Here’s something I’ve noticed: the older I get, the harder it is to find compatible outdoors companions. In my twenties, I found them everywhere. I suppose it helped that I worked at national parks then but…it still wasn’t a problem. Everyone I ran into was up for a hike, or a ski, or a run. Want to backpack in New Zealand? Ask the question at a potluck and you would find a bunch of willing takers. Now, just an overnight backpacking trip fails to net anyone. Or it does, but everyone comes with conditions.
It could be just me; it’s true that I have so little time off now that I’m not really willing to waste it with someone who wants to hike four miles and then stop and nap. (Though there is a time and place for that, I admit.) Or someone who needs the whole group to stop when they have to make a pit stop in the woods. Or someone whose idea of camping involves sleeping until ten, big breakfasts and lingering in camp.
I’m willing to overlook the small stuff. I managed to hike over 500 miles with people whose pace was not the same as mine. It wasn’t easy, but the tradeoff was interesting conversation. I’ve skied with people petrified of a small incline, and others who took me down black diamond type hills (in my opinion) and told me to “embrace the speed.” I’ve run with people whose pace was only slightly faster than my fast walk, and also huffed along trying to keep up with others who pushed me to better times.
It’s a balance. I’m starting to get lonelier in the woods, even while I enjoy the independence of deciding where I will go, how far and how fast. I don’t have to deal with crippling outdoor phobias, and I can choose how risky I want to be without an endless debate. What I’m wondering is where are those men and women now, the ones who shared trails and hot springs and sweet apples with me years ago?
The answer is, they had kids. Or they gave up, gaining weight and giving away their outdoor gear. Or their priorities just changed when somehow mine didn’t. Sadly, some died too soon. I miss them, the people I used to know. Up for anything, not worried about long climbs at the end of the day, elevation profiles, or long water carries. When did we change? Because I have too, I know. In the old days I clung to talus by my fingertips, dodged lightning on ridgetops instead of turning around, was more able to tolerate mosquitoes and rain.
I live in a town of one thousand people, which makes it hard to find kindred souls. The women my age have kids, or they like house projects, and they will go out, but only sometimes, and only for a night, and ten miles is far for them. I’m glad they go and I try, try not to judge. But I miss the people we used to be.