• Mary Anderson

Behind Every Hiker

Water cached by a trail angel in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The person who makes the first ascent of a mountain gets a lot of recognition and glory. Yet that ascent was most likely accomplished with the help of all the people who tried and failed before. It takes a lot of support to make a first ascent.

Long-distance hikes require a fair amount of support as well. For starters, many people spent a lot of time creating the trail. Others go out yearly to maintain it. Then there are the people who drive hikers to towns to resupply. Without these support people the trails would be nonexistent and the journey much harder.

When thinking about support, I think about my hiking poles. They are not considered one of the major three in backpacking. Those are the pack, shelter and sleeping system. Poles are seldom talked about among hikers. Yet my poles are as important to me as any other piece of equipment. I push on them going uphill. They save my feet and knees a lot of pain going downhill. They are necessary on river crossings. And I use my hiking poles to set up my tent, which has no poles of its own.

A bad set of poles can do more harm than good, if, for example, they collapse when leaning on them on a steep downhill. I was careful about choosing my poles. I even went with a little extra weight to include a suspension system that lessens the impact on my hands. My poles help me do what I want to do.

This all leads me to think about the myriad of people who have supported me throughout my life. I don’t know where I would be without them. They have held me up when I was heading downhill fast. They absorbed some of the impact of my life without becoming traumatized themselves. They didn’t just do things for me or try to get me to do it their way. Rather, they supported me in doing what I needed to do in my own way. I will never be able to repay them for the time they have invested in me.

What I try to do is recognize my support people and express gratitude. Every time I go through a section of trail where I don't have to push through willows or stinging nettle or crawl over blowdowns, I send a thank-you out to the people who maintain the trail. They will never get it, but I like to think just expressing thanks into the world helps. I also look for ways to pay it forward. I don’t want to be just a taker in life, and I figure the best way I can thank those who have given me a hand is to offer mine to someone else.

I’ve gotten some good feedback on these blogs. I want to make it clear that I am only able to share them with the support of Sara Tucker at Korongo Books. I send a bunch of them to her, and she does the behind-the-scenes work of making sure they get posted. And all of you who send me encouragement and more are part of the support team enabling me to do what I am doing. My thanks go out to all of you.

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