Sunday, April 9, 2017

Talking with strangers on trails

I climbed out of the Grand Canyon, super annoyed. I don't know why, but sometimes people unaware of trail etiquette really bug me. Obviously if someone is puffing their way upward, you don't barge toward them when you are going downhill in a game of chicken. (There are exceptions. Hiking in Sedona last week there were some people who were obviously having a hard time picking their way downhill. We stopped to let them by.) I also don't like people right on my heels, or when you pass someone and they slow down, necessitating a game of leapfrog.

There was also Daypack Dude, whom I encountered at the Tip-off on the South Kaibab. He spotted me approaching from the East Tonto and made it his mission to keep ahead of me at all costs. Seriously, it's not a race. So, I wasn't overly thrilled about running into a big crowd as I topped the rim.

But then I saw a family emerging from a shuttle bus. They were your typical rim tourists, clad in fleece and improper shoes, without water. But the man, who had sprinted ahead, was returning to his family with a look of complete joy on his face. "IT'S THE CANYON!" he screamed. "WE CAN WALK IN THE CANYON!!!" (I guess he had thought you could only look at it.) How could you not love that enthusiasm?

There's something about being on trails  that makes me want to talk to other travelers. I don't normally do small talk in other circumstances. I spend nearly ten hours a day glued to a phone with strangers in my real job, so I don't feel like it on planes or buses or trains. (Though a guy did invite me to go to Mexico with him on my last plane trip. Hmm.)

Trails though. There's where I meet my tribe. I have met some true characters and had great conversations in passing on trails. I've met many a lifelong trail friends this way--Skeeter, Cherry Pie,  Buff, Camel and Short Cut. Where else would I have met a Frenchman in his 60s except on a trail?  There are others I will never see again but will never quite forget. There's something about backpacking that seems to revert people to their true selves. I've never found it anywhere else. It's not like I'm a different person, maybe just a better one, the one I was meant to be.

Do you talk to people on trails? Ever met a lifelong friend that way?

20 comments:

  1. No life long friendships made, but Its always lovely to have a chat on trail, especially if the hiker is from another country, which so often happens here in our rainforests.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I think about it, my friendships have come about by seeing the same people for a few days. It's a bit harder on day hikes I imagine.

      Delete
  2. This is one of the first things that amazed me way back during one of our first hikes up Hurricane. You talked to people on the trail. I didn't know people stopped and had small conversations on the trail. Since then I've encourage my kids to always say "Hi". They're not expected to carry on a conversation, but at the very least they will say "Hi".
    I'll never forget our hike to Bonney Lk. "Do you two ladies belong to the llamas down the trail?" It was more than a "Hi". I often wonder if they really thought two ladies in hiking skirts belonged to the llamas.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Typo?

    "...or when you pass someone and they slow down, necessitating a game of leapfrog."

    Should it be "...when someone passes you..."?

    Delete after reading since it won't make sense to later readers! --Tom, Fairbanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People don't pass me, Tom. :) You are right, typically the scenario is that I come upon someone taking a break and they leap to their feet so I let them go by. Then they slow down. Something like that? Occasionally people do pass me though. :)

      Delete
  4. I suspect your being out on the trails as part of your job helped make you a good trail-talker.

    Tom
    Fairbanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, as a ranger I had to chat everyone up whether I felt like it or not.

      Delete
  5. I'm far more outgoing when I'm out hiking around in the backcountry...perhaps it's just because out there in the middle of nowhere offers less social interaction than what I need (while everyday existence gives me more than what I need), or perhaps it's just easier to start and continue discussions when you have easy conversation starters (how's the view up at the pass? where are you headed? etc...). It may also be that people out backpacking around have already passed the first test by being out there -- that they're not boring and you know you have some common interests :)

    I've met some pretty interesting people while out backpacking or while on longer backpacking trips. While doing some longer trips in the past, I've felt like I started collecting interesting people. I never seem to keep in touch, but my life is definitely enriched by those characters that aren't the same as those you meet in normal existence, and where our paths may have crossed for only a matter of minutes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you are right about the test....someone is much less likely to try to engage you in a conversation about rivets...which happened to me on a plane once...

      Delete
  6. My most recent experience was when I met Holly while hiking in Olympic Peninsula last May. She had turned around upon reaching snow as she had limited experience on such terrain. She joined me and I taught her lots about snow hiking. We hung out for a few hours and became social media friends.

    Fast forward a year and we shared a week of adventuring in Utah.

    Talking to strangers on trail is indeed a good thing :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are the queen of this! I admire your ability to make instant friends.

      Delete
  7. I guess I've made two friends whom I first met on the trail. One is a guy who was hiking a section of the Long Trail while I was through hiking it, and we ended up at the same shelter several nights. We've hiked together a few times since then as well, but not recently as he's moved away. The other was a woman who would mountain bike on the same trails near my home that I'd hike, and eventually after meeting a few times we talked occasionally, and then once when she was injured from a fall off her bike I ran into her while she was hiking and we hiked together and got to know each other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice! (not that she got injured in a fall, but that you got to hike together).

      Delete
  8. Hi Mary, I don't do much of the hiking you do but, my likes and dislikes is in snowmachining. I tend to communicate with the old timers such as myself. We pretty know each other and really enjoy stopping and talking about the old days or what's going on lately. Kind of like who is still breathing or who isn't, lol. Young snowmachiners tend to be traveling 70 mph because they are in a hurry for whatever or if you do talk with them, they just want to talk about their machines capability. I do enjoy stopping and shooting the bull with my old buddies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's really neat! I always thought snowmachiners just zoomed by and didn't talk.

      Delete
  9. I enjoy talking to folks who like things I like. We already have something in common and I like to ask questions. Much of what I've learned in my life came from questioning everything and everyone. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."

    ReplyDelete
  10. Mostly animals for me, and they tend to have limited conversational interests. Typical: The day I was nearly run over by a cougar. It wasn't inclined to stop for a chat but kept moving, though I do seem to have the same effect on a lot of people as well.

    Anyhow, the cougar saw me, turned itself inside out, and was instantly going back the way it had come. It was all so fast and blurry that it took me another 10 minutes to get scared.

    But more to the point...In the early 1970s some friends quit their jobs and spent a summer backpacking all over the West. One day they came across a woman sitting on a rock near an overlook, way out in the backcountry somewhere. She turned out to be a mountaineer from Poland who had escaped that country during the Second World War by hiking out through trackless mountains, possibly alone, or with one other person. There was a little more to the story though it's been a good while since I heard it and the details have faded away.

    But you never know. Never know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoa, those are both great stories.

      Delete
    2. I probably need a tattoo on my forehead. Something like

      D O O F U S
      Stand well back

      I told you I was fuzzy, and it's taking over my brain. The creeping fuzzies.

      After a bit more reflection I remembered that as I heard it, the woman had escaped from Hungary after the Soviet invasion in 1956, not what I said the first time, which we shall now forget.

      Poland is all flat, innit? D'oh! D'oh! D'oh! D'oh! (Etc.)

      Still an interesting story, but still second-hand. The part about the big kitty stands though.

      Attempted amends:

      The Cat Lady: https://www.hikingproject.com/blog/4437/the-cat-lady

      When a Housecat Goes to Africa (fun photoshop work): https://www.adventure-journal.com/2017/04/housecat-goes-africa/

      Delete

Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!