Originally published March 15, 2010.
I’ve lived my entire life in New England. New Englanders are a hearty bunch: they know how to prepare for hurricanes and nor’easters, trudge patiently through piles of snow and slush, and wait out an eighty-six year World Series drought. New Englanders aren’t known for being particularly friendly, however. They keep to themselves, don’t trust strangers and newcomers, and mind their own business.
This is why I was surprised, upon visiting other parts of the country, to have random strangers smile and say hello to me on the street. I kept thinking, “do I know that guy?” I just wasn’t used to the idea that a person would interact willingly with the strangers around them, even in passing.
This interaction with strangers is even more pronounced on the trail — the hiking trail, that is. Outdoorsy people are a friendly bunch, and it’s considered appropriate to exchange greetings with hikers you pass along the way. In addition to being friendly, it’s also safety-related; when a hiker nods and smiles and says hello, he’s really saying, “Everything going all right?” And when you nod and smile and say hello back, you’re really saying, “Everything’s fine, thanks for asking.”
Last week, we talked about the importance of choosing the right trail — and that applies to campsites, as well — in order to find the right balance between your enjoyment of nature and your comfort with the level of solitude you’re facing. I personally like trails where I can meet other people, and so here we are at the Good Stuff part of picking the right trails:
Meeting People On the Trail (and at Camp)
As always, there’s caution to be taken here, and using your head, and all that other stuff we’ve been talking about for the past six months. It’s understandable to be a little shy about interacting with others you meet, and cautious about sharing too much information. That’s just good sense.
However, there are lots of good people out there on the trail. In particular, if you’re on a relatively populated trail, your chances of running into a serial killer are slim. He wouldn’t pick that trail — too high a chance of getting caught. Someone smiling at you might just be being friendly and checking in (in fact, that’s probably what they’re doing). If you’re very nervous, pick out the people with kids to talk to; they’re too busy making sure their kids don’t fall off the mountain to be dangerous.
Here’s another benefit to making friends on the trail: sometimes, you need someone to give you a push. One day, when I was hiking the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon in 110 degree heat, I was in bad shape. I had another mile and a half to the top, and while I had plenty of water, I felt like I had to stop and rest at every switchback, because while hiking alone, all I could hear was my labored breathing and my heart pounding. I sat on a rock in a brief piece of shade to take a break, and after a moment a man sat down on the rock next to me, asking if I minded. I shook my head, still breathing heavily. We started chatting. He was alone too, and asked if I’d be his company for the rest of the hike. That last mile and a half absolutely flew by. We talked about nothing I can remember, but we didn’t stop again until we reached the top. Having someone to push, and be pushed by, made that last portion of the hike much more enjoyable (and take much less miserable hot time!).
Meeting people can work in camp, too. I found that I was more likely to strike up conversations in the morning than at night, in particular if I was moving on that day, because it felt less risky. Retired couples in RVs in particular like to share their bacon with the daring, interesting girl who slept in that little tent.
Besides, meeting people is fun! So just smile and say “Hi.” You might end up with lifelong — or trail-long — friends.
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.