I moved to Boston shortly before the pandemic forced everybody to isolate, finding myself completely secluded in an unfamiliar city. After months of quarantine, I was eager to get outside, and Ridj-it provided an incredible opportunity!
In addition to allowing me to safely participate in outdoor adventures, Ridj-it created a friendly environment that allowed for thought-provoking and fun conversations. By paying attention to group dynamics and listening to the insights shared by the more experienced adventurers, I learned important lessons about preparing for hikes and, more importantly, about teamwork and leadership.
For the reference of future newcomers, this is what I learned.
Picking the right hike: As an inexperienced hiker who does not have an understanding of the physical demands of particular elevation gains, picking the right hike feels daunting. While it is important to overcome one’s fear, it is also important to not overestimate one’s ability and slow down the rest of the group. So, when in doubt, start with an easy hike. These can be very fun, especially when actively chatting with the back crew like I did. It’s much better to do an easier-than-expected hike than to slow down a group that is looking for a challenge.
Hiking boots: Hiking boots means hiking boots! They do make a difference. To my surprise, running shoes do not qualify. Not surprisingly, but worth mentioning since I’ve seen somebody make this mistake, fashionable shoes resembling hiking boots do not qualify either.
Equipment: Read the listed required equipment and actually get it. Typical equipment: headlights (needed for emergencies, even for daytime hikes), rain jacket (even when rain is not forecasted, because the mountains are unpredictable), lots of water, bug repellent, sun screen, cap, first aid (basic kit, or band aids / disinfectant, ibuprofen), map.
Trail map: Have a basic understanding of the trail map. I definitely failed in this respect, but luckily the rest of the team was better prepared. Going forward, I’ll be ready.
Teamwork and leadership
Leading the way: The person in front of the line must be particularly careful about going in the right direction. Tips for recognizing the right direction: look for trail blazes, pay attention to rivers because they can signal a change in direction, check the map, and work as a team to figure out the right turn. Note: Chatting without paying attention can dangerously lead down the wrong path, so beware!
Staying together: There must be a designated back person to ensure that nobody is accidentally left behind. The back person must be physically fit and communicative, since absolutely no one gets behind the back person, even to tie one’s shoe. Those in front must stop at every intersection to ensure that the full group understands which turn is next (or confirm ahead of time using the map).
When to turn back: Sometimes a trail is just not worth doing (e.g. too slippery, or just more difficult than expected). Although we are all wired to power through it, a good group needs to understand when to give up and pick an alternative. However, an executive decision is sometimes needed by the person who posted the hike. Luckily, on my second hike, the event organizer made this call saving us from a potential disastrous outcome. We went up another peak instead and had a great time!
Setting expectations: It is very important for the person who posted the trip to provide a description of the physical fitness expectations, hike details (length, elevation gain, map), and equipment requirements. Importantly, the leader must actually check the experience of participants before allowing them to sign up. Trekking has different meanings in different countries (sometimes referring to a leisurely walk in the woods), so ask for more specifics (elevation gain, weekly workout routine). Ultimately though, everyone is responsible for themselves, and more importantly, a group can communicate together beforehand to make sure nobody unprepared signs up for the hike.
Tactics: To set a steady pace, the slowest person should be in front. Additionally, a good leader sets reminders, such as to drink water, and in some cases, to be humble and recognize when a hiker can’t finish the hike and needs to turn back.
Using trail maps: GAIA provides great maps, but poor connectivity in the mountains makes the app barely usable. A solution is to open the app when leaving Boston and keep it running in the background until your destination so that all necessary information loads. An extra phone battery is useful for this. Alternative ideas for maps: https://www.cleverhiker.com/blog/how-to-use-your-phone-as-a-gps-device-for-backpacking
Pleasant surprises: If there’s a lake or pond at the end of the trail, bring a bathing suit!
Technology: there’s amazing technology out there to help minimize the weight carried. For example, there are water filters that make river water potable, and there is lightweight camping gear.
Don’t leave “natural” food items, like apple cores, banana or orange peels, in nature. In the wild, they are actually litter and can take years to biodegrade. I know this sounds counter-intuitive (and I struggled to believe the trustworthy source who informed me of this), but it’s true. Just Google it, or check out this humorous source: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/sep/24/bananas-litter-hikers-mountains-scotland
Now that I’m comfortable with intermediate hikes, I’m excited (and scared) for a challenging hike that I signed up for 2 weeks from now. I also plan to post my own adventure soon (after doing a bit more research and overcoming my fear of messing up a trip for everyone). I’ll let you know how that goes.