When I first started hiking and the question, "So what'd you do this weekend?" came up from co-workers, the answer was inevitably met with a series of concerned follow-up questions implying my sanity was not up to snuff. "Aren't you worried about getting lost?" they'd ask. Or "What happens if you break your leg out there?" or "What about the grizzly bears that ride mountain lions and throw rattlesnakes at people?"
I asked some of my outdoorsy friends - from novices to experts - which mental blocks most often keep new hikers from hitting the trail ... and why they're all wrong.
BIG BAD WOLVES (and other critters)
By far, the most common concern was of the animal variety, with bears and cougars getting top billing. This might not surprise you, since most of the time when you're reading a rare headline about a trail it's not "Hiker Enjoys Pleasant Day on Trail," it's "Couple Fends off Mountain Lion Attack on Popular Trail - Click Here For Shocking Photos That Will Change Your Life."
Anyone who spends time in the outdoors knows that even though development and environmental pressures have increased animal attacks, they are also still unbelievably rare occurrences. Since 1890, there have been 110 fatal bear attacks in the wild reported in North America and only 25 from cougars - the vast majority of which were preventable and avoidable. For perspective, there have been 452 fatal dog attacks reported in the US alone in that same time period, and 30,800 Americans were killed by cars in the year 2012 ... yet very few people panic about getting into a car or walking their puppy.
The next biggest hurdle I've found is a general sense that the new hiker feels he or she isn't "ready" for hiking. They don't have all the newest gear, they don't know the trail, they're worried about going too slowly (or worried about making you go slower than you're used to). The big, untold secret of hiking is - for all its expensive gear and epic destinations, it's still basically just walking around outside. New hikers should trust that the person taking them hiking knows what they're doing; and experienced hikers should pick a trail that suits their guest's needs first.
I've already written about ways to convert friends to hiking buddies (save that 25-mile trek for another time!) but it's best to go onto the trail with zero expectations. It's OK to take breaks, it's OK to hike slowly, and it's OK if you don't reach the summit. It's also OK to lend some gear to your friends if they're considering hiking in their Toms - you probably know what they need better than they do!
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
Finally, the unfortunate next most common complaint seems to be a fear of leaving behind the creature comforts of civilization - air conditioning, cell service and - gasp - the Internet.
I get it - if you're not used to being away from those things it can be easy to start craving them when they're not around. But that craving is exactly why you need to ditch that stuff once in a while. Not only will turning those things off open your eyes to a vast world hidden right in front of your face - but you'll also appreciate them more if you take a little break from them.
And hey, you can always just tag your photos #latergram when you get home.
**Casey is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Learn more about hiking on his site: Modern Hiker.**
Fears of Hiking: Avoid These Excuses
By Casey Schreiner
September 24, 2014
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