Updated: Jan 26, 2020
When I hike I’m most often solo. When I first got back in to hiking I was regularly heading out last minute and didn’t have any hiking partners on stand-by. I quickly became very comfortable hiking on my own. Hiking alone means I don’t need to worry about coordinating schedules, I can keep my own pace and I’m not making anyone wait for me while I frequently stop to take photos. I also find that silent time in the woods is a great opportunity to think through things you may not spend time on otherwise. All that said, I’m certainly not antisocial or recluse and had thought about seeking out people to hike with. In December I joined the Appalachian Mountain Club (www.Outdoors.org) as an opportunity to support outdoor recreation and conservation. AMC has local chapters all over the northeast that regularly sponsor activities such as hikes, outings and presentations.
I had been considering attending an AMC hike and found that there was one scheduled for today at Case Mountain in Manchester. I thought that since this one was close to home and in an area that I knew pretty well it might be a good choice for a first hike with this group. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a group hike with AMC and had a lot of questions. Who attends these hikes? Would it be a tight-nit group of regulars that I would be intruding on? Would I be too fast or too slow for their pace? Am I going to feel out of place? Maybe I should just stick to hiking by myself, I thought. Ultimately though, I reasoned that if I got there and felt uncomfortable I could always just go my own way, so I decided to give this group hike a try.
When I got to the parking area we were meeting at the temperature was 18 degrees. There were several hikers already gathered. I readied my pack and changed into my boots before walking over to the group. I stood quietly for a few minutes as others in the group, who clearly knew each other, talked a bit while waiting for the hike leader to pass around a sign in sheet and get us under way. As I did I took note of the gear and clothing being used by others in the group. In addition to this being my first AMC group hike, it was also the first hike I was taking in such cold temperatures. As I’ve mentioned previously, I mostly hike in warmer weather (mid-30’s and above) but have been looking for an opportunity to get out in sub-freezing conditions as well. Looking at the others, I was reassured that I was meeting the standard for adequate clothing and gear on this one. I was beginning to feel a bit more comfortable already.
The hike leader started by welcoming everyone and asking each person to introduce themselves. There were 10 of us in total. We were 5 men and 5 women. If I had to guess the average age of group members was about 55, with a couple in their mid 40’s and the oldest hiker in his early 70s. As the morning progressed I would get a better sense of the experience level of each participant, but from the parking lot it appeared that everyone had at least a little hiking experience. The group leader explained a little about the distance and trails we would be taking before we headed out. I fell in line as the group moved out onto the trail.
We covered about 5 miles on this hike. The weather remained cold but mostly clear and with no wind. The sky was clear enough that from the top of Case Mountain we could just make out Heublein Tower off in the distance. More interesting than the hike itself was my experience with the other hikers and with this AMC group hike overall. First I’ll say that the entire experience was really positive and exceeded my admittedly low expectations by far. I found out over the course of the morning that this was a group of very mixed experience levels. The group did have a few people who regularly attended AMC hikes, but also several that didn’t. Everyone was extremely friendly as well. Of interest, I found that everyone in the group seemed to really flow between conversations with different people. Members regularly moved their position in line and struck up new conversations with whomever happened to be closest.
During one such conversation I had, I found out that I was in fact hiking with a gentleman who’s experience made him larger than life in my mind. The gentleman I’m speaking of had volunteered to be the sweeper for the group, so he was intentionally last in line all morning. He was most likely the oldest hiker in the group and looked unassuming in every way. As a matter of fact, when sizing up the group in the parking lot, I had very mistakenly assumed that this guy might in fact keep our group pace on the slower side. I had no idea what I was talking about! So let me tell you about a few of his remarkable accomplishments. He along with his wife are very experienced thru-hikers. He explained how he has completed the Appalachian Trail 3 times! If that wasn’t enough to make him worth listening to, he went on to tell me that he hopes to complete the Continental Divide trail – Mexico to Canada – for the 3rd time this summer! He was one of the original 10 people to complete the Pacific Crest trail in 1976. These are some hiking highlights, and I assure you that his hiking experience goes on for pages more beyond these. In addition to hiking, he’s also a runner. This past Thanksgiving he logged his 50th Manchester Road Race completion! I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hike with this gentleman, even for a short 5 miles. I enjoyed listening to him talk about the history of Case Mountain and how the Case family fits into Manchester’s history. I listened intently as he was explaining to another hiker what it takes to complete a long thru hike, and why so many people that start long treks like the AT or the PCT ultimately fail. He pointed out that mental toughness is often more important than physical toughness, and sometime people just can’t take “not knowing what they’re missing out on at home”. That made a lot of sense to me. To separate yourself from family and friends, and your daily life, for 5 months to hike takes much more than physical stamina. The greatest take-away I got from listening to this man was some renewed hope that I still have plenty of time to do some really big hikes in my lifetime. I’ve always thought that to do a hike like the AT you needed to be in your 20s with no job and in really good physical shape. This guy is hiking from Mexico to Canada this year and he’s in his 70s. I won’t be doing anything on that scale I don’t think, but the prospect of completing some shorter thru hikes got a lot more realistic for me today.
I enjoyed every conversation I had with the other group members on this hike today. I enjoyed comparing trail notes in some cases and providing a funny story or two in others. I liked hearing about what drew people to hiking and what some of their hiking goals or accomplishments were. I felt very comfortable and immediately accepted with this group and left hoping I’d have a similar experience on the next AMC hike I attend as we parted ways. I’m not sure when the next one will be but you can be sure I’ll tell you all about it.