2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Solo, Partner or Group


Lessons Learned:

  1. Finding available and compatible partners is challenging.
  2. Being in the right place at the right time opens opportunities.
  3. There are pros and cons to each option.

Groups:

As is common, I started my backpacking career by joining an adventure group where more experienced folks would host outings. It’s a great way to meet people, learn about trails and gear. These trips created some great memories with lots of laughter and fun. Naturally, subgroups were formed based on compatibility and personality. I’ve also taken advantage of permit opportunities by joining up with a group when invited.

  • Positives:
    • Introduction to trails and gear
    • Mentorship by the more experienced
    • Safety in numbers
    • Shared gear and knowledge
    • Assistance available
    • Unlimited conversation
  • Challenges:
    • Group think and decisions can be sluggish
    • Conflict is common between the slowest and fastest hikers, the bossy and the timid, etc.
    • Sticking to a planned itinerary is more important
    • Campsite choice is more limited
    • Breaks and chores seem to be more lengthy
    • Less likelihood to see wildlife and to experience silence

My worst experience was with a guy who did a great job planning and communicating our group trip. We met several times in advance to talk about the itinerary, gear and logistics. However, on our first day as we carpooled to our destination, the plan was already falling apart. The next day, was even worse as the planned miles became a march for more and more which was a problem for at least one participant. This person was shy and wasn’t able to say this isn’t working instead she trudged on getting hurt and being miserable as a result. Another member was really upset as he’d scheduled time off work and now the leader was pushing to end the trip early. All in all it was poor communication and revised itineraries that weren’t in the best interest of the group.

Partner(s):

If you are dependent on group outings, you may find yourself limited on number of trips per year. Are you available when those trips are scheduled? Do you want to go where they are going? Finding one, two or three friends or adventure buddies might be easier.

Is two the right number? If you have a compatible partner, it might be perfect. It takes time to find that partner and they might not be the perfect one in all situations. It’s rare that compromises aren’t needed.

How about three or more? Sometimes having a third member of the team helps with decision making and provides additional conversation and perspectives. Much like groups, the more there are is not necessarily merrier. I consider more to mean more complicated.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about this very issue (Partnership Commitments, Compatibilities & Compromises). You might find it a useful tool although I’ve learned some people don’t necessarily have enough self-awareness or experience to answer the questions honestly. Perception vs reality may be quite different, or might be biased in favor of an opportunity no matter what.

Some of my best memories are with companions. If you’ve followed me on my jaunts, you know that my Team J&J (Jan and Joan) adventures have been epic. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Joan has supported me and I her. We bring to our team unique skills and perspectives, where one may be weaker the other stronger. We’ve tested our friendship and compatibility by working together to overcome challenges. I’ve shared more miles with Joan than any other companion and look forward to many more J&J jaunts.

Solo:

This is the ultimate freedom. Pick your time, date, location. It’s easier to get permits and to find campsites. All decisions are yours and yours alone. But there are some negatives:

  1. Fun – Having the right partner or group can make the adventure more fun. I love being silly, laughing and giggling, singing and dancing. Those elements are missing when I’m solo.
  2. Sharing – I enjoy sharing moments and miss not being able to do that in the moment. Sure I can take photos and share on my blog later but it’s not the same as witnessing something special together.
  3. Decision Making – I might be more conservative when solo, or at least more cautious. The consequences for a mistake are bigger.
  4. Assistance – Having a friend who can help with obstacles is a huge advantage. I have to work harder getting over and around things solo. I also might turn around if it’s something I worry about not being able to get back up or down. If I were to get hurt, it’s up to me to figure out how to get out or get help.
  5. Equipment Failures – You need to be fully self supported and know how to make the best of a situation when you don’t have a friend with items to share if yours breaks such as water filter, stove or electronics.

When hiking solo, I’m more in the moment. I don’t have any distractions. I stop when I want to stop. I can take tons of photos, or sit by a stream or lake. I can go swimming or spend a day reading. I might want to hike off trail to the top of a ridge. I’m a slow hiker so it’s nice not feeling the pressure to go faster or keep up. But I cherish my partner and group times. Those are some of my best memories. I like mixing it up. I’m grateful for those who are willing to compromise on my behalf so we can hike together.

Links:

6 thoughts on “2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Solo, Partner or Group

  1. I wish I had a J&J partner like you do. I totally agree with the pros and cons. When I was younger and living in the national parks it was so easy to find compatible people. It is much harder now. Most people don’t want to do the hikes I want to do or have other obligations. I love solo but it does get lonely at times.

    • I agree 100%. It does get lonely but I’d rather be lonely than with the wrong partner. I’m also terrible planning and committing which makes it tough to invite others to join me.

  2. I am laughing out loud at your comment, Jan. I am also terrible at committing. And, often times I deviate from my plan if something interesting appeals to me. Sometimes I get tired of a trip and cut it a day short, or sometimes I want more and add a day. I am a solo backpacker at my best. I am also one who likes to start very early and read or explore during the warm afternoons. My rule for the Trinity Alps, Russian, and Marble Mountain Wilderness areas is no packing after 1:30, mid-July through early September. The Klamath Ranges get hot for me. As a backcountry equipment technician for 13 summers working for the research division of Yellowstone Park, I learned to love all the solo trips as did other seasonal technicians. Because of the ever present dangers of grizzlies, moose, bison, and later, wolves who had no reason to fear humans, our senses operated better while solo.

    • You hit the nail on the head regarding being done early afternoon. I need to figure out something similar if I’m going to hike local this summer. My last trip was miserable. In the afternoons my smile turned upside down. I’m an early bird but like hiking all day. I’m not very good hanging out nor hiking later in the day. My steam goes down down down starting around 3pm. It’s rare I hike past 6 or 7pm.

      I agree about being so much more present and aware when hiking solo. And even though it’s fun to share, when you enjoy being flexible it’s tough to finding that kind of companions.

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