Connecting with Other Hikers (on things other than gear)
Gear lover discretion advised! I don’t consider myself among those who can talk for hours about a particular product or brand. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is important and that’s the singlehanded reason why I am in a relationship with my gear nerd boyfriend, Henri. It’s ok, you guys. We moved in together yesterday, so things are getting real honest, real fast (right, love?).
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 damn thing. While this very well may happen to me in the comments, section, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Personally, I think Appalachian Trials readers are much more kind.
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 start talking.. Or better yet, when you’re out and you get asked what you do for a living (eye roll, right?).
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:
3 things to talk about other than 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 (bears, heights, living off the grid), or rather that they’re on the trail to escape their biggest fears. Or, you know, a combination of both.
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?
Ok, I did my best. You may still think gear is more fun to talk about, but let’s agree & call a spade a spade. 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 other thoughts that you may be having. I do think distractions are safe, and sometimes necessary. But if you wanted to just talk about gear, you would go to REI or an online forum, but you’re on the trail to live and experience, aren’t you?
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Spiders, soldier & where ever they made me March to.