We’ve all been there. Miles down a trail-less canyon, the man who seemed so intriguing in his backyard, gathering up the backpacking gear, turns into a Huge Mistake. A six-week overseas trip turns into mental anguish when one of the party claims she¬†“feels left out” from the rest of the group. Unnoticed quirks arise, formerly charming phobias become a liability. It doesn’t take much, sometimes to turn an anticipated trip into Group Dynamic Drama.

I just completed a three week backpacking trip. While this was by no means an epic survival expedition, it had its moments of intense thunderstorms on high passes, mindless slogs up and down thousands of feet, a touch of altitude sickness, and decisions about whether to press on or not. I went on this trip with one person I knew somewhat well and two, not at all.

Sometimes groups gel and sometimes they don’t. I’ve been on enough fire crews to know that constant togetherness and hard work can make strangers come together in a way that is both beautiful and impressive. Other times, sore thumbs emerge and the group never congeals. This is sort of what happened on our trip.

I liked everyone, and I think they thought I was all right, but hiking styles and pace did not mix well. I am an early morning, bound out of the tent, charge up a pass kind of person. I have a certain pace and it is hard to abandon that. I don’t eat much breakfast and don’t linger in camp in the morning. While I like putting my feet in a passing creek as much as the next person, I found that I really enjoyed covering the miles so I could arrive at the next camp, set up, and jump into the lake with time to spare. On the other hand, there were days when we covered our thirteen to sixteen miles by early afternoon and I wanted to move farther on when the rest of the group did not.

Choosing people to go on trips, at least ones you have planned and saved for and begged for time off of work for is really important. Some people can get along with anyone and go with the flow, but for me part of the enjoyment of it all is to be with others who are similar in goals and style. We ran into one hapless group of two where the buddy lamented that his friend wanted to do 25 mile days and he could not, or would not, do that many miles. We saw another group where one of the party was carrying a 75 pound load, effectively limiting the miles that the others wanted to do.

In the interest of preventing Group Dynamic Drama, here are some things I learned from this most recent experience:

  • Have a conversation. We should have sat down and talked about our expectations prior to the trip. It seemed a little touchy-feely to me, but it could have prevented some misunderstandings later on.
  • Be honest with yourself. I am sometimes not the best outdoor companion. Impatient by nature, I don’t really like to wait for people to finally pack up their gear. It kind of hurts to walk a slow pace too. On this trip, I would have done better to go with one other person instead of a larger group, since the more people you add, the slower the entire group gets.
  • People you don’t know = red flag. While this trip turned out all right, it is so much easier to go with people you know. When you get in a situation where things are a little desperate, it is good to know how they will react. On the other hand, you can also meet friends for life on these types of trips. My mistake was not including one person I knew very well. That would have helped–I would have known whom I could count on.
  • Beware schedules. Two of the group had drop-dead dates for return. While we made the date, I realized that I need more flexibility in my outdoor adventures.
  • Let stuff go. When the group made a decision I didn’t agree with, I had to accept it for the good of the order. While I would have done things differently, by choosing to go with a group I had to give up some of my independence.

In the end, unless you are with people you know well, you have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This trip mostly worked, but I learned a lot about myself and what I will do differently on my next trip. No more Group Dynamic Drama!

What about you? Any lessons learned from outdoor adventures with others?