Thursday, August 25, 2022

2022 Mt. Whitney: Making A Team

On Day 0 of the hike - true for both of the hikes that I have been on now - one meets "the team". 

Like our Grand Canyon Hike, the team consisted of two guides - our Lead Guide D, a gentleman in his 40's who looked every inch the muscular hiker and Associate Guide A, an Italian in his early 20's that had taken his month of vacation in Italy to come lead a hike - and 11 souls who for 8 days would be thrown together into a form of Long March uphill.



I have always found this sort of thing awkward - to be fair, I find most social events awkward - but this is one of the things that the sort of group hike both encourages and needs:  the group succeeds as a team, not just as individuals.  A successful hike, in this case, would be if everyone reached the summit, not just some of us.

Our team was broad mix:  myself and The Outdoorsman of course, a mother and daughter duo from more Northly climes, a couple in the late 60's/early 70's, another couple in their late 40's, a grandmother in her early 60's from nearby, a gentleman in his mid-50's who had years of Scouting participation, and a woman in her early 40's from the ocean.  All of us had some hiking experience; no-one had fully completed this hike before (that would be The Outdoorsman, who had to turn back last year after a team member was ill).

After the initial meet and greet, we all packed into either a van or a truck to begin the 2+ hour drive from the meeting place to the trailhead where we would be starting from the next day.  The conversation was the sort of thing that is likely to occur at most any sort of event like this:  Where do you live?  What do you do?  Where have you hiked?  Have you climbed Mt. Whitney?   

The basic conversation of those learning of others and their boundaries.


The odd thing - odd to me, anyway - is that within 2 days, these seemingly isolated group of people would come together in ways that you would not have realized possible from meeting in a parking lot and a van ride.  People offering to carry things for others, to share snacks or a shelter when the rain poured down.  Making sure that everyone made it to every stopping point and that no-one was ever truly left behind.  Celebrating each other's triumphs as one by one, we marched on a road towards a mountain that loomed not so much in our sight as in our minds.  

How does such a thing happen?

I ask how, of course, because in society it never seems to go that way.  We live in our separate little worlds - work, activity, religious observation, volunteerism - and too often scarcely know a thing about each other at all.  I could barely tell you about many of my coworker's families; by the end of this trip I knew about everyone's family or lack thereof,  what their children were doing, and how they each filled their time.  In eight days I learned more than I have learned about some others in 5 years.  

Why?


It could be, of course, the simple expedient that without any kind of cell phone service or InterWeb, we were forced onto each other. It could also have been that the single goal we had in mind formed a glue - unseen and unrealized - that slowly drew us together invisibly until we no longer thought of each other as anything other than the hiking friends we thought we had been.  

But maybe there is another factor.

Too often in my own life, I find myself consumed by a world of inputs that nibble away at my time and my energy.  This needs my attention; that needs doing.  Before long I am awash in things that steal my attention.  On the trail there is none of that; there is merely the slowly walking in a direction towards a goal.  Literally besides the scenery, you have nothing but each other not only to lean on, but to fill the time and yawing gap of what would be other activities.

I wonder: instead of "team building” events we often have to participate in for the vain hope a connection is to be made, perhaps we should just send everyone on week long hikes.

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:35 AM

    Its nice when a group of unrelated persons can come together and become friends when traveling. My wife and I experienced the same on a bus tour in Mexico's interior. We were a group of 20 persons, and my wife and I were the only Americans. But after a day of travel and we became better aquainted, the others began to ask us questions about America and what we thought of Mexico so far. We later shared meals with different groups, toured the museums and churches and shopped different locations.

    It was very nice and we were sad when the tour ended. A great time was had and they were a large part of why that happened.

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    1. I have not been a great many trips where I have had this opportunity, but it is pleasant when it happens. Oddly enough, our trip to Costa Rica was not quite the same: even though we were on a bus for long periods and did things together, there was never quite the same "sense" coming together as a group. It certainly does add to the experience.

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  2. It's interesting to me that most of your team was middle aged and older. I wonder if the experience would have been different, if say, they were all in their early 20s.

    Being separated from one's ordinary peer group and having a common goal without the distractions that life typically throw at us is a unique thing. With unique results. I love that you're putting this into words.

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    1. Leigh, I do not wonder if part of that was simply the fact that this was a paid hike, and so there was a cost threshold to participate. I also suspect the fact that this was a "guided" tour might have been less attractive to younger folks in the sense that that they "want to do it themselves" - certainly we saw plenty of groups of young people hiking together later.

      I like what you suggest about being outside of our normal peer group and working on a goal with no distractions. In a way, that is the only things something like this could have been done. The "lack of distractions" (a.k.a "No coverage') made a huge difference. We were forced upon each other as resource, for the hike and for general interaction and entertainment purposes.

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  3. Shared hardship, working towards a common goal. That is the story of our country in a small way. Then, with little hardship and everyone having their own goals, community shriveled. I expect to see community begin to come back, as the hardship increases.

    It's said that in the Texas panhandle, farmers would build their house in the middle of their property. Seems like a section was the normal size for a farm there. Then, several years later, they and their neighbors would move the house to a corner, to be near each other. There was one of those little spots about a mile south of my old home place.

    Wood badge training was much the same. A bunch of folks that were thrown together becoming a unit. That was the only way to make it.

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    1. STxAR, I do not think you are wrong. One thing about the world that the InterWeb community has created is that it is often not very related to daily living and dealing with hardships. One can get support from an InterWeb group; what one cannot get is actual physical assistance (or not easily, anyway).

      That is interesting about the Panhandle - and sounds totally true. In a way with our packed in modern living, we forget what true isolation in such places may have been like.

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  4. I think you are right on all three counts. Being outdoors, away from civilization and distractions, attempting to achieve some common goal is a great recipe for meeting others and getting to know them.

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    1. In a way Ed, it is using the circumstances to force the growth of community. It would not happen spontaneously (I think) if we had the ability to be distracted (it has not done so in my experience) nor if we were in civilization (again, not in my experience). Being away from both was a huge factor.

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  5. Gorgeous scenery. Glad you had a great time, TB.
    You all be safe and God bless.

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    1. Thank you Linda! It really was beautiful.

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  6. To maybe flesh out a bit Leigh's thoughts... I wonder if any of the group had been younger (say, in their 20's) would it have felt as natural to begin asking about each other's lives. Do you know, are these types of things put together so as try to match people as agreeable companions? A week would be a miserably long time if there were any disagreeable types. I'd think, anyway. All that said, it's a lovely thing you describe.

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    1. Becki, that I know of the individuals are purely based on when they signed up for this particular trip. To be fair, of our 11 hikers, at least half had been on a hike with this organization before, which I suspect in some ways helped to set expectations.

      Your thought about people being younger and their willingness to share is one I had not thought of. I do not have a good answer to the question. I suspect it would have been as it was - initial contact, then more details over time.

      Fortunately with this kind of hike, one can vary one's position in the hiking order such that if there was some disagreeableness, one could at least spend a fair amount of time away.

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  7. Team building comes from making it through hardship. When people manage to overcome adversity while working together, they come together. Sadly, people shy away from real challenges.

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    1. It does John, although of interest is that remote success through hardship does not seem to have the same impact - as noted, I have coworkers that I have pushed through tasks over the last two years that I feel far less connected to than this group.

      And yes, too often anymore we do shy away from real challenges. I am not sure why - is it the concern we may actually fail, or that we believe that challenges now only fall into certain categories?

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