I have long fantasized about starting an outdoor advice column. Admittedly this idea stemmed in part from the popularity of my “Outdoor Dating” series. In this hypothetical advice column, I’d take inquiries from wayward outdoorsy souls; such things as “With what do I wipe after I pee outside?” and “I love my boyfriend, but he wants us to get one of those two-person sleeping bags, should I dump him?” and “How do I get my outdoorsy SO to take me on an INDOOR date, one that isn’t to an outdoorsy film festival, for the love of all that is good?” and perhaps “I want to have a conversation with a friend when we’re both not completely out of breath, but all they ever want to do is go running or biking! Is there any point to being friends if all you do is pant together?”  I’d regale the letter writers with my vast knowledge of all things outdoors as well as interpersonal, and inject some rapier wit with a good dollop of tough love as well. For this I’d become famous and be able to quit reviewing gear and won’t need to have a real job, and will answer reader inquiries once a week from a balcony above a sweeping view of the ocean, whilst sipping either French press coffee (if before noon) or a Mimosa (if before noon), or perhaps a nice beer or cocktail, if it’s after three.

A Head Geargal can dream.

I revisited this dream today while asking the wind, “How can I get back in shape for climbing if no one will belay me because I can’t belay them?” and the wind replied, “Your friends are dicks. Get new friends.” Oops, I just revealed my secret; the wind is the real source of Head Geargal advice. Anyway, I was asking the wind this, almost rhetorically, because I’m a year and a half post-spinal surgery and I still don’t know where a lot of my friends are. See, I noticed that when you get hurt or are impaired for a while, your outdoorsy friends almost immediately ghost, vacate, depart the scene, make like a tree and get out of there. They’ve got better things to do than try to converse with your incapacitated self.  They want to go do their stuff, and your busted ass is just a big downer. You may be doing your damned best to get back in action, but you can’t sprint up ridges the way you once could, you turn pedals at a snail’s pace, and you are suddenly wary of things like hucking and descending at speed. You’d think a friend could take that into consideration, but I’m here to tell you that if you are in this situation and your friends HAVEN’T left you in the dust, for dog’s sake hold on to those people like they are a life preserver and you’re a cockroach in a toilet bowl. They are good peeps. On the other hand, if you have friends that can’t alter a plan to accommodate your (hopefully) temporary weakness, I’m here for that discussion.

An industry-mucky-muck friend confided to me that when he left the industry, almost all of his industry friends left him too. He says he doesn’t hear from anyone in the industry anymore. This is sad in large part because it reveals that “industry friends” are not in fact friends at all. Gross. I, too, have experienced trying to make plans with friends who have selective hearing. I say “I’d love to go on a mountain bike ride but I want to keep it sort of low-key; I can go for a few hours as long as we’re not busting our asses and pushing too hard” and the bike friend says “Cool! How about we go do this 20 mile point to point mountain pass ride, then turn around and ride back? And let’s leave from the house so we get an extra ten road miles in,” and I’m just like “……I’ll ride by myself.”

Dogs have been a big hassle in these days as well. I’ll just put this out there, I had a spinal injury to my neck, I am not 100% recovered yet and even when I finally am, I probably will have a different risk tolerance than I did before,  and I really don’t want to fall if I don’t have to. Your 75 lb skitzy dog running around my tires for ten miles doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy. It makes me feel scared and stressed. So I ask friends to leave their dogs at home this one time and they’re all, “awww, but she has to get out, I can’t leave her” so I have to bail. And ride by myself. And then go out later to walk my own dog, because I make time in my sched for that.

I have had some good experiences in this time period though; most notably with a new pal who, coincidentally, has had brain surgery and lost the hearing in one ear as a result,  and also suffers from the accompanying vertigo and seizure disorder. She and I totally get each other. We look normal, but when one of us says we can’t do a thing, the other really gets it. We spent a happy day together helping her make her first big summit after her surgery. She’s fit, but steep climbs give her horrible vertigo. She can look down just fine, but climbing up gives her the spins. So every time she’d be walloped by the vertigo as we were climbing, we’d stop and sit and watch the whales cavort in the bay far below, and chat until she was ready to keep going. She’d follow in my footsteps and gut it out as long as she could, and this climb was really no joke, it’s steep and no-fall. And she did summit the peak! And I didn’t lose one single thing by spending an extra hour working through it with her. In fact, I got to spend more time outside, which is really what I’m into. I hardly care if I’m dangling from an ice axe or sitting at my little iron café table in my garden drinking coffee. If I’m outdoors, I’m good.

I do wish I had more friends that “get” it. I’m not broken forever. I’ll be back someday. But you know, sometimes I doubt I’ll be “back” in the same way. I no longer have time for people who don’t have time for me.  I’m more than just a warm body to go running with and I know it. And I want friends who are the same. So, to give myself the best Head Geargal advice I can come up with, I’ll reiterate the wind’s advice and stop wasting time on people who don’t see me as a person, but just an outdoors partner. Wait, you say – I need a list to figure out what you mean by that! OK, here’s a list. How To Tell If A Friend Is A Friend Or Just Someone Who Wants A Warm Body That Can Call 911 In Case Of Outdoor Emergency:

  1. A friend will be totally stoked to help you start doing stuff you’re not totally ready to do. This friend will belay you even if you can’t belay her. She’ll happily ride beside you on pavement and take a few breaks instead of hammering out a three mile long rock garden without stopping to take a breath. She’ll go with you on your first try for a harder endeavor and will not make you feel bad if you have to back off. She’ll also carry the beer and heavy stuff without complaint. A non-friend will do none of these things.
  2. A friend will come to visit you while you are post surgery and you have bags under your eyes to rival Joe Banks’ adventure trunks. She won’t even mention your broken-down looks.  And she’ll bring beer and not say anything if you want to use one to wash down your oxycodone. Wait, I mean, she’ll stop you from doing that. Sorry, got confused there for a second.
  3. A friend will remember that you’re hurt and will ask you how it’s going. An INCREDIBLE friend will walk you through all your goofy PT exercises with you and ask to do some too just for fun.
  4. A friend has no trouble altering a plan to suit your current abilities, because a friend wants to spend time with you. She’ll carry extra weight, take extra breaks, take a little longer to “get there” because she’s, well, a friend.
  5. A friend will even do stuff that isn’t outdoors. Just for you.

I wrote this column to make myself feel better, to bolster my own spirits about being a busted up shell of my former self, at least in some arenas. And you know what? It worked. I’m awesome at this.  Send me your outdoor advice requests.