I was thinking today, what was it I like so much about backpacking? I think, for me, it’s not just about getting from point A to point B.
I really enjoy all the preparation, the planning, the special technical planning for winter hikes or hikes out west to the mountains.
I love preparing the maps, the routes, creating way points, studying the terrain, the weather, the water sources, the special features of a certain route and camping area.
I’ve always thought that all the skill sets we learn in backpacking are naturally suited for mountaineering; as in map reading, foods for trips, stove selection, water purification techniques (summer vs winter); knot tying, which boots to wear, type of pack, type of sleeping bag, is it going to be a ‘dry’ trip or is there a possibility of rain or snow, is it going to be super hot, is sunburn a possibility, how far are we going to be from rescue if someone gets hurt, special navigation tools, the study of hypothermia and prevention, etc., etc., etc.
But I think the thing I enjoy the most is walking and talking with friends, and debating or telling tall tales around the campfire. The campfire is where genuine friendships are formed. I also love the after hike ‘feasts’. I can’t tell you how much I love telling hiking stories and hearing stories. Sometimes this can be such a hoot!
I was trying out a new chair, one with only 2 supports on the back, stabilized in the front with your legs, well I was able to provide a few laughs for everyone as I was figuring out the best ways to use the chair and in the process took more than a few tumbles! It was great!
Any hike where it was ‘so cold’, ‘so wet’, ‘ so buggy’, although a challenge at the time, have always provided fodder for the next camp fire. “you should have been there when we endured…(fill in the blank)!
Hikes where we, as Bones says, “had to embrace the suck” are the ones we laugh about and take pride in during the next hike. I think this so into the human nature, overcoming adversity and surviving to laugh about it later. Any adversity, no matter how minor, creates the future bonds of a group norm. Adversity is really the cement that bonds the group experience.
Once a group has bonded together, and norms established, there is indeed a certain spirit or elan that provides a confidence that says, we can do it, come on, weather or terrain – bring it!
This confidence is not bought easily however, the group dynamic, brings a shared experience that realizes another saying we joke about; “If I only had that one thing” my trip would have been better; I wouldn’t have been so cold, my boots wouldn’t have gotten so wet, my shoulders wouldn’t be so sore, I wouldn’t have been so tired, or hungry, etc..
These shared experiences are piled upon each other, slowly but surely building a basis of confidence and group expectations. The more I hike with friends, the more confidence I have, not only with my abilities, but also the abilities of my companions. I also feel the burden of not wanting to let the other members of the group down. So I faithfully do all the things I love to do anyway, I train for hikes, I make sure I plan, have the maps, that my equipment works and is appropriate; I not only don’t want to let my self down, I don’t want to let down the members of my group. This is part, in my opinion, a feeling of responsibility and solid group dynamics/norms.
When you have these dynamics, I believe it’s easier to spot people or situations which may be outside the group norm. I have noticed that those who are more likely to accept the group norms are inherently more apt to be happy, to enjoy the trip, to help, to share, and try to make those around us more comfortable. They do not shun conversation, they do not isolate themselves and they try to be responsible (like keeping tabs on where everyone is on the trail – and – realize that we are all looking out for each other!)
What’s not to like!