Are You A Beginner? Me too.

I recently spoke with a woman who’s an aspiring 46r about the journey, sharing with her my experiences, and then mentioned looking at some Facebook groups to get more info or meet up with like-minded people. She didn’t seem too interested, and after a brief conversation I knew why: it’s not entirely welcoming to beginners, generally speaking.

Too many times a question will get asked and after a few comments that actually help, it’ll suddenly take a turn down the “if you don’t know you shouldn’t do it”-“maybe try reading it somewhere”-“that’s a stupid question” road. Sometimes there isn’t even time for the helpful advice to get posted. Not always, but enough so that people like the woman I mentioned aren’t interested in putting it out there. I was on a few of those sites, and left because of it. But writing this now, perhaps I shouldn’t have left. Or perhaps I may have been one of those people.

I was a beginner once. Actually, I still am even after hiking thousands of miles in all kinds of weather. And I was a beginner back in my Jeep days, out four wheeling. And just like today, the forums from 20 years ago would sometimes devolve into the same comments. Back then I started a Jeep club that at its peak had 75 members that did at least 2 wheeling trips a month. I was president of the club, then Chairman of the East Coast 4 Wheel Drive NE Region, then on to the NYS Trails Council as a 4WD representative. In all that, the premise I strived to maintain was making sure beginners were just as welcomed as the veterans. We all were there to help each other grow, learn, and have fun. Just as the hiking community does… or should I think.

My “not as experienced” days of Jeepin…
and my “experienced (?)” days Jeepin’

Of course just as in “the good old days” of Jeepin’, there were and are the people that look down on beginners. And that burns my cookies. Like I said, you still see it every day; can’t afford the best snowshoes so people are told to not hike in winter, haven’t been up the Saddleback cliffs so avoid them at all costs, ask about trail difficulty and given an equation on “speed x ability x vertical rise / distance traveled over temperature x wind speed and that’s your answer.” Some of you are truly trying to help (even with the equation!), others are just being condescending (oh, that’s only 1,200 feet high? Pffft!). Hike your own hike is the saying, right? Let’s just make sure we’re all safely, responsibly doing it without the saopbox. Practice tact. My first hike up Marcy (pre-Facebook btw) I was in jean shorts, cotton sweatshirt, and *woefully* wrong in everything I thought it would be. I could have used some tactful, friendly, beginner advice! Dang, where’s that pic of me on Marcy in jean shorts?!?!

There will always be a more experience, better prepared, richer, better conditioned person ahead of you. That’s okay… find the mentor that’s right for you, ignore the condescending voices that scream for attention, and do what you love. We get smarter, faster, better. “Hike your own hike.”

And if you’re reading this, getting upset and thinking “people need to know when they’re wrong!”, then it’s you. You’re the one beginners are afraid of.