I had a hike scheduled for Saturday for which nobody signed up. It was not a particularly exciting hike, but one which many people need for their 4000 footer list, so I took a chance in offering it. At any rate, with a Saturday free and the Whites at my doorstep, I was in the enviable position of being able to hike whatever I wanted. What I chose turned out to be a fabulous 26 mile loop that started in the Zealand parking area, went up and over Mt. Zealand, Mt. Guyot, Mt. Bond and Bondcliff, then down the Bondcliff trail, across the East Banch of the Pemigewasset River, up to Thoreau Falls and back to Zealand. Those who know me know how fond I am of the Bonds, and I could write for hours about the beauty of this entrance to the Pemigewasset Wilderness but I found the entire trip, not just my time in the Bonds, to be incredibly inspiring and rich. Although long, this would make a fantastic foliage hike for the fall and I may offer it in September for advanced hikers.
When one travels alone through the wilderness, like I was this weekend, (and please do not take this to mean I condone hiking alone because I do not), their thoughts turn inward, and when I set off, I wondered what would consume my thoughts for the next ten hours. It was not long before inspiration for two blog post came to me and will I share the first with you now.
From the AMC hut at Zealand Falls I took the Twinway trail, which, while not technical, is fairly steep and continuous. Shortly after leaving the hut, I encountered two women who were clearly struggling to climb this incline. They were both a little overweight, not in great shape, and were huffing and puffing as they moved at a snail’s pace up the trail. I said hello as I approached and asked if they were headed to the Bonds or to Galehead (the AMC hut that lies beyond the summit). One woman spoke and responded that she did not know where they were headed but hoped they were not going to Galehead, no doubt seeing the mileage on the earlier sign and recognizing that Galehead was further. Not knowing one’s destination puzzled me.
I asked if they were alright and the response, still from the same woman, was, “Yes, just out of breath”. I then inquired if they were alone, to which the same woman responded, “No, my husband is up ahead.” With that little bit of reassurance, I bid them a pleasant hike and continued on my way, expecting to find the husband 100 yards up the trail patiently waiting for them.
I passed the intersection with the Lend a Hand trail, which led off to the right, and I continued for a full .4 miles before I encountered a large strapping man and a boy of about 10 or 12. When I caught him, I asked if he was with the two women I had passed and he responded in the affirmative. I informed him they were a full four tenths a mile behind us and his almost surly response was, “Yes, we are stopping right here to wait for them. That is what we do, we hike and then we stop and wait.”
It was all I could do to bite my tongue and not go off on this guy about the myriad of things that were wrong with this situation, but his son was there and I felt that anything I said would probably fall on deaf ears anyway. So, instead of a tirade against the guy about safety and responsibility, I said something like, “Good, I am sure they will appreciate that”, and I continued on. A little ways further I reached a view area named Zeacliff which has some wonderful views. I stopped here to make a safety check-in, take some pictures and to talk to some very nice folks about the hike I was doing. Within ten minutes, the son, whom I had earlier passed, appeared on Zeacliff. It was obvious that while the two of them may have waited for a bit, they did not wait the entire time for the women to catch up.
Again, avoiding a confrontation in front of the boy, which probably would not accomplish anything, I left without saying a word and chose, instead, to express my ire here, in my blog. First, let’s talk about the women. They had no business climbing the trail they were on. This could not have been enjoyable and putting people in situations that are both exhausting and personally dangerous only tarnishes what might otherwise be a great family activity. Who picked this trail for their family outing? I do not fault the women, because without them knowing where they were headed, I think it a fair guess to say that it was not the two women who chose this hike.
The real problem here, of course, is the father. Why did he leave his wife and her friend or sister so far behind? Clearly, if there was an accident with either of them, he would never have known. What if one of them twisted an ankle or had some sort of cardiac event? What if one fell on the rocks they were climbing and scrambling over? These poor women didn’t even know their destination. What would happen if they took the Lend a Hand trail when they got to that intersection and headed off towards Mount Hale? There are a million safety issues with them being in such poor shape and so far behind.
How about the young son? What lessons was “dad” teaching his son? Sure, the father was in better shape than the poor women who were struggling, but the son already knew that and, frankly, anyone could know that just by looking at the couple side by side, and bounding up the mountain behind the boy and leaving mom behind did not illustrate that comparison any better. It showed, instead, how to disrespect women, how to be thoughtless, how to disregard the feelings of someone you supposedly love and care about and how, quite frankly, to be a tool. Hey buddy, if you want to show your son what a man you are, how about you take her pack for her since you are so physically fit? How about you offer a hand up on those big rock steps? How about you give her words of encouragement and praise instead of demonstrably showing your son what a burden she is on your hiking trip. There are so many great lessons and values your time in the outdoors could have helped you imbue in your son, instead you chose to squander a great opportunity as well as drive a wedge in your relationship with your wife.
Guys, it comes down to this, I think. Everything about the wilderness can be a wonderful experience that can be exciting to share and enjoy together, either as a couple or as a family, but please don’t make it yet another stage in which to prove your testosterone filled head and body can out-perform, and under-think, your spouse. Pick trails together that are appropriate for everyone in your group, hike at a pace that keeps everyone together so that you can share in the richness that surrounds you, and, ladies, if you have one of these guys at home, leave that tool behind.