We all have that one hiking or workout partner that we don’t want to disappoint. They help motivate us when we struggle on the trail. They are there with advice and support and we reciprocate to keep them going every step. We get to know them well. My hiking buddy, Alex, is that person that gets me to go higher and further each time out. But sometimes the effort to motivate each other, mixed with a healthy dose of stubbornness, can lead to a game of “Hiking Chicken.” And if I learned anything from Footloose, it is that there are no winners in a good old fashioned game of chicken!
To understand the game you first need to understand the normal negotiation when we decide to hike together. My hiking buddy is in much better shape than me, likes to run for fun (why?), and is quite a bit younger. So when we are deciding to pick a hike that works for both of us it is a little bit of a dance. Here is a common example:
Hiking Buddy: What if we do this trail it is only 23 miles and 8100 feet of elevation gain? It’s my light day so that should work.
Fatman: Hmm, solid argument but I was thinking of this trail that is 0.9 miles, 100 feet of elevation and there is an escalator to bring us back down.
HB: Dude, that is just the Ice Cream place on the second floor of the mall that is not a hike. How about 17 miles and 5000 feet of elevation gain?
FM: Would you be interested in 4 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain?
HB: Well that is how far mine is from the parking lot to the trail head. Then the other 13 miles is just up the side of a mountain.
FM: (Sigh) How about this trail that is about 10 miles and 1500 feet of elevation?
HB: That will work, I can always run when I get home.
Did I just win?
With that knowledge of the negotiation process you will understand that I thought I won when we agreed on a 5.5 mile and 1700 foot elevation gain hike. That hike was not nearly as long and painful as we usually agree to but I didn’t want to bring it up. It could be a trick. Is there a five thousand foot up and down in the middle that wasn’t on the map? Our scheduled meet up, which is usually around 7am had even been pushed back to 9. Surely, treachery was afoot. We both had plans the night before the hike so was this just early anticipation of a rough time brought on by sleep deprivation? I was cautiously optimistic but also guarded.
The First Volley
The day of the hike was upon us. The prior evenings events were quite literally still ringing in my head. Eager to prove that I was not old (I am) or in pain from staying out past 9pm (I was) I woke up early to prepare. I then laid in bed for about an hour contemplating which excuse would allow me to get out of the hike and also save face. That is when fate, and Alex, would give me an opportunity.
I received a text. “I might be a few minutes late, maybe 9:10/9:15”. Alex is never late. All of my excuses left my body and I was filled a new strength. I even sat up in bed! My response was a softball. “No worries, I am moving slowwww”. The truth wrapped in a lie. What I wanted to say was, “Oh good lets cancel!”. What I didn’t realize was that is exactly what my hiking partner was hoping I would say.
Ever so stubborn, I decided to thoroughly examine the mouth of said gift horse and I instead offered one of the easiest hikes I could think of as an alternate. A paved trail on flat ground with the caveat that I could still probably do the five miles originally planned. Surely she would take the easy hike or admit defeat. Check mate? “Yep lets do the 5 miles”. Damn. Stubbornness returned with vigor. The stalemate continues.
The First Steps
Now we have both arrived at the trail. Neither of us really physically capable of doing the hike but refusing to be the first to yield. The 50 degree morning was betrayed by the sweat coming from my veins. Is that sweat? Side note: Is it possible for the sun to make last nights alcohol “sweat” through the skin on a cold morning?”.
I usually set the pace for our hikes because I am the slower of the two and this morning Alex seemed fine hanging behind me. Suddenly a woodpecker begins to hammer at the defenseless skin of a neighboring tree. A sound that I enjoy most mornings. Something to break the silence of the march. This morning the rapid staccato of beak to bark rattled through my head like a cheetah running with bass drum sandals.
I looked to Alex, “Wow, I’m not feeling it today”.
“Do you want to quit?” was her response, both hopeful and helpful.
“Oh no, I can push on”. I’m lying. I’m an idiot.
A few more steps and another break. A quick sip of water to see if any amount of water can rehydrate my bad decisions from the night before. She is really going to make me do this whole hike just to prove me wrong. Well, I will show her. I will DO this whole hike just to prove her wrong. Solid logic from the inner monologue as always.
We amble on.
Now me and Alex are good friends and we have hiked together a lot. We have a good relationship but we are both very competitive people. Neither of us wanted to be there and it was a vibe that we both felt. But neither of us wanted to admit to it. After all, we don’t get to hike together as often as we would like. (Although she might not want to hike again after she reads this!)
Neither of us wanted to ruin the day for the other one but in the end we made each others days pretty rough by trying too hard. I think we both knew as early as the text messages that this hike probably wouldn’t work out.
About a mile and a half and a somewhat grueling 600 feet of elevation I had to stop and take off a layer. I “conveniently” stopped at the last bailout trail that would take us back to the cars. I may or may not of pointed this out and may or may not been ecstatic when Alex offered to call it a day! An offer I wholeheartedly agreed with.
After deciding to tuck tail and return, everything changed. We actually joked about how we were both not into it today and were hoping the other one would call it off. The next few steps I felt like skipping. My pack felt lighter. The woodpecker was singing instead of smashing. Our conversation got better and I really enjoyed myself.
I think the entire thing stemmed from not wanting to disappoint the other person. She pushes me to do harder and better hikes. I slow her down and provide comic relief by trying to keep up. I am glad we are good enough friends that we could laugh about playing a game of chicken that morning. And while the game was called a draw, for the record I think I won by a shoelace!
More from the Fatman
If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy more of the posts on my Fatman’s Rambling page. Blogs such as “Hiking Alone not Lonely Hiking“, “Winslow, Arizona” and “Screw it, I’m Trying” as well as many others may interest you there. If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can keep the conversation going by following me on any of the below social media platforms.