Trails make you walk in tandem, which strangely eases conversation. One person talks to the back of another’s head; the one in the lead talks to the trail. And they so they talk without seeing faces. It makes for a more trusting and intimate kind of talk.
Our kids loved hiking for that reason. It gave them hours and hours with their parents, and they would use the time to the max, talking constantly about whatever lay in their heads. For some reason, education came up a lot. George once asked if he could major in spelling in college. It’s too bad he couldn’t, in retrospect. He still can’t spell worth a damn. Dorothy Jr. once asked me what it took to get into Harvard. I told her that every Harvard grad I knew had memorized large chunks of Monty Python skits and movies. She went and did that, and graduated with honors with bachelor’s degrees from the University of Connecticut and Villanova.
To this day, when George and I need to discuss something, we hike. We ruminate together by chewing up the miles. He’s a much faster hiker, and I’m often breathless trying to keep up on the steep parts; but he still does most of the talking.
When you hike fast on a trail with a light pack, you burn 500 or so calories an hour. It’s not hard to keep this up for six or eight hours at a stretch. You can burn a pound in a day and do it again the next day. But I find the conversational part more satisfying. I’m an introvert, and socializing sucks energy out of me, even when it’s with my own family. But socializing on a trail seems different somehow. My social batteries get recharged.
Besides, there are witnesses to the weird things. Once, while George and I were doing a single-day Presidential Traverse, hiking the seven highest highest peaks in New Hampshire, we were coming up a narrow ridge of Mt. Adams. I started to say, “A guy could easily fall off this,” but just as I said “fall,” I fell. I tripped and went head-first into the krummholz. George cherishes that moment to this day.