Trail Tales

Week 1 Process Post

“Have fun, try hard, and make new friends”
My father’s voice still echos through my mind and I can see his mischievous smile while he waits for my eye roll as he drops me off for track practice. For as long as I can remember, that has been my father’s motto. Have fun, try hard, and make new friends. Often, it is said as a joke, as a way to make one of us smile before he head out the door in the morning, to remind us that life is fun, and not to take things too seriously. However, as silly and unassuming this phrase may be, it has led me to more experiences than I give it credit for. You see, when you follow the narrative of having fun, trying hard, and making new friends, talking to strangers becomes an act of second nature.

Which leads me to the present day, or more specifically, last weekend where I had the pleasure of making a new friend while on a hike. Who only moments before, was a complete stranger. When I first saw him, he was twisting around the bend of a mountain ridge line that emerged from an orange smoggy sky. He was wearing an orange mountaineering helmet, a backpack with long ropes tied onto the sides, and gripped two blue hiking poles that seemed to be compensating for a noticeable limp in his step. Grey and gruff, his blue eyes shone from underneath bushy eyebrows and were fixated on the horizon ahead of him. Little tufts of silver hair poked out from underneath his helmet, bouncing up and down as they caught the gentle breeze of the alpine air. He passed a couple groups of hikers and I watched as he made his way past us to head down from the summit. Maybe it was because of COVID-19 and the fear of close contact, or maybe it was the older gentleman’s slightly feral appearance, but each group of hikers seemed to avoided eye contact and any form of acknowledgement towards the man as he passed by.

I looked at these interactions (or lack of) and thought to myself, “that’s not very have fun, try hard, and make new friends of them” and soon after, I was hiking down the trail after him, hoping to catch him on the way down.

“Hi! Did you come from summiting the Lions?”

The man looked up at me, surprised that someone had addressed him. I watched as the smile lines around his eyes shifted into their familiar grooves and he answered back with a grin worn only by someone who has just experienced a day of alpine stoke and adventure. “Sure did” he replied with a smile, “took me longer than usual though because of this damned American smoke. Thought I’d escape it if I climbed high enough.”

And that was it, my simple “Hi” followed by a single question led into a full conversation that lasted almost the entire rest of our hike down the mountain. We began talking about we each experiment the hike that day, the weather, the summer and how COVID-19 has changed what we both normally do in terms of socializing and it’s influence on our hobbies. As we were talking, my eyes caught the funky pattern of his crew cut socks – a pattern that could only be distinguished as the theme of a coveted bike race in Victoria, BC. One question flowed into another and next thing I knew we catapulted into a whole new and exciting conversation about his life as a professional cyclist. He told me about his life before cycling and how his love for road races originated from his early days as professional Ironman athlete, where he travelled to a handful of countries across the world to compete and train. He told me how he met his wife and got her hooked on a life lived outdoors, and about his passion for trail running and hiking. He told me about the multi day/ multi event relay races that he enters with his group of friends, enduro cycling, and the whacky meals he eats to refuel while on the road, his love for back country skiing, and intertwined life lessons into each story of his life of sports and adventure.

In regards to the week 1 course reading “How to Talk to Strangers” by James Hamblin, I am most interested in the aspect of how detaching from societal expectations surrounding “talking to strangers” allows us to acknowledge one another’s humanity. The interaction that I experienced while on my hike was perfect proof that the biggest barriers we face towards human connection are the ones we create in our minds. All it takes is a conscious choice to break the ice and engage with “strangers” around you, because most of the time, they’re never that strange at all.

That day, I chose to break through the invisible barriers that we create for ourselves when it comes to meeting new people. By following the phrase “have fun, try hard, and make new friends” I was able to turn what could have been another stranger in passing into a friend. From this experience, I was able to take away an amazing conversation, shared stories and knowledge, and was able to see what life can look like when you follow your passion towards a lifetime of sports and adventure.