I truly think we are our best selves in the wilderness. Until we aren't. I've heard people screaming at each other and seen others pull a Whiny Princess (okay, that was me). But most of the time, after a few days, everything falls away except for wonder, confidence and truth. People say hello on the trails. They talk between campsites. They spread out maps and share food. They smile. Would this happen anywhere else?
Before I married my ex-husband, we skied with some other people into a backcountry guard station. We took turns dragging a sled behind us, and it was slow going in the deep snow. The darkness fell and so did the temperatures, well below zero. I was tethered to the sled when my future husband made a bolt for the cabin. My other friend slowed to match my excruciating pace. "Are you okay?" he asked. The other guy was long gone.
This should have told me something.
In contrast, my first date with my now husband was also a hike (hey, it's a good way to weed them out, ladies). We trudged up a steep slope enroute to a backcountry ski hut, laden with chainsaw, tarps and other heavy stuff. From the first we were a team. One of us could easily have shown off and charged the trail, leaving the other in the dust. But it didn't happen. On later hikes, we have searched dry-mouthed for water in desolate landscapes. huddled under a tarp during an intense thunderstorm, and run back down a steep trail to make sure the truck was locked (me) while the other hoofed the two backpacks farther up the trail (him). Like I said, better people in wilderness (Although, he's pretty awesome outside of the wilderness too).
In the wilderness I believe we become a temporary family. I've been united with strangers in pursuit of trail locations and in scaring away bears. I've learned secrets: where there are hidden lakes and goat trails that lead up mountains. We swap information and cookies. Then we hike out to the trailhead and disappear from each other's lives.