of undergrad and graduate school. 

In other words, I pay the bills, I buy my food, I sleep in a tent. Yes I quit my job, and it actually wasn’t that long ago that I might have been just as confused as you as to how any of this is possible. But I had a goal, a dream, and I had to change my life to get to where I wanted to be. I started making smarter financial decisions, smarter life choices. It wasn’t magic. It didn’t happen to me. I made it happen. 

Well, Eric, that seriously sucks. I am truly sorry about your unfortunate childhood; if you knew me, you would know I definitely don’t think everyone is cut out to be a parent. I’m 34, and many of those years were spent in a constant struggle with the giant Menu of Life. I made the decision to not have children years ago, because I know myself, and I fear I would be more like your mother; I still have so much growing up to do. I am not ready to be a parent. That’s sort of the beautiful thing about life though…much of it is a result of the choices we as individuals make. You often get to choose your own adventure. And this is mine. So here we are, living out our life choices (unless you were forced into marriage, or wrongfully impregnated), but only one of us seems unhappy with those choices. And there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.

Because I like analogies and such, I liken your comment to me commenting on a parenting blog, one maybe about how a mother’s life was changed by experiencing the unconditional love she feels for her child. And after reading it, I comment, “But what about those people who don’t have children to love!?!? What about us, huh?” 

Or more simply, as my mom kindly mentions, I have no children. I have no husband. I left no one behind, because I have no one to leave. I am so. Utterly. Alone. *sigh* 

I hear ya, Mashall. I hear ya. Cute dog in your profile pic though. 
I’m fake!
Uh…Welllll…technically I am not homeless because I carry a tent on my back, but I will be honest, I’ve had those, but WHERE WILL I SHOWER panic moments after too many days out in the mountains. 

maybe career suicide isn’t such a bad thing
Even my mom is clearly getting bored at this point. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but I sort of feel that being able to take a mini-life retirement at 33 means that I’ve already “made it” in the real world…am I not actually sort of crushing it? In any case, Jackie’s attitude is kind of everything I hate about the American mentality. Work, work, work, instead of Live, Live, Live. Kudos to Tara and Michelle for seeing things from a different perspective.

Simply put, I have a great life. I know this. I realize how fortunate I am. I understand that so many people have so many more hurdles to jump over to get to where they want to be in life. I get that not everyone wants the same thing. But I also know that some people create their own obstacles, construct their own hurdles. 

The Instagram feature skimmed the surface of a very tiny portion of my life, and that tiny portion apparently rubbed some folks the wrong way. I’m okay with that. I believe in my choices. I love where I am, and I know that I’m here because I bushwhacked my way through that other fork in the road to get here. 

That’s good enough for me.  

McAfee’s Knob

29 thoughts on “like, whoa instagram

  1. your picture from McAfee’s Knob was printed in The Guardian this weekend – not sure if it’s you or Emily in it – anyway my dad showed a hitherto unknown fear of heights on seeing it! he’d like to know how you got back from the edge without falling???


  2. This post made my day. (And that’s what it’s all about, right…making MY day?) Thanks for the smiles, good luck with the miles.


  3. Tosha,

    I stumbled upon your adventure and your blog because of the Instagram post. I am 38 so you and I are fairly close in age. I am in college (FINALLY) and work a demanding full time job. I am previously divorced, now engaged, and have an amazing blended family with my fiances two boys (Deagan 6, Van 4) and my daughter (Claire 6). Like your blog mentions, my life is work, work, work and I try very hard to disconnect from that chaos of life as much as I can. Most of that time happens on the weekends.

    My fiance and I love to hike and camp. We live in Georgia so many of the pictures you took are areas that we are very familiar with. I sometimes don’t realize that the trails that we hike in the area where your adventure started are short sections of paths that others use on a much larger adventure. We actually just took our kids hiking for the first time this weekend. Even though it was a short hike the time together certainly was awesome. We find that when we get outside we always seem to reconnect with the world around us which causes life to slow down to a pace that seems manageable. Far to often when all we do is work work work and we find ourselves with added stress that just sits as a weight on our shoulders. Getting out, getting into the woods, and exploring new things really does amazing things for us.

    Your blog, your adventure, and your trip up the trail is an inspiration to me. It helps me realize that even though I may not have the time to go hike the trail (which I would love) because of my life, I certainly need to continue to find ways to live live live. Your blog posts and overall attitude toward the negativity from these people that know nothing about you is refreshing. Your writing is fun to read, your pictures are breathtaking. I am from Massachusetts so I am looking forward to seeing pictures and hearing stories when you hit the section of the trail in the northeast. I check your blog and your Instagram everyday to see if there is a new post. So to sum all this up, thank you. Thank you for inspiring me to work hard, not at work, but at my life to live live live. Safe travels!


