I know we visit nature to escape the trappings of work and city life. We want to get away from crowds and people, have time to ourselves, rejuvenate and embrace the silence of a beaten trail. We take a day trip to spot wild animals, see the desert in bloom, photograph spectacular views and hike to distant waterfalls. But if you walk past me and don’t respond to my cheesy hiking greetings, I’m just saying… Watch your step.
I will settle for any kind of acknowledgement that you and I exist together on this dirt pathway. I have pulled out all the stops to welcome your arrival. I offered a high-five, said, “Good morning, super hiker friend,” and held up a sign that reads, Greetings Mountain Man! I expect nothing less in return. If you breeze past me as though I’m part of the shrubbery, you should be very aware that we’re traipsing along an extremely steep cliff.
You can’t be too cool for my warm welcomes because I have done everything in my power to make hiking uncool for everyone. My fanny pack is secured tightly, I have stood in the same place for an hour trying to refold my paper map, my hat was a Valentine’s Day present that says, I love you. And you think that you can walk past this kind of love and not reciprocate my hug?
It’s just you and me up there. I move to the side to let you pass and raise a hand in the air for a high-five. We’re in this together. We’re hiking, climbing, conquering and you leave me hanging? You’re doing to me exactly what the treasonous regiment of the Scottish Army in Braveheart did when they ditched William Wallace mid-battle.
I don’t mean this in a caustic way, but there’s lots of ways to die out here. Tripping off a ridge, dehydration, hunger, snake bite, freak Southern California snow storm, crushed by a desert vending machine. Making enemies out here by not returning my, “What a good hiker you are,” is not a smart move. I got three words for you. No, not, “How ya doing?” Those were my first three words that fell on deaf ears. Three more words: Into. The. Wild.
That’s right, Emile Hirsch, with your fancy-pants trekking poles, hiking app on your iPad and camelback in a backpack with a fluffy camel design. Don’t blame those little white headphones when I pick up the nearest rattlesnake and whisper to its well-trained snake brain to follow you home. Even if you blasted Over the Mountains and Through the Woods (Kanye remix) at full volume, I was still loud enough with my, “The Sun makes the day bright” comment for you to hear.
You get home and think you made it back to safe confines. You take a shower and lie down to let your muscles relax. Then when you open your eyes, who’s staring back at you? Mister trained killer locksmith rattlesnake. This time when he says, “Good morning, fellow hiker,” you won’t have any choice but to respond with silence.
I don my safari hat, layer on the SPF 50 and secure my rubber rain boots. When you walk past me in your waterproof windbreaker, trekking boots, poles, shades and music like you’re too cool, you don’t just insult me, you insult everything I’ve done to make hiking nerdy for everyone. And that’s what this faint elbow is for as you try to pass a rocky cliff face; a craggy and unfriendly face that should make you feel at home.