• Mary Anderson

What Hiking Teaches Us About Trust

For me, trust is an important part of many long-distance hikes. First, I must trust that what people have written about the trail is accurate, that water will be present and the trail passable. I trust the wildlife not to harm me as long as I follow some common-sense rules. I trust in my abilities as well as in my equipment. Having a pack, shoes or a sleeping bag fall apart miles from nowhere can be near disastrous. This kind of trust is required in every day life, and sometimes consequences could be dire there as well, such as losing a car wheel when going 60 miles an hour down the highway. But somehow on the trail the consequences seem so much more immediate and dire. A lot of things could lead to misery and death out here.

Yet so much of a long-distance hike is also life-affirming. It feels so good to summit a peak that was hard won through an arduous climb. Eating, sleeping, drinking water, showering and wearing clean clothes take on a joy not felt while living in a house with comforts readily available. And each person I trust out here becomes such a special memory because the assistance they offer is so basic and vital in a way not felt when I am less vulnerable at home and able to call for help at the drop of a hat.

I think of the people I have trusted to meet me at trail crossings with my next food resupply. I take a leap of faith each time I get into a stranger's car when hitching into town for food. I trust the food and water people give me to be safe. Sometimes I have trusted unknown people to drive my pack up the trail for me and hide it in bushes so I could hike some miles without it. Sometimes the trust is two way, such as with the trail angels who allow unknown hikers to stay in their homes. Sometimes these people have left me alone in their house and have even left me with keys to their cars.

I don't know exactly what it is about hiking that seems to bring out such trust and a desire to be kind. I know there have been exceptions to this rule. Hikers have been robbed and murdered or mauled by grizzly bears. Some hikers feel so entitled they take advantage of trail angels. But in general it is really safe, and kindness is the norm out here. I suspect it has something to do with the recognition that people walking in the wilderness are in general pitting themselves in a survival with nature that is so basic to our mammalian selves that the innate desire to be kind is sparked in the people we meet. They recognize we are working hard to accomplish a dream, and they want to help.

Imagine what a better world it would be if we could all live each day wanting to help each other achieve our goals. I wish we could always live from a place of doing what we love doing, trusting that our needs will be met and people we meet will be kind, knowing that in exchange for this we carry the responsibility to pass that kindness on to yet more people in the world.

Above: A few of the trail angels who have helped Mary since she left South Pass, Wyoming, on May 27 to complete her thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. After a pause to rest her knee, she is back on the trail. Follow her to receive a daily update.

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