Before booking your adventure location, packing your bags, and planning the routes, the decision of who will accompany you on your trip is key to a memorable and pleasurable experience. Have you ever hiked with someone who whines at every climb, talks too much, is too quiet, takes too many breaks or forgets key essentials? These people will not only turn your trip into a nightmare but can also pose a danger to them and you.
I have been on trips with self proclaimed experts who over estimated their abilities and was not able to pace themselves on backpacking trips, faced severe dehydration, gotten lost, and basically bonked out near the realm of delirium. Luckily…or by design, these bad experiences was an exception rather than the norm. After a few good and bad experiences with hiking clubs and buddies, I have collected some admirable characteristics that are minimal requirements for outdoor companions. These include first and foremost, patience, self-knowledge of their own abilities and limitations, adventurous spirit, which culminates a healthy dose of curiosity and caution.
One memorable example was my first big backpacking trip with my bro-in-law, Johnston, to Havasupai during the month of July. Hiking along the rim, down and through 10 miles of light rocks with about 40 pounds on my back and slugging through the sand was challenging…but doable. However, descending on the way to our destination meant climbing up on the way back. At about the half waypoint, on the way out, after marching for 5 hours at 10am, I was starting to hallucinate. The heat, lack of sleep, sandy ground, and pack weight made every step extremely laborious. I remember looking up at the clouds and wondering why it was moving so fast when I hardly felt any wind blowing against my skin. I looked over to Johnston and asked if he saw the same thing in the clouds. I recall him smiling and patiently asked me a few questions. “When was my last drink of water, do you want to vomit?” I didn’t know at the time, but he was looking for signs of heat exhaustion and stroke. Johnston gave me a couple of Goo drops and from that point on, he hiked next to me and kept at my slow pace. “…Feeling ok?, want to take a break?” These were pretty much the extent of our conversation for the next 3 hours as we climbed our way out and back onto the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Another fond memory with another great companion was on a recent motorcycle camping trip with Will in April of 2016. The plan was to cut through 20 miles of freeway to the trailhead then 50 miles through dirt, do some camping thereabouts, and then ride some more dirt through the San Bernardino Mountains to return home within 3 days. I’m a new rider with about 1000 miles under my belt and mostly on pavement so riding through rocks and dirt was going to be new territory. Will is an experienced rider and was leading the trip. On the way there, I dropped my bike in at a stop sign on an incline in a small neighborhood leading up to the trailhead. Will had to get off his bike to help me pick it up. That’s number one… About half a mile in, Will helped pick my bike up another 5 times as I nervously try to steer my way through the recently washed out road in the mountains; to top this off, I practically launch my bike off side of a mountain. Luckily, with the help of 4 other riders who happened to cross our path, we were able to get the bike back onto dirt road partly with manpower and a rope tied to the back of Will’s bike. It would have been priceless to have a picture of Will’s front wheel coming off the ground at about 4 feet off the dirt. Through all this, I heard no criticizing of my riding, just encouragement and more directions.
Good companions are hard to find when you’re venturing in the outdoors. Key attributes of an outdoor buddy should be trustworthiness, patient, experience, knowledge and attitude. I would love to hear your stories below. Cheers!