B y K e v i n F r a n k l i n
SCORPIONS, RATTLESNAKES AND searing heat all play vital roles in making outdoor life in Arizona more interesting.
Hell, the challenges and curiosity they raise add a serious coefficient of fun to hiking around these parts. I wouldn't trade them for anything. No, these things and everything else out in the wild don't bug me much. My fellow hiker is what annoys me to no end.
Recent events have highlighted in my mind the different breeds of outdoor enthusiasts and how they integrate poorly, even dangerously, with one another. If you find yourself organizing or partaking in outdoor excursions, this column may be just the thing to preserve your sanity, or at least your weekend.
This month marks two years of Out There adventures. Over the course of these forays, the Out There shrink department has compiled four distinct profiles of problem hikers.
The first, and personally most bothersome, is the Harlequin Romance Hiker. This person, generally female but not always, doesn't hike for the sake of hiking, but rather goes out to impress a romantic interest. These types will go on and on about how much they like the outdoors in order to get the prospective love interest to invite them hiking. Just look at the personal ad section of this paper for proof that people say they like the outdoors merely as a means of attracting a mate. What usually happens is the unsuspecting object of their romantic attentions invites them along and, if it the hike is anything but a stroll in the park, the Harlequin Hiker begins to deteriorate. On a recent outing to Catalina Island in California, someone who appeared physically fit and expressed extreme interest did this to me.
Incapable of lifting her own light pack, asthmatic without an inhaler, vulnerable to a typical day's exposure of sunlight, this person's baby-soft feet blistered out after four miles of walking downhill, on a road no less. Please, stick to singles' bars.
The Harlequin Hiker, while a nuisance, poses less of a threat to life and limb than the Macho Duck. Appearing mostly in the males of the species, this is someone who goes hiking in order to compete with the other hiker. Even if the duck is inept and out of shape, he'll press on far beyond his abilities in order to preserve his ego. What this person usually does to you is charge far out into the great unknown and then expire like the Harlequin Hiker, only now you're deep in the mountains or out in the desert. Generally you won't know there's a problem until it's too late to do anything about it.
The third profile in this extraordinarily unscientific analysis are the happy victims of virus viatoris Burtonae. Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton was a renown 19th-century explorer who crisscrossed Africa, the Middle East and India in pursuit of things undiscovered (by European eyes, anyway). Burton had a way of pushing his explorations to the point of fanatic obsession. While his companions were speared, died of fatigue or were eaten by lions, Burton pressed on, seemingly oblivious to the death and destruction around him. Even when temporarily blinded he continued marching. The man had spunk.
This attitude is all well and fine for a party consisting entirely of fellow fanatics. While certifiably crazy, they, like Burton, are also often capable of handling their problems. But when some poor soul expecting a pleasant outing, especially someone from the previous categories, accompanies someone with the viatoris Burtonae fever, the resulting damage to body and friendship can be remarkable. At the end of a day with mud-caked boots, torn clothing and legs with more scabs than skin, these hikers will forever be able to empathize with the hapless porters in Tarzan movies who get trampled by the elephants.
Sadly, I must plead guilty to having done this to a number of friends. But there is hope for us all. Recognizing the problem is the first step in eliminating it, as they say.
Beyond the haze of ego, ulterior motives and fanaticism lies the shining Golden Hiker.
This hiker knows his or her abilities, desires and weaknesses and, perhaps more importantly, can size up these qualities in his fellow hiker. This hiker plans trips that take in all these factors. During the trip the Golden Hiker is capable of adjusting the outing to changing circumstances. Without being domineering, he or she can guide the outing so everyone enjoys it and stays safe. Come to think of it, this wonder hiker can be pretty damn annoying, too. Who the hell wants to hike with the Simpsons' Ned Flanders--"Heidi-ho, neighbor."
Maybe it all boils down to finding your own stereotype and moving in. The scrunchie crowd can all flop down on the trail and whine to each other, the ego brothers can follow each other over a cliff like lemmings and the wild-eyed mountain men can go where no one has gone before, or wanted to.
As far as I'm concerned, a four-legged canine hiker is hard to beat: always eager to go, never a conflicting schedule and more than capable of carrying its own weight. In a word, ideal.
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