There are many ways in which I think I’ve become a better outdoors adventure companion. On one three week hike, I bounded out of my tent and was packed up early every morning, no doubt a serious irritant to my partners, who all needed a hot meal, coffee, and some time to make acquaintance with the day. In my defense, I tried to stay in my sleeping bag, I really did, but I always, always ended up ready and shivering before they did. This is probably a relic of my fire crew days, when we had to hastily pack up every morning because we never knew where we would end up. Our crew bosses let on that they would leave us behind in camp if we weren’t ready, so a certain ethic was installed. From the moment my eyes open in the morning I can be ready to hit the trail in twenty minutes.
I’ve tried since that trip to temper myself though, realizing that I am perhaps an anomaly in this regard. Another thing I’ve learned over time is that I push myself without breaks and food to a bonking point. My hiking buddy last summer had to deal with one of these semi-bonks when we had hiked sixteen miles at a rapid tempo only to discover no possible camping sites and, at 7 pm, a 2,000 foot climb (we slept on a trail bridge. “Slept” is a relative term). I just don’t have the cues other people get when they are hungry or tired. For example, The Freak of Nature, a hiking machine whom I travel with often, will suddenly stop in the trail and exclaim, “I need to eat! Right now!” (Slightly annoying, yes. But effective). I’ve resolved this summer to listen more closely to my body instead of pushing on.
Another thing that my partners have taught me is to humor phobias. They seem ridiculous to me sometimes (we can’t ascend the pass because there are dark clouds? You stop in the middle of the trail because you hear a rattlesnake?) but I have fears of my own that are just as valid to me (Bears, for one. Don’t ask, I lived in Bear Heaven in Southeast Alaska for years, but I still fear them). I’ve learned that everyone has some kind of a fear. Even the strongest seeming types.
Also, I’ve had to learn that most people don’t care about gear as much as I do. They haul behemoth packs from the 1990s. They bring along tents that rain on the inside. They marvel at my backpack quiver. Instead of car payments and Ipads, I choose to buy gear. Not everyone’s thing. I don’t talk up my ultralight tent or my cottage industry backpack like a know-it-all. Nobody likes those.
Probably the hardest thing I’ve had to learn is that it is really hard to change your pace. I’ve only found a few people who hike the way I do, and I don’t mean I race along at five miles an hour. I do step out, though, and, especially in people my age, that’s just hard to find anymore. If I want company, I have to accept that we might roll along at 2 miles an hour. It’s a compromise thing, which I can deal with when we are all sitting in a beautiful river corridor sharing stories (instead of me sitting in a tent alone).
Because I worked as a wilderness ranger for over a decade, I’ve gotten used to solo travel. I can go as far as I want and camp wherever I want, stop if I want, go if I don’t. Habits are hard to break. I still prefer traveling solo, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I value a good companion. I’ll keep working at being a better one myself.