As I mentioned last week, I spent two months (mid-August to mid-October) hiking in Northern New England this year. Along the way, I’ve met some very interesting people–some wonderful “single-serving friends*.”
I enjoy hiking in the woods alone. By myself, I notice details that I sometimes miss when lost in conversation with another person. I’ll pause to look at an interesting tree or to try to identify (or at least photograph) a wildflower I haven’t seen outside of a textbook before. I’ll spend longer with my camera, working to craft the shot that best captures what I’m seeing and feeling. I’ll stop when I’m tired or hungry and keep going when I’m not.
But, to hike with someone else is to share the highs and lows, literally and metaphorically, with another person. On dangerous trails, it’s comforting to know that another person knows where you are and could get help in the event of an accident. On mellow trails, conversation makes the walking more pleasant. And, when the scenery is awe-inspiring, I think it’s special to know someone else understands what you’re feeling. (Sometimes. But, sometimes, I just need a good this-is-so-beautiful-that-I’m-just-going-to-cry-for-a-while moment in solitude!)
This post is an ode to the single-serving friends I am pleased to have met this summer.
First, there was the man, whom I’ll call J, who I saw on several high peaks one week. While many New England hikers climb the 4000-footers, relatively few hike them in rapid succession. Those of us who do tend to see a lot of one another. After several days of running into each other and then an entire morning alone, I found it pretty amusing to summit Mount Cabot and find J at the top.
Then, there was the 60-year-old couple from Liverpool, England, who hiked with me for a half-hour as we approached the Lakes of the Clouds Hut via the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. They were apologizing for how unprepared they were–“We’re just wearing our trainers”–but they were keeping a really good pace. We enjoyed talking about the recent Scottish independence vote, hiking/backpacking in the US/UK, and Wales as a potential grad school destination for my sister. When the conversation turned to the Appalachian Trail, the husband of the couple declared, “Oh, so you’re a f***ing lunatic as well!” He said it in this great Northern English accent, and it felt more endearing than insulting.
Over the course of the summer, I hiked with several families, each of whom provided smiles and some of whom offered trail magic. More than once, I was invited home with other hikers!
My favorite single-serving friends of the summer were Jim and Greg, both of whom, like me, had set out one Saturday to hike the Tripyramids solo. On the long approach to the North Slide, we caught up with one another and fell into periods of easy conversation and companionable silence. I thought I’d only be walking with Jim, who was working on “red-lining” (i.e., hiking all 1,440 miles of trails in the White Mountain National Forest), and Greg, who was a 20-something peak-bagger like me, until we left Livermore Road and started actually hiking. It turns out that we all thought it would be nice to have company while hiking the rock slides that pass as trails up and down the Tripyramids, and we ended up spending the entire hike together.
Thank you all for the company this summer! Happy trails!
*That’s apparently a reference to “Fight Club,” a movie I’ve never seen. You’ve got to marvel at how pop culture works.