In thinking about family, or in this case a tramily or “trail family”, the Sister Sledge classic “We Are Family” probably pops into your head. One aspect of the trail are the close relationships that are built in short periods of time. People meet, people part, people reunite. It’s like relationship building on steroids. This contrasts the fixed location world with its many distractions and divergent activities, it may take years for a relationship to blossom, thrive and then maybe dissipate. In the Appalachian Trail world of physically demanding effort, common subject concerns, and need for a bit of camaraderie building, this same sequence occurs at a very rapid pace.
In the Beginning…
Three weeks ago, I met my first AT hiking buddy at a hostel. We had similar life circumstances, our time period cultural references were the same. We hiked along with similar pace and similar topical interests. The miles were filled with great discussion and we built a trail friendship. Along the way, we had others join our hiking group and join in our similar discussion topics. For a few days we were in sync. The goals of the hike for the day were the same. We adjusted our thinking with flexibility to account for the variability in the miles and the weather. We decided to take zeros in similar locations and for similar duration of time. We joined each other at krestaurants and importantly were of similar budgetary framework to be able to support the activities of the group individually.
Time For Me To Fly
Unfortunately, one of the members of the group started having physical limitations begin to occur where he had to leave our developing tramily. Shock and disappointment set in. Kind of like a Fixed location world relationship ending. The emotions should not have been that strong, but they were. In the course of two weeks the thought of not having the ability to further the friendship really short circuited my brain for a day or so. Then the reality set in for the rest of the three of us who were still in the tramily. Different motivational forces began to take over. Differences in the goals and the ability to physically handle the upcoming difficult part of the hike started to play into decisions. I think this is normal. Weather played a role. The budgetary and time limitations of some of the members which may not have been evident began to come into the various factors in the decision-making of the future of the group.
Then over a zero day lunch it was decided that the group was on different paths. No hard feelings, but again their was the strong sense of the loss of a relationship. So one complete cycle of having gone from a growing actively engaged tramily, to the prospect of once again going solo. Now, one thing that occurs is that no one is ever really solo on the trail. The trail has built in social gathering spots at the various shelters and hostels. You can’t help but get to be friendly with a wide range of people. You give up some of your space, letting others into your life story a bit and in return you develop a deeper camaraderie between people who in the real life circumstances would probably pass by in the activities of the day without having the common thread of the trail to give a basis for starting a relationship.
The Emotional Turmoil
It hurts a bit losing the tramily that had developed. It hurts to think that the accelerated development of another tramily might have the same results. In a way it is healthy as you go through the excitement of discovering a new friendship, building it, enjoying it, but then also realizing that nothing lasts forever.
Time goes fast. it goes faster on the trail. except when it is pouring rain, your pack is too heavy and your shoes are wet. Then time slows to a crawl, but that is another problem.
It is amazing how the miles fly by when engaged in a conversation with a hiking buddy on the trail. It is also amazing how one hiker can “pull” another up a tough hill or through a rough section just by the lead hiker setting a pace which the following hiker tries to keep so as to maintain motivation as it gets tough.
This social camaraderie of the trail is not discussed enough in many circles, but I think this is the essence of what the trail is really about. The accelerated pace of relationships gives you a social experiment that forces you to think about yourself and the interactive details you want to portray to people in similar situations. Hiking the AT gets things pretty simple. It allows you time to think about how you want to use the opportunity for camaraderie without having to worry about the hustle and bustle of everyday normal world distractions.
For me, even though my first tramily appears to be dissolving, the experience of the past few weeks getting to know these folks has been phenomenal. It has really made my experience so far on the trail have the aspect of the social interaction that I was hoping to take away from the trail.
Of course we all swapped emails and contact info, but reality might have us just being left with this slice of life experience where we were able to share good memories in a small subsection of the AT adventure.
I am looking forward to the next cycle of building a tramily ahead on the trail.
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