Am I Hiking Too Fast For You?

My friend Greg had hit the wall about four miles from the top of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and every time I looked back, he was a few more feet behind. Greg is a trail runner, but had been sitting at sea level for all but the last 21 hours, and had gone through a hectic couple weeks during which training had gotten pushed off the schedule when more important life matters popped up.

I had kept going my pace up the Bright Angel Trail, just wanting to get our 25-mile day over with and start putting back the calories I had burned, plus a couple extra thousand for the road.

With each step forward toward the South Rim, I repeated the words

Ice.

Cream.

Ice.

Cream.

A mile to go, and Greg was a few minutes behind. As I passed through the last sandstone arch, a few hundred feet of trail to go, I stopped. I was being that guy, the guy who walks off, leaving someone behind when they’re not fast enough. It is rare that I am that guy, able to actually walk faster than one of my friends. I stopped and leaned against the wall next to the trail, waiting for Greg to show up so we could top out together. Then I walked around in circles like a 7-year-old who had to pee really badly but couldn’t find a bathroom. But Greg and I walked the last couple hundred feet to the top together, and then I ate three ice cream cones like a man on death row.

Do you have a friend like this? They like you enough to call you to go climbing together, or hiking, or riding, but don’t like you enough that they will slow down their pace for you? My friend Maynard wrote a piece for Winning Magazine back in the early ’90s, called “Half Wheel Hell,” about that friend who would ride next to you and always keep half his front wheel in front of yours, even when you pedaled faster to catch up so you could talk, dammit. The essay was so popular, Maynard made it the name of his second book, Half Wheel Hell and Other Cycling Stories.

With two of my friends/climbing partners, I am always the guy 100 feet behind. No matter how hard I train, I will never keep up with Chris or Lee when we go climbing together. They both have the internal speedometer of a cheetah, and they have two gears:

1) Sitting and drinking coffee

and

2) Walking at 4.5 mph with a pack full of climbing gear

All I can do is step in front of them the first chance I have, and get in the way, slow them down to 3 mph or 2 mph. Sorry, dude, Tubby’s going to walk in front of you and be the cruise control here. Please accept my apology. We can talk about something as we walk up to the climb, because I won’t be wheezing blood up the steep part of the trail.

Funny thing, neither of them has ever said, “No, Brendan, why don’t I carry the rope and the rack, and your food and water, because I’m way faster than you and I get tired of waiting.” That would be way better.

-Brendan

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15 comments

  1. I am right there with you. I’ve been that gal and I’ve also been the slow-poke. It sucks to be the slow-poke. We should always remember how that feels.

  2. I have a backpacking buddy like that. We gave him the trail name, Blitzkrieg. I’m usually at the tail, not because I’m that slow really, but more because I don’t see the hurry.

  3. I’m the slow guy too. Whether I’m climbing, hiking, or even walking in the store with my wife she’s blowing my doors off. This is why I like to take my 5-yr old. I can usually hike and climb faster then him. So that way I can feel good about myself and maintain my masculine image.

    I think that us slower moving folk are more intuitive and harmonious with our surroundings, that we’re pondering the deep mysteries of life…. it helps me sleep better at night. Especially when the elderly pass me on the trail and then mumble about how I shouldn’t be out ‘Sunday hiking’…blah blah blah.

  4. Hey Brendan, in defense of Chris and Lee.. I usually am one of those persons that goes pretty fast. However, for a reason. Hiking can be quite challenging for me and is mostly a mind game. I really honestly believe in going at your own pace because I can never really understand what challenges another is facing. For me it is a go go go situation because if I stop, or slow down, it can be an enormous challenge to start up again. Tortuously so. Another point is that I sacrifice in other areas of my life and comfort to have a very light pack. My pack may be lighter, but I have a half length sleeping pad and cold sleeping bag. I left behind those extra glove liners, or fleece. Or I didn’t go out to eat for 3 months straight to save money for the Alpha shell and 850 fill down jacket. Then is if fair for me to say, sure I’ll carry my personal gear, the rack, the rope and the tent because I am so much faster? But they will sleep in comfort and eat better? I also swim 2 miles a day 5 days a week to keep the old heart ticking. So I can spend less time approaching and more time climbing. Whereas I would rather spend those two hours drinking coffee and reading the paper in the morning.
    Speed in the mountains is all about sacrifice and reward. I don’t call people to climb with because they are fast or I could be the one left in the dust because someone is always faster. I call people to go hiking, climbing because I enjoy them as a person and their company because that is what makes the experience enjoyable for me.

    That said, topping out is entirely different. You were right it waiting to top out together. Especially after a 25 mile hike to the canyon rim. It feels nice to have solidarity in the accomplishment of a challenge.
    P.S. Chris and Lee must be monsters, because you seem pretty fast to me.

  5. Quite often I do carry the rope, rack AND Brendan in my pack. It is the only way we can get to climbs fast enough.

    1. Oooh, nice one Lee. That’s like super secret beta… Now I can persuade him into even bigger adventures!

      Carrying grants you access to his food stash, right?

  6. This is great as the comments are. I’m the in-between. I can be the slower one depending on who’s with me. Either way I like to stick together. I don’t mind slowing down but can’t say it has never annoyed me.

  7. Slowest sets the pace. Everyone starts and finishes together. Unless there is ice cream at the end of the trail – then all bets are off and the race is on.

  8. I don’t like riding with my husband because he’s very critical because I can’t keep up with him. He usually won’t ride my pace, and when he does, he harps on me to go faster. “Get on my wheel,” or “shift up and sprint,” he says as he jets off into the distance, not looking back. I sometimes ride with a friend who’s slower than I am. He doesn’t like me riding with her, and says I should avoid her and train hard by myself. The funny thing is, my husband complains he has no friends, but he keeps trying to hang out with hardcore road cyclists, who are unfriendly to begin with.

  9. Hiking is like team effort, conquer the first mile and aim for the second. You have a partner for a reason, keeps you amped up and always got your back incase something happened. If that partner leaves you behind because the partner is slow, time to get a reliable partner that you can depend on. I once hiked and helped an elderly lady through an entire obstacle, she became my hiking partner from the begining to end.

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Article by: brendan