Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Truth (and other casualties of hiking) Part 2 of 2

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern – on a long, hard hike, women often try to be encouraging, even to the point of outright lying. They’ll say things like, “Oh yes, you’re doing great!” Or, “You’re getting close. Just a little farther.” Or, the outright lie, “Yes, you’re almost there.” Even though they know that I’m not almost there, and I know that I’m not almost there, but they don’t know that I know that I’m not. So they lie, expecting me to believe, which sort of makes one wonder about the veracity of the encouragement that we give each other on a daily basis. How often are we faced with this decision: do I give some words of encouragement or do I tell the truth? When you can do both, then do it with grace and enthusiasm, but when you can’t do both, most of us choose to stretch the truth almost to the breaking point. It’s a quaint American custom, but it really isn’t so bad. Lying out of kindness or comfort is better than lying out of greed, pride, and selfishness which, now that I think about it, is also an American custom.  

The other half of the story is hearing what their male hiking partners say. Indeed, I may have found the one area of life in which guys are more truthful than women. On this particular evening hike to the Chimney Tops, a woman had just lied to me: “Yes, just a little bit farther. You’re almost there.” Her lie was so brazen, so deliberate, that I almost called her out, but before I could work up the nerve to chastise her, her husband – who was ten or twenty feet behind her – leaned in toward me, looked ahead to make sure she couldn’t hear him, and he whispered, “Dude, it’s nothing but up from here, and you’re not even close. It’s worth it, for sure, but I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”

I appreciated hearing the unblemished truth from this weary stranger, but as he warned me of the fate that awaited me, I noticed one possible blemish on his version of the truth. He failed to mention that he was a smoker – I saw the pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket – which would mean that his estimation of the difficulty that lay ahead was a bit exaggerated because his lungs were in a weakened state. I wondered if he was one of those guys that you see occasionally on a trail – they’re slogging slowly uphill, gasping for air, so they stop for a break… to rest… and to suck on another cigarette. I’ve never understood why any rational human would take up smoking, but I’ve also heard that most smokers started when they were in their mid-teens, which sort of answers my own question – you know, the part about “rational” humans. And I understand even less why someone who is gasping for air on a hike would think the delightful mixture of smoke, tar, and nicotine would somehow help. I suppose it helps in a different way, not to help the air flow, but to soothe the nerves and to give courage. Which is really the main reason I’m not a smoker (or drinker) – it’s not so much the health hazard; it’s the fact that I think comfort and courage should come from within oneself, rather than from an outside, psychoactive crutch. About the only crutch I use on a regular basis is a hiking stick.

After his sincere warning, he put his head down and hustled to catch up with his lying wife. He seemed a bit sheepish for having told the unadulterated truth, but I’m sure he was proud of himself for having done his good deed for the day. He had made a valiant effort to save me from the fate he had suffered a few hours earlier – a (literally) breath-taking uphill march, ending in breath-taking views from the top.

I went on, in spite of his efforts, and he was right about one thing – it was well worth it, as the Chimney Tops always are.