Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mistaken for Coyotes

C and I hiked up the Devils Gulch trail, deep in conversation. We'd hiked with others before, but never just us. I've been trying to find new trail friends, and we were having a good day (it was about 60 degrees. In January!).

As we came upon two slower hikers, they looked relieved. "We heard you back there and thought you were coyotes!"

Well, that's a new one.

Let me tell you this: when you are a nomad, sort of, and move all the time (my record for staying put is seven years), it can be really hard to make new friends. You come into a town and people already have their friends. They're not on the hunt for new ones. In a town of about one thousand people, it's like a diamond hunt.

Because you can always find friends to hang out at the pub, or maybe casually stroll the moraine. Trail friends are what I'm talking about.

If you've ever hiked a long trail, you know what I mean. There's something about the trail that lends itself to sudden bonds and a quick-setting friendship. In the North Cascades we met and camped for several nights with a man we knew only as Cherry Pie. Though we did not hike with him, we compared notes on possible campsites, left trailside notes, and looked forward to seeing him every night.


Trail friends in the canyons

Other trail friends are more fleeting-short conversations at breaks, passing by at water stops. There was Diesel, who paused at the top of the milk creek switchbacks to talk about his thirty mile day and how he was on track for Canada. "See you in Stehekin," he said, although Flash and I knew we were too slow; he would be long gone. We ran into Rags several times last summer before he vanished with a bout of giardia.  In the Sierras, the Archers disappeared into a thunderstorm after days of congenial lunch breaks and leapfrogging.

Sometimes those geographically challenged friends stick with you. Though it has been over a decade, J and I still mention our chance encounter on the summit of Mount Thielsen. I've never seen D, a friend of a friend, again since our hike on the Florida Trail, but the memory of her husband falling accidentally in an alligator hole still makes me laugh, and we occasionally meet up on Facebook to remember him and feel sad that he is gone too soon from a terrible cancer. So far, Camel, Buff and TC and I have managed to meet up each Christmas, and I tempt them with other possibilities ("you can get a red eye, fly all night, drive all morning and still meet me to hike!").

But what you really need is trail friends close by (and this applies to whatever you are into, climbing, running, whatever). Take it from a gypsy: It's not easy. You cultivate people like gardens. Some won't be compatible (like weeds? Ha) but some will. It's almost like asking someone on a date when you approach a potential trail friend. What if they say no? What if they have other, better options and dump me for, say, a day with their husbands (This has happened!)

But it's worth it. I've found trail friends to be the best friends I have. Honestly, do you remember the times you spent sitting in a restaurant with people? Probably not. It's the bushwhacking when you've lost the trail in the willows. It's the dodging of salmon guts and singing loudly to avoid bear encounters on a 16 mile run with Ken that I still remember. Lying in a row looking at stars in the Texas desert. And, now, being mistaken for coyotes.

No coyotes here (and no snow either)

Tell me about your trail friends! Was it hard to find them? Do you have same time, next year trail friends like I do?

14 comments:

  1. I met nearly all of my hiking friends from one co-worker. He was a Mazama climb leader, and arranged group hikes nearly every weekend. I met so many great people through my friend, and have lots of hiking/skiing buddies now. The only problem now? Almost all of those folks are retired, and hike a lot of weekdays, when I'm stuck in the office.

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  2. I have the same issue! "Can you go Monday?" Nope. "Tuesday?" Nope.

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  3. Another roller derby name? Coyote Commander.

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  4. At the end of 2008 an outdoor adventure meetup group was formed in my community. I call that group my Field of Dreams as I met so many new friends with like interests. I love that I can post an invite tonight for a hike tomorrow and can almost always count on a few to join me.

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    1. That's an advantage of living in a bigger place. Can't see that happening here. On the other hand I can hike a trail if I want to be solo and not see a soul. Tradeoffs I guess!

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  5. I have just started feeling like I have a posse of ladies to hit the trail with, and after YEARS of wanting that, it is so nice! I have one solid, reliable friend, but she works Sat & Mondays now, 24 hr shifts, so we really only have off Sundays together. But recently I have been a part of a few good group hikes! I have hopes that at least some of those women will become reliable trail friends--in a town like this, people seem to come and go pretty quickly, so you never quite know...but I'm hopeful. And I'll at least appreciate it for now!!

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    1. I wish I still lived there sometimes. We never overlapped!

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  6. Reduced to "J", hmm... John

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    1. I don't like to put real names on here unless people tell me it is okay. Privacy you know, J! Some people get huffy.

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  7. I met my best Sitka hiking buddy when I took a community college Spanish class from her.

    Gavin HIll was always an easy option since the trail head was between our houses. When doing a quick up-and-back it's a good test of how goal oriented a person is: Can you turn-around right before the top of the ridge?!

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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  8. I agree! All of my most memorable friend adventures include bushwhacking, crappy weather, and/or wildlife encounters. I find dinners with friends to be awkward and uncomfortable.

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