Some harsh truths about trekking I’ve learnt the hard way
Everything isn’t hunky dory while trekking, at least not all the time
In the last decade or so, I’ve trekked with a myriad set of people across ages and backgrounds, all hailing from different parts of the country. There have been a lot of hiccups along the way, and a couple of hoops through which I’ve jumped during the journey to make it all happen. Suffice it to say, I’ve had my fair share of enjoyable and unpleasant experiences along the way.
But today I’m here to talk to you about the lesser known social aspects that come into play when you share common hobbies with a bunch of strangers and acquaintances. Things that most people don’t talk about and just keep to themselves for fear of stirring bad memories back up to the surface. For most people, these memories are perfect where they are, in the deep dark coldness of the ocean floor.
What I’m referring to here is a people issue. One that isn’t so black and white, when the people you’re trekking with are neither your friends nor customers. Now I know you have the urge to ask me why I go trekking with unknown people in the first place? Why do this middle ground thing? And why do I continue to organize treks in an informal capacity, even after being immersed in the icy coldness of those unpleasant situations all through the years?
And the answer to those two questions is quite simple. Everyone has an area of their lives where they’re okay to tolerate a little bit of bullshit for the sake of the greater good. Whether that maybe for the organization they work for (their career), a team, a project, or even their own selves. We’re pretty much sacrificial in nature when there’s something in it for ourselves. Especially if that adds another feather to our hat of accomplishments.
For me, that area happens to be trekking.
Would I have done half the treks I ventured on (and discovered such breathtaking and stunning locations in the remotest of regions of the country), if I hadn’t tolerated all the shenanigans of a rowdy group of strangers who’re only there to party and make merry? Probably not. Definitely not!
Today I have a wealth of experience under my belt. I know the ins and outs of group management, how to motivate trekkers inside the forest, how to perk up the tired ones, how to deal with the aggressive ones, and how to show the newbies the sights. I know how to de-escalate untoward incidents and defuse high voltage situations in the forest. I know how to act appropriately with different personality types. I wouldn’t have got this knowledge working only with conformist groups, embarking only on easy treks.
Here are some situations that I’ve come across, and learned to avoid, in order to enjoy a hassle-free and smooth trekking experience in the future:
Not having a concrete plan: This is the perfect raw material for introducing changes along the way that might not really suit your schedule. On this one trek, a friend and I were literally held hostage inside the jungle by the rest of the group just because they were bigger in number. It was one of the treks that left a very sour taste in my mouth and I’ve sworn to never venture out with a group who’s open to changing plans on the fly. By “held hostage” I mean held hostage to a sudden change of plans. Something that neither my friend or I were acquiescent to, but were forced to comply just because there was no concrete plan in the first place.
Lesson: Always have a fixed plan in place, and ensure to inform the group well in advance about your reluctance to any sudden changes that might be made to the plan.
Not doing the pre-trek briefing just because they’re friends: This is the most important lesson I’ve picked up along the years. As a trek organizer and planner, it’s your duty to inform and apprise the group of the risks they’ll be taking in the forest. By putting friendships and relationships above your superiority in the field, you not only jeopardize the safety of the group, but also create additional work for yourself inside the forest, where it becomes awfully harder to get people to follow your instructions. They’ve already had all their fun on the trail, remember? They thought it was a free-for-all, and now cannot suddenly be asked to tame their impulses and follow whatever you say. This comes across as confrontational and meddlesome at best!
By putting your foot down right at the beginning of the trek, you lay the foundation for your superiority over any plans they might have to be playful, flippant and disorderly. In fact, many trekkers see this as not as an infringement on their rights, but professionalism on your part for informing them well in advance about the risks they’re about to undertake.
As an organizer, you should never hesitate to give instructions to your group. Even if you’re organizing for family, friends, and colleagues. If a participant or two from the group view you as bossy and dominating, don’t bother about it. They’ll come to realize your reasons for doing so later on in the trek.
After all, the forest has its very own ways of dealing with newbies who try to throw and scatter their wild, playful energy all over the place. So even if someones acting funny with you inside the forest, you can rest assured that sooner or later, nature will take care of him/her and they will quickly learn to reign in their impulses and toe the line like everyone else.
Lesson: Always brief the group before the trek, no matter who they are, and make sure to cover all the important points. Don’t hesitate to mention something just because they’re friends or family.
Booking your tickets when the rest of the group hasn’t: This incident in fact happened very recently. The onward journey was smooth and everyone arrived at the location at the same time to start the trek. However, once again, just like the first incident, a few members of the group wanted to start back for the city early in the evening. While I’d already booked my return tickets for a night journey, they were clamouring for an afternoon exit out of the forest, so that they could catch an early evening train to their destination city.
This incident is actually a combination of the first and second. Since there wasn’t any concrete plan on many things like camping location, food, and itinerary for day 2, even the exit time and means of transport was completely malleable and open to revision.
Lesson: It isn’t just about tickets. Don’t do anything that might separate you from the rest of the group. Carrying your own food, your own gadgets, separately getting a tent for yourself while everyone sleeps outside, or even booking earlier tickets is an absolute no no. In a trek there are no “others”, and everything’s shared. We move as a single family inside the forest.
If you have to do something that’s different and out of the ordinary, and have concrete reasons for doing so, inform the group about it well in advance.
Just being on a different page with someone or the rest of the group: There was this monsoon trek which I had planned with 3 more of my friends, and one of them was new to the rest of us. I’d made the wrong assumption that she’d be on the same page as the rest of us on the trek and brought her along. Little did I know she was a workaholic just looking for some respite from all the madness in her hectic, busy life bursting with deadlines. While I was eagerly looking forward to exploring other pools and waterfalls at the end of the day when the main trek was completed, she was just raring to get back to the city and get back on top of things in her company. She was least excited or bothered at the prospect of checking out undiscovered falls inside the jungle.
I’m sure she must have been really busy crunching numbers inside her head for a business deal, and whether she would be able to deliver on her promises after getting back to the city. There are usually red flags for these kind of people that shine really bright from miles away. I did see it coming, but shrugged off the warning in exchange for company and an additional person to trek with. Big mistake! This is the reason why it’s extremely imperative to be on the same page with someone else in whatever it is that you partake together in life. Always communicate clearly and don’t just assume someone shares the same obsession or passion for something as much as you do.
Unfortunately, this last one cannot be pre-empted or prevented from happening in any way. The only way you can find “your gang” is by going all out multiple times with a varied and different set of people, to finally match up with the ones who share your vibe. That takes time, effort, patience, and a lot of tolerance.
Lesson: Always trek only with people you know well. And if they’re bringing someone else along, let them know that you’re not okay with it if those friends aren’t like minded.
Thankfully, after years of trekking, I’ve found my go-to gang of friends who can be called up at a moments notice for a like-minded trek to the deep jungles. I know I won’t have problems with them inside. I know the commonalities we share, and the aspects of trekking they enjoy. That’s how we roll.
Do share with us the obstacles you faced while trekking, and how you managed to overcome them in the comments section. Thanks for reading.