“As soon as I saw you I knew an adventure was going to happen” – Winnie The Pooh
That “Keen for a hike?” text is up there in the top 5 questions anyone could ask you on a Friday afternoon. It’s so much better than “Do you have tonic water?”. Finding a hiking squad sounds easy, but it hasn’t always been for me. Aside from the very obvious fact of shyness that governs my life, I can’t exactly be making friends when I’m literally running out of breathe every two minutes. Unlike the air flowing out of my lungs at 120km/h, conversations just don’t.
So beyond the awkward introductions, and once you’ve combatted irregular breathing, what do you even talk about? What’s too personal, and what’s too superficial? How do you get to know someone without being a nuisance (and a distraction in the serious business of hiking)? How do you begin an authentic discussion with them without being overbearing? Most importantly, how do you let them know you’d Iike to continue the chat even after the hike ends without coming across as a creep?
Everyone who knows me knows I’m a coward. I went on every hike I suspected this one person I thought was cool might be on and always chickened out of shooting my (platonic) shot. I got very fit, but still couldn’t sum up the courage to say hi to my hiking soul mate. Point is, it’s really not that easy for me to strike up a conversation.
I’m not too concerned with content, I have a lot to say about a lot of things, once I warm up to a person. However, I CANNOT stand small talk and trivial chats about the weather. Tell me about your coursework, especially if it’s astrophysics or corporate law (HELLO SOULMATE!). I want to know things that matter to you, whether you like dogs or not so I know if I want to even start this friendship or nah.
There are a few people who I couldn’t stop talking to, then later about to my friends who don’t hike. These are the people who positively changed my perceptions of yt boys and I’m forever grateful. I consider them friends even outside of hiking spaces because they’re genuine and are not excessive in their curating of their relationships with POC. On one particular trip, I met a very kind, funny and all-round-great-guy engineering student who made me wish I’d joined the MSC earlier!
Another person who had a lasting impact on me was a recent law graduate whose interactions with POC came just as organically. He spoke very good isiXhosa and did not impose it on everyone. The only reason I even learnt he spoke isiXhosa was because he was speaking to our guide (a black man in a small Afrikaans fishing town along the West Coast) when his Afrikaans reached its daily cap. Even after the trip we went jolling with another really good friend I met on a hike and we were all impressed to see each other wearing real clothes and all cleaned up.
I have only one close female friend whom I met through hiking although she seems to mostly be a rock climber (urgh!), but the heart wants what it wants. We are women of colour in a predominantly white man’s sport and it’s fantastic to have someone who knows exactly what’s going on in my head when the cadres start being their problematic selves, and who’s down to get a drink to debrief after every weird encounter with cadres.
Shout out to these amazing mountain G.O.A.T.s, and my cool hiking tribe!