Colin Fletcher, the author of "A Walk Through Time," "The 1,000 Mile Summer," and "The Complete Walker," loved to hike solo. He treasured his quite moments alone with nature.
But he also made comment about his paradoxical meetings with other solo hikers. Those other hikers would frequently stop him and want to chat for hours about how wonderful it was to hike alone.
Fletcher, at least, noticed the irony!
On a recent trip to the High Sierra, we had a somewhat similar experience. We treasure those hours on the trail without seeing other people, and always try to give other hikers, and groups of hikers, as much space as they need to enjoy the wilderness.
But on this trip we started up a pass, only to see another hiker on the trail ahead of us. No problem. We needed some water so we stopped to pump and give him a good head start up the trail.
And yet...he didn't seem to be in any hurry. As we hit the trail we could see him, still visible ahead of us.
Each time we hiked up closer to him, we would pause and take a break, have a drink or admire the view. And each time as we started hiking, we found that he wouldn't be far ahead. It was almost as if he were waiting for us.
Finally, around lunchtime, we came upon him, just packing up and getting to leave a lovely spot with a nice view. We greeted him, shared a quick trail report, and started getting out our lunch.
And he slowed right down and started chatting with us some more. Pleasant conversation, and we enjoyed the chat. But it did go on a bit longer than we expected--at least twenty minutes. And then he hoisted his pack and hit the trail.
We gave him plenty of time to build up a lead, and then finished up our lunch and starting hiking.
Less than half a mile ahead, our companion was waiting. We stopped before we reached him, to tighten my wife's shoes. He started hiking again, and so we started off again. Again he stopped and was waiting. This time we stopped for me to snap a couple of photos.
We started off again, and there he was, only 100 yards ahead, with his pack on the ground and settled in for a long wait.
We gave him a friendly "hello" and hiked on past him. But as my wife passed him on the trail, he hoisted his pack and fell into step behind her.
We had been joined.
Since we didn't know this guy from Adam, we felt a little awkward about this. But we decided that if the lone hiker took so many breaks, we would quickly leave him behind if we just kept hiking. So we did. We hiked for a solid two miles, straight uphill. And after all those delays earlier in the day, he didn't take another break all afternoon!
We arrived at our campsite and watched him stroll in just moments later.
To be fair, he camped on the next peninsula over, and was a quiet camper.
He did stop by to chat a bit, but my wife was trying to get out of camp for a stroll when he did that, and I was fishing...and distracted enough that the conversation didn't go swimmingly. We did learn that he had broken a tent pole....although that's not something we could really help with. Then again, the weather was lovely and he assured us his rainfly would do just fine.
And the next morning he hit the trail early, heading north.
We slept in, and when we got to the junction, we turned left and headed south.
We hope he had a great time on the rest of his trip.
Did you ask him the all-purpose question, "So, when did you get out of the joint?"
That would have been a little creepy, I think, because I'd start replaying a dozen bad movies in my head. Chances are he was just one of those needy people--the sort inevitably seated next to you on cross country flights. I once had a woman starting up a conversation with both me and the person to her other side. After I put on my headphones and began reading, I could still hear her proclaim loudly, "Well, I see somebody doesn't want to participate!"
Magnificent post, balzaccom - not only entertaining, but very well written! I could see the other hiker in mind from the picture you painted.
Fletcher inspired me to give solo hiking a try - my second trip ever was a solo trip. I passed his books along to several of my early hiking buddies, and the spark he kindled is one reason we all carry full sets of gear: so we can decide, if anyone feels the need for some solitude, to head off for a side trip, or camp at the top of the ridge while everyone else camps at the bottom.
I have to admit to having mixed feelings about solo hiking. I have (and still do) hike solo sometimes, and enjoy it (particularly in the winter, with snow on the ground and still falling; the silence is spectacular) - but I find that I enjoy having a companion more. I don't know if it's a case of not being able to turn off the social part of my brain, or what, but I just enjoy hiking with others. Of course, that only goes so far - more than 2 or 3 others, and it gets annoying.