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your friends and family rock. Alternatively, random people lurking on FB definitely tend toward the “suck” end of the spectrum. You’re dealing with this with such grace. I’d be tempted to be negative about it.

    You’re fantastic.


    1. Hey, I appreciate that. Trust me, I have to say some things out loud to myself before I write, just to get them out, which makes me feel better, but at the same time, allows me to hear how trivial I sound. You definitely fall on the rock end of the spectrum!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s the best way to handle the internet. There’s a lot of yelling in my house after I read certain things. It’s like popping an emotional zit. Then you can calmly reply to the silliness.

        And you obviously are fantastic. Don’t let the trolls trap you under the bridge. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So glad you and Emily are having a great hike. living life to the fullest and making every moment count. look forward to meeting you at the end of the great adventure. Safe travels. Emily’s mom. PS Ben and jerry will be in the fridge.


  6. Good luck on the rest of your trek with Emily. I am so proud of her too…living each day to the fullest. looking forward to meeting you when you and Emily finish the AT. Safe travels!!


  7. I was reminded why I liked you when you were thinking “deeply about how many pieces of pizza I could eat and still have room for an entire pint of Ben & Jerryโ€™s” ๐Ÿ™‚
    People only see a snapshot of your life but fail to realize it’s part of an entire movie. So many more good miles ahead! Perhaps down under, mate?


  8. Well said Tosha! I hope you had a good laugh at all the negative comments b.c I sure did. Haha there is always a reason not to do something…you have to be bigger than your excuse and truly want something. I make traveling a priority. I don’t own a fancy car or buy expensive clothes. It’s not like I woke up and said, “Oh, I think I’ll start traveling the world today.” It takes planning, saving, dedication, and determination!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Eleven thousand followers? Congratulations? I wonder how many dream, are simply jealous, or pick up the walking stick. It’s a strange world.


  10. It really seems funny after reading some of the comments that was posted thru facebook, that those who complain or have something negative to say about what you’re doing, are usually the ones that complain about their own lives and when someone actually does something remotely different that the mainstream it rubs them the wrong way. I always have done things differently than others and always getting comments about it. Hats off to you for doing what you’re doing. I have been wanting to do the same thing, especially hike the AT. If you look at what the popular sheep are doing then there is bound to be some goats running around stirring things up in the pen!
    I guess having a trust fund without any real facts is key these days than actually doing what you love and not what everyone else tells you to do.
    Have fun out there!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A patrolling I will go, a patrolling I will go, hi ho the dairy o, a patrolling I will go…. Like Goose said, “You got this!” Anyone that can scare off creatures of the night by barking like a dog, and catch a tent that is flying by you in a gale with one hand as you’re outside of it taking a nature break, well now, some nasty internet trolls won’t get the best of you anytime soon.

    How are the shoes holding up? Still the same ones you started out in? By the way, your mom sounds kind of awesome. I have that on good authority….. Love ya!!


  12. Priceless. Now you have MAJOR funny stuff to share with all the other homeless wanderers in the showerless shelters on beautiful mountains surrounded by tall trees and all the fresh air you can gulp. Lucky for you they get it and will appreciate the humor. March on!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Great post. Life is about choices and we all get to make our own. I don’t have a cadre of followers but get the snide comments about how “it must be nice” to not work and live abroad with my husband (who does still work). Guess what – I paid my dues (and for college and law school) and worked 18 years in a career that wasn’t the end all, be all for me. So yes, it is nice to get where you want to be. Good for you for figuring that out a decade before I did. Enjoy the rest of your journey! On Wisconsin (yes, I’m a fellow Badger)!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well Gee Whiz! I missed all the excitement. You are correct Tosha, I’m not a FB guy. You see I learned a long time ago, a few ‘Nevers’ that I still adhere to today. #6 Never – Never argue with a drunk or someone who seeks not the facts because they already know everything, (i.e. idiots) as it will soon be very difficult to identify the idiot or the drunk. The internet is loaded with equally good and equally bad. I choose not to partake.

    Now about that ‘Trust Fund’, just wondering about the hows and where this month’s transfer should be done………… :).

    Love ya, Keep on the trail..

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Well said, I felt so bad for Aunt Sue but she held her own. Several years ago I may have been one of those ‘negative remark leavers’ but one thing I have learned in life and from following you and your adventures is that anyone can do this. Yes anyone. Family or no family. You have to do more than want it. I am extremely proud of you and have learned more about determination and drive from you in the past year or so than I have in all of my 45 years on this planet. You deserve your amazing life Miss Tosha!


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