This post was originally published in the New River Gorge Adventure Guide.
I used to hate hiking with my wife.
You see, I have come to believe that there are many different styles of hikers, and she and I are two very different kinds.
She is a Strider. She has long legs, which she uses to ruthlessly get herself from Point A to Point B. She hikes for the exercise. She is an “I will come back and get you if you can’t keep up” kind of hiker. I am a— well, not that kind of hiker. I am an anything but that kind of hiker. I wander off the trail (She hates to follow me when I do this). I stop in midstride and lay down on the ground to get a better look at a flower or insect or at the back of my eyelids. On the trail, she journeys from Point A to Point B and back, and I journey to all the points in between.
There are the Fast Walkers, who are “just out for some exercise” and have to be back in time to get to the store. And there are the Strollers. Strollers have a place they are aiming for. They will stop to look at something wonderful along the way, but they can still be relied on to make their destination. They would really like to see that view from Long Point!
And then there are the Wanderers. If you are a Wanderer, you may not even know where the trail you are on is going. You don’t know this because it doesn’t matter. You are just happy to be outdoors, soaking it in.
Closely related to the Wanderers are the Meanderers. Kids intuitively meander. They drift off the trail and wonder what this is or that is (or was). If you are not in a hurry or dead-set on a destination, kids are the best guides you could ask for. They bring spontaneity, surprise, and joy to a hike. Kids understand that it is a good thing to get sidetracked and forget why you came in the first place.
The woods are a patient place, slow and constant. Kids will understand this if you do not get in their way. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” (This famous remark is over-quoted, and I bet few know who wrote it without first looking it up. Answer: Ralph Waldo Emerson). Kids know this in their souls! The trail means nothing, except that it has a place to park your car. After that, whims are followed. Rules are broken and exploration begins. Ahh, the unknown. You could be the first person to ever put a foot down right here.
This type of adventure comes with a price. Sometimes you get sort of lost. You may have to cross a creek and get muddy and wet. These hikes always take a lot longer to find your way back to the car, so you are late for dinner with friends and they are worried about you. But when you get there, who has the best story to tell? You do.
Some trails are better for some styles of hikers. I like the wide flat train grades from an old train track, without the tracks or cross ties of course. We have a lot of these in the New River Gorge, and they lead to some amazing places. You don’t have to be on a steep single-track to find your self oohhing and aahhing along the way.
My other preference is an ill-defined deer trail heading off into the wilderness. Often these lead to a dry flat rock with a sunny spot, so I can stretch out and study cloud formations. I also like loop trails. They tend to be longer than the out-and-backs. On the loop, you may have to go all the way around, depending on who you are with and what type of hiker you are that day. The out-and-back type of trail is deceiving. It will look like two different trails each direction you head. And— Fast Walkers with some place to be, take note— you can just head back at any point.
You do not have to be prepared to enjoy a hike. I know my grandfather is squirming in his boy scout uniform as I write this, but let’s face it: We do not always carry water, first aid, sunblock, matches, flashlight, and map. Sometimes we are just out for some quick exercise down the road from our home. And maybe we did not have a “proper pair of hiking shoes” in the car. Most of the train grades, wide and relatively flat, are okay for tennis shoes. And some hikes are perfectly appropriate for flip-flops. Maybe this is more of the slow, quiet meander with a close friend who needs to talk. Sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got and look where you are stepping. My dress shoes are muddy. However, attention Wanderers and Meanderers: there is a really good reason to wear high-top, lightweight hikers or high-top tennis shoes on many hikes: ankle support. The trail is not the mall. We are in the woods and on sometimes very uneven ground. If you can, boot up.
Which brings me back to my wife, the Point A to B Strider. I have figured out how to slow her down. I found an anchor that she cannot pull, and the best part is she does not even know she is dragging it: a camera. She has always been a great photographer, even made her living doing it. But going for a walk did not mix with taking pictures until she recently began bringing a small camera along. Now she has introduced me to another kind of hiker: the Photographer. She will stop on a dime to gather all her skill and creativity and focus it through the lens. This allows the rest of us Meanderers time to catch up and even pass her at times.
It is possible to change, and really cool stuff happens when you do.
What type of hiker are you? (And what type do you want to be?)