I am perhaps unique - I routinely plan trips with anyone and everyone. I take backpacking class students, random strangers when I set up a trip on meetup.com groups, friends and hiking buddies. I am often getting a permit for a large group and less often for just two or three people. I hike with UL, midweighters, heavy weighters and OMG-why-did-you-bring-that-ers. Every once in a while I get someone with a Jansport book bag and three ancillary random bags hanging off her arms, and a six pound cheap sleeping bag dangling from the Jansport and swaying like a pendulum....
It's common for folks to assume age has something to do with speed. Younger folks assume that because I plan what looks to them like a really strenuous trip that I am faster than I am - I usually trek along at the same pace, 2 mph, regardless of uphill, downhill or level, unless there are stupid steps that make me raise a knee above the hip -- and older folks assume I am faster than them, when often they are retired and able to hike a bazillion miles a week, making them so much more speedy than me. The younger sometimes crash and burn, because while they can sprint I can hike them into the ground if their feet have not walked many miles. They'll burn up the trail for about four miles and then I pass them, and hold steady in the lead, offering them blister care if they need it.
Guys older than me with traditional weights have kicked my adz on 5000+ foot in a single day gains. Girls less than half my age have folded and whimpered and whined and I ended up carrying their junk for them walking them back along the two miles they managed to get from the car. Rotund individuals with the muscle tone of comatose inpatients have outhiked entire groups of veteran hikers.
It really doesn't pay to generalize. I explain to the backpacking class that our trip will be frustrating to some of them, but the real goal of the class isn't to do miles or see great sights, it's to get out and use gear together and receive instruction, so if they end up feeling like we stopped hiking too soon, don't sweat it. Usually there's someone in the class who feels like dying shortly into the hike, regardless of how much weight they don't have.
I am suspecting, more and more, that belief has a lot to do with it. I decided fairly early on that I was going to see how it was for me -- I didn't go out there believing I would be cold, I went with an open mind. Most of the time, I am never cold. Other women I've hiked with who repeatedly state that they are "always cold" get into layers of insulation early, put on gloves, hats, scarves, bust out chemical heat packs -- I have Reynauds and I don't doll up the way they do. And then there are times I go out hiking and not feeling at all limited, and doing a twelve mile day without issues. The next weekend I find myself wanting to sit down after a mile, feeling as tired as I did the evening before because I kept thinking about being exhausted from the work week and did so all the way to the trailhead. On outings where I am tired in the car and focus on feeling energized once I start hiking -- guess what happens?
And then there's the beliefs we hold about gear. We all know, for example, that a tarp is fine most of the time (barring those weeks of mosquito hordes) in the Sierra -- and yet those times I cowboy camp with the women's backpacking group, there's ladies gasping and worrying about me getting eaten by a bear, bitten by a snake, getting bug bites -- I sleep like a baby and I haven't had animal encounters (other than my not noticing a hole in tree roots and getting a mouse drive-by across the chest, which I blame myself for - it was his front door I was blocking). I gave hammocks a chance, and they worked out fine -- I'm not dogmatic about them, I just sleep better in them. Whereas the guy I loaned my entire setup to was practically talking himself out of liking it while we were packing for the trip.
Not saying that belief makes the difference between something working for someone and not working at all -- there are gear items that incontrovertibly and empathically do not work for solid reasons for people. I will not be one of those who wears boots in the summer, for example, because I tried it and was miserable -- I started out thinking as everyone seems to, that hiking boots are necessary. I think I incurred damage to the foot because I kept trying to believe it and kept trying to use boots for too long, in fact.
In any case, finding the right hike for yourself does take some experience in backpacking. Or the right experienced backpacker to help you take apart what your real needs are, versus what your perceived needs are. And what you want is sometimes quite different than what you need -- I planned an ambitious trip for someone to their specifications, that they were unable to do, but I built contingencies into the itinerary based on what I knew about him -- he is one of those who has a strong "want to" that sometimes clouds that self awareness that might otherwise shift his plan to something he can actually do. Peak fever isn't just for peak baggers. I've been on a loop with a group and had the task of deciding whether forward or back is the better choice. I'd hazard a guess that for someone who hasn't done any backpacking at all, a simple out and back is always the better choice.
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