Connecting with Hikers (Not About Gear)
Gear lover discretion advised! I don’t consider myself among those who can talk for hours about a particular product or brand, at least not yet. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is important. My partner is a gear nerd and he’s helped me narrow down the gear I’ll bring on the Appalachian Trail, which has been beyond helpful; however, I can’t help but think there is much more to this trail than what the dudes are talking about on whiteblaze.
On the AT, I can imagine the experience of discussing gear is different than online forums where people basically call other a piece of shit for not knowing the specs of every item. While this very well may happen to me in the comments, section, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Personally, I think the readers here are much more kind.
My partner Henri, as I mentioned, LOVES gear, and he tells me “That’s just what people talk about on the trail.” Although I believe him, I can’t help but wonder WHY people talk about that. My theory is that everyone hiking has chosen the gear that he/she is carrying and for that reason, it’s more of an icebreaker. It’s a topic everyone can contribute to, similarly to if I were to compliment another woman’s outfit at a bar and we would start talking.. Or better yet, when you’re out and someone asks what you do for a living (giant eye roll).
Most people that know me can attest to the fact that when I meet someone, I really want to get to know them. I want to know as much about someone as they are willing to share. Perhaps knowing you all have so much more to you than your material possessions that can be felt and shared. Out in nature, constantly talking about your material possessions just seems backwards. Because I’m hopeful that I am not alone in this belief, here goes nothing:
A few things I’d rather know about your than your gear
Why would you want to ask someone about their biggest fears? Why would you want to tell someone your biggest fears? The answer is the same: It shows a bit of fearlessness. Think about it. You are giving someone permission to have a deep discussion, which they may be open to, but may not initiate on their own. You are also asking something that isn’t intrusive and therefore gives them the option of answering simply or even jokingly. From their answer, you may find out that they are currently facing their biggest fear, or rather that they’re on the trail to escape their biggest fears. You never know until you ask.
On the trail, like in life, people are quick to notice people’s strengths, but rare that you ask someone about theirs. Something that someone is willing to admit they are good at is probably something they also enjoy. Sure, we know the one guy is a fast climber. Another woman can start a fire in record time. We know the strengths of others that we see in context. But what about in a different environment? Perhaps someone is a fantastic classical musician (like Henri), or an amazing oil painter (like my best friend, Kelly). These are skills that are a huge part of an individual that may not be relevant on the trail. Plus, it feels good to be able to share your knowledge and skills with someone who is genuinely interested.
Past hikes and travels:
The Appalachian Trail is bound to be of the most challenging adventures of one’s life, and there is a reason each person chose this path. This experience will shape you (us?). Yes, physically, but also in the way that all mental challenges do. Why not learn about the challenges and experiences that have shaped a person into their AT-hiking-self? Perhaps they have hiked the PCT. Maybe they lived and volunteered in a third world country, or traveled around Europe. When I traveled to Australia and New Zealand after college, I learned so much about where others were traveling to and where they had come from, which only further peaked my interest in traveling. These connections resulted in some of those friends from Germany and Ireland coming to New York and showing them around. There are places (cities, hiking trails, and local restaurants) that you don’t even know exist. A simple conversation very well may stick and you could find yourself planning another life adventure! Not so fast, though. let’s just get over this next climb, right?
You may still think gear is more fun to talk about, and maybe one day I’ll find myself drooling over gear and promoting brands, but let’s agree that it’s a safe topic by all means of that word– gear talk may keep you safe from the weather and may prevent injury. Gear talk will be safe because you can steer clear of any feelings that may arise otherwise. I do think distractions are safe, and sometimes necessary. But if you just wanted to talk about gear, you would go to REI or an online forum. If you’re here for that, I have failed you and that’s okay. But if you’re hiking a trail like the Appalachian, then certainly there’s more to you than your possessions.
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Spiders, soldier & where ever they made me March to.