I do take some group trips (the logistics are pretty easy), but I tend to find that, when we hit the trail, I usually find an excuse to fall behind, at least a few hundred yards, so that I'm either alone for a while, or hiking with one or two others. It makes for a nice balance: company in the evenings, and pleasurable hiking during the day.
When I do this sort-of-with a group thing, I make sure I know where the group is heading, and I have my own personal map and compass; I also carry my own solo load, so that if I am separated for some reason, they're not relying on me and I'm not relying on them. I also know the trip leader well enough that he understands what I'm doing, and we agree about a few predesignated get-back-together points during the day.
Not trying to be argumentative, but I don't know. I think this is human nature. Everyone wants different levels of social interaction at different times, but the less human interaction we have, the more we crave it. People in the country tend to be friendlier and more chatty than people in the city. There is the scene from Crocodile Dundee where he finds out there are 10 million people in NYC. He assume NY must be the friendliest place on earth with so many people choosing to live together. Of course, the opposite is true.
I note from your story, he was solo... you were not. He was certainly a bit more needy than most people out hiking and that made the situation awkward. Perhaps he didn't have any friends to hike with and was trying to find some. It sounds like you hike for solitude. Now that I live in a city, I do. When I lived in the country, I went out into the back-country more to experience nature.
Loc: San Diego CA
I get the impression from the posts I remember (my memory is not that great) and from web page that you do not backpack solo. And why would you when you have your lovely wife to accompany you. But Balzaccom, have you spent 7+ days out on your own? Do you talk to yourself when you do go solo. I have noticed this in myself as well, but people who have been out on their own tend to want to socialize (in a way that may be trying to make up for lost time if you know what I mean). At least, NORMAL people do. But I will grant you that it makes it hard to tell the sane from not so sane.
My wife and I were on the JMT heading into evolution valley when we noticed a solitary backpacker behind us closing fast. We wanted to find a nice breezy spot for a break and continued on till we found one. Here this guy caught up with us. We had a nice little chat while we munched our snacks. He was doing the entire JMT solo and he was something like into his 15th day. We all got up and started off again, with him following us. The little warning light in my head starts going off. I pull Patty aside and ask the gent to pass us because we are slow. He accepts, and leads the way, but at a slower pace than expected.
It was starting to get to our time to find a nice camp spot and we were planing to camp near the head of the valley. When we get to that spot, I can tell that Patty is finished for the day...so we stop. And so does this guy who was 50 ft ahead of us. Now I am hearing that theme from Pyscho...you know the ONE. But at the same time there is another voice in my head reminding me of how I am after just 3 or 4 days alone; people can't shut me up. So....I don't say anything and we camp together. We end up having a nice evening together talking around the fire, but I still sleep very light and wake up to every sound I hear.
Next morning he is off early; plans to spend the night in the Muir Pass hut before heading off to Whitney. He says to stop by if we can. But this is probably goodby; from here on I can only take Patty up 1000 to 1500 feet max due to her sensitivity to the altitude. I get us above Evolution Lake and set up camp in a nice spot and then run up to Muir Hut. The guy is there and we talk for another hour over hot coco he has made. The guy is so lonely I have to force a goodby and good luck so I can get back down to my wife.
Going solo is not for everyone. And after a few days, even sane people can seem off.
I am one of those people who likes to hike solo during the day but in the evening I enjoy sitting around a fire maybe having a drink while chatting with folks.
I have hiked solo before where no one was around where I camped. I sat by the fire and read a book, then leaned against a tree listening to some music. It was very relaxing and peaceful but I still wish I had someone to talk to...lol
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
NZ has an extensive hut system, especially on the South Island. It gives you a chance to socialize in the evening, plus shelter from the everpresent storms, then in the morning, people depart at their own pace. I've done tracks alone or occasionally met up with another solo hiker and hiked with them for a few days. It is a great way to hike alone, yet spend the evening with others. Once in a while you will find yourself in a hut alone, especially in the mountains, but the huts on the lower tracks usually have at least a few people staying in them most days, especially during the summer or school holidays.
Don't get me started, you know how I get.