I readily admit I am not the world’s most outdoorsy person. I keep convincing myself I enjoy hiking (although I mostly enjoy it when it is called “a long ramble outside in nature”), but then I am completely unprepared for what is before me.
The benefit of so many comical mistakes? I’ve realized exactly what kind of hiking partner I am. And now, for those looking to get as little meaningful exercise as possible while feeling lost 67% of the time – but damn well fed – look no further than the next edition in my exercise series, describing what to expect when hiking with me!
What to Expect #1: I will walk confidently along, convincing you I have a “pretty good” idea of what I am doing, and end up on the completely wrong path.
This was painfully evident a few years ago when I hiked the “Bronte moors” in Yorkshire with my partners-in-crime, Jenny and Molly. I had procured a map from the visitor’s center and was positive we were on the right path. Sure, it described it was a “well-defined” path, but what we were following was reasonably well defined. That’s such an iffy statement anyway.
Fast forward half an hour, and we’re fording creeks (honestly – my friend slipped and got her whole right shoes covered in mud) and literally cutting through private property.
It’s about when we have to clamber over a wall using a fairly unsafe ladder than I reluctantly agree that something doesn’t feel right. Turns out when they say “well-defined,” they MEAN well-defined. Also turns out we had been walking approximately 50 feet to the right of the correct path the entire time. Whoops.
Along those lines…
What to Expect #2: You will probably have to ford a couple of creeks, scramble up some rocks, and hoist yourself up a hill using the grass – and prayer – as handholds.
After the comedy of errors in Yorkshire a few years ago, I thought I had learned my lesson. Turns out that wasn’t so – when I decided to go on a hike to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh with literally no knowledge besides the vague understanding that the “easier path is around the back of the hill and the hard one in the middle,” I thought it would be fine. Of course this was assuming I was someone else, because I ended up taking a few of my students on a complete wild goose chase that had us tromping through ankle-high grass, scaling a 90 degree grassy inclined using grass as a handhold, and – I’m not lying about this – bouldering up the side of a cliff. Thank god I made them sign a liability waiver. (As a side note, I was the one who had to put it together and think about what dangers lie in wait in Edinburgh, and I settled on, “Danger from slipping on historical cobblestone.” Who needs a lawyer when you have me?!).
Even though I was the one setting the ridiculous path, I usually lagged behind everyone else, resulting in a lot of unattractive pictures of me trying to catch up. I feebly protested it was because I have “older legs” than the rest of them, but the Cadbury Creme Eggs probably have more to do with it.
What to Expect #3: I will want to turn back 200m from the end, suggesting, “We’ve seen it, do we really need to climb it?”
I like to think this is now a fun tradition with me. It started in Haworth (the Yorkshire moors). After a grueling 8 mile hike (half of which was on the wrong path) in the fog and rain, my friends and I were within site of the pinnacle of the hike – “Heathcliff’s House,” or Emily Bronte’s inspiration for it in Wuthering Heights. Noting it was at the top of the hill – but very much within a 3 minute walk – I immediately suggest, “Well, I’m good. Shall we go back?”
Thankfully I have friends who push me along and force me to go to iconic sites I will probably never see again… and I get the chance to do the fistpump of victory. Or the “praise Jesus face” of victory.
Obviously I didn’t learn my lesson, because I did the same thing in Dover, and obviously the same again in Edinburgh. I think I waited until around 10.45am to start suggesting, “Shall we go to lunch?” I almost didn’t make it to the very peak of Arthur’s Seat – I had JUST slumped down on the grassy hilltop next to it and started to gnaw into my apple when those pesky students peer pressured me. Hence the face.
But, I grudgingly stood up, shoved the apple in my mouth to hold while I rock-climbed up the side of a cliff (clearly the most safe route) and made it to the top of that city. By god, I did!
In all of these difficulties, the most important thing to know about me as a hiking buddy:
What to Expect #4: I will have snacks.
It’s a fairly well-known fact amongst my friends that without constant feedings I tend to get… challenging. Some say cranky. Some may even say harsher words than that. I just like to think that I am a grazer and do best with constant food intake throughout the day. With that knowledge, I tend to pack my pockets like I am about to be donating food to the food kitchen. My pockets prior to Yorkshire looked like I had a baby.
Obviously nothing changed for Edinburgh. Early in the hike one of my students asked what was in my surprisingly heavy tote bag I was carrying. My response: “Oh, you know, a notebook, a book (just in case I get bored in the middle of the hike, apparently), a water bottle, an apple, a granola bar, another type of granola bar…” Apparently they don’t think ahead like I do, because they were flabbergasted at the amount I was packin’ for an hour-long hike. I do have a Master’s degree, though, so clearly I am smarter than they are.
So what have we learned? As a hiker, I’m not the greatest. I complain, I get lost, I peer-pressure you into giving up.
But what is the benefit? The simple views of nature. The beautiful expanses over the town.
And more importantly, the food.