I got into hiking through a group on “meetup.com”. It sounds like a dating site, but it is not. It is a web site for people who have similar interests that just want to get together and do things and plan events.
After going on a few hikes, I thought it would be fun to plan one myself, and I was blessed by one of the leaders with “planning rights”. I almost wish I hadn’t. Planning stuff is really kind of a pain in the ass sometimes. It is a lot of work trying to find a good place to go, set dates, and arrange transportation like shuttles or key swaps or whatever. There seem to be a whole lot more go-ers than planners, which makes the planner’s job harder. Sometimes you just want to show up and ride along without worrying too much about the details.
So, in every hike planners life, you will run across certain types of people:
The “Let’s do it this way” person. This person thinks they are helping, and may be trying to help, but often times their helping just adds extra work to the planner. I’ve been guilty of this one myself. “Instead of the North route, why don’t we try the South route, we’ve never done that one before.” Well, because the planner had a reason for the North route, and changing the entire hike three days beforehand is really going to screw up the whole thing. This could be helpful, however! “Why don’t we try the south route, because it rained a LOT the past three days and that stream crossing on the north side might kill us.” Now THAT is information the “Let’s do it this way” person should share.
The mystery person. This person may have just joined the group, or may sign up for every event, then back out before it arrives. Their profile is almost completely blank or they have no experience with the group. Then they sign up for a four day hike in the middle of nowhere. So – are they just news to the area looking for friends, are they such an ass that no one in their old groups will let them go anymore, or are they a serial killer? You never know, because Mystery Person is an enigma. Better to let Mystery Person stay on the waitlist, or at least give preference to experienced members.
Mr. or Mrs. Insistant comes in right before the event and begs for a spot. They may even just show up the morning of the event and hope to squeeze in. Or, like the above post, they scoff at the idea certain events might have limits, and even though they are the fifth person on a waiting list, they ask for a spot. Why is there a limit of only 8 people going? Because shuttling 4 cars back and forth for 16 people is a pain in the ass, 8 is much easier.
The scary person.
The scary person comes in several forms. The first is The Jerk. The kind of person you don’t want to be around for some reason. As a planner, it is much better to be aware of The Jerk beforehand, and deal with them then. Dealing with The Jerk 30 miles from the car on the first day of a 3 day hike could be quite stressful. Much like Internet Trolls, this person lives to cause pain and strife. Thankfully The Jerk is someone you deal with very seldom. However, The Jerk is often tied in with Scary Person type 2:
The Substance Abuser. Look, I don’t mind if people want to have a drink or two in camp. They can even get a little tipsy if they want. But no one wants to deal with an angry drunk or a sloppy drunk 10 miles from nowhere (or even 3 miles from town). By getting drunk they risk illness and injury and it falls to everyone else to save them from their own actions. The woods have enough physical obstacles for the sober, even more for the inebriated. The other side of the coin is the illegal Substance Abuser. The places I hike, marijuana is still illegal. I don’t care what side of the debate you’re on, right now it’s illegal. So if you’re hiking with ME, don’t bring weed. Some hiking trails seem to be developing a party atmosphere. You’re two days hike from town, what cop is going to be sitting around in the woods waiting for you to toke up? So people do it because they will likely get away with it.
Another leader once told me, on one of my first planned hikes, “Hey, that guy that just signed up, on our last hike he pulled out a pint of vodka on the road and was drinking in my car. Then at the rest stop he was smoking marijuana. The trip was awful.”
Often “The Jerk” and “The Substance Abuser” merge, but neither one is good to have on a trip. With a tight knit group and concerned fellow hikers, this one is pretty easy to weed out after the first time.
The last type of Scary Person is the “Danger to Themselves” person. Any one of us can fall under this category. New gear, untested gear, gear failures, they can all push us from “normal hiker” into “Danger to Themselves” for a night or two. But some people excel at the process, and much like “The Substance Abuser” they need to be carefully screened.
An example from my own experience:
I was a new hiker, brand new to a certain group, I had my pack and sleeping back and hammock, and signed up for a three day AT hike in North Carolina in February. I was “The Mystery Guy” to this group. They didn’t let me go, because they were unsure about my gear and scared of my lack of experience. It turned out they were right. I didn’t have the stuff I needed. I would have been a big Danger to Myself and them. When I switched to an alcohol stove, the first 4 or 5 times I used it I was a Danger to Myself, the Woods, the Shelters, and anyone around me. But I’ve worked out the kinks.
So – sometimes planning is just a pain in the butt. The more I do this, the less I want to plan for newbies and just invite my core group of good hiking friends. And that is unfortunate, because we were all newbies once.