My friend, Angela, has made a running joke of how much I hated the Pacific Crest Trail. Mainly because of how much I have complained about two things– sand, which is my least favorite thing in the world, and west-coast hiking snobs. Apparently I complained about those two things pretty harshly.
“But I loved the PCT,” I reply whenever Angela mentions how I hated it. “I just have to counteract all those Appalachian Trail haters.”
She has a point, though. I am guilty of something that long-distance hikers are guilty of all too often. The more we hike, it seems, the more we complain. It reminds me of a story from September, 2009.
At the end of my time working at the Green Mountain Club, I went up to Butler Lodge on Mount Mansfield one Tuesday night to hang out with the caretaker and test out some of my new equipment before starting the New England Trail. Being a weekday, there were only two other hikers at the lodge with the caretaker and me, so it was a nice, quiet night.
Not long after arriving, I learned that these two other hikers were an accomplished pair of long-distance hikers. They had hiked the Appalachian Trail, the John Muir Trail, the Pinhoti Trail, the Northville-Placid Trail, the International Appalachian Trail, the Ozark Highlands Trail, and the Benton Mackaye Trail, many of which are on my life list of hopeful hikes, so I was eager to trade stories with them.
I began to chat with them about various long-distance trails, but soon they had redirected the conversation. Instead of happy stories about trails they’d hiked before, they seemed to become stuck on one section of the Long Trail that had recently been worked on by the Long Trail Patrol (the official trail crew of the Green Mountain Club). The couple complained and criticized the Club and the maintainers of the Long Trail for sloppy trail work for about half an hour before I managed to derail the conversation.
After all the miles they had hiked, don’t you think they would be able to focus on the positive aspects of the trail? Early the next morning I took this picture from Mount Mansfield’s Forehead, which remains one of my favorite views in the entire state. I couldn’t find anything to complain about. Yet the couple had been able to talk about nothing positive from their entire Long Trail experience, instead focusing on one minor issue almost fifty miles north along the trail. Their problem was simply that some branches had been clipped too far from the trunks of the trees from which they protruded into the trail. I checked that area the next week and found nothing to elicit such complaint.
I’ve seen this sort of behavior several times on all sorts of long-distance trails. Often it is because a hiker is tired and beaten down by a particularly rough day or a stretch of bad weather. Maybe you’ve heard it, too. A hiker who just seems to be having a nasty day, or is pretty irritable. I can understand this, but I still try as much as possible to avoid acting that way. It can bring other hikers’ days down to be around negative attitudes, and it’s not fair for one person’s bad day to cause someone else to feel bad.
Sometimes, however, the behavior is completely unjustified. This couple had very little to complain about, but they went on to call the Long Trail Patrol lazy and poorly trained, along with the volunteers and other maintainers of the trail. This was downright insulting to my friends and coworkers, but also to a hell of a lot of people who thanklessly devote their personal time to working on the trail.
Does this sound familiar to anyone else? How do you deal with people bringing negative attitudes to your happy hiking day? I haven’t found a good way yet aside from ignoring them and getting away from their bad energy, or, if they’re just having a bad day, trying to cheer them up or convince them to rest and recover from their plight.