It's Okay To Be The Caboose
By Alisha Linton, Girls Who Hike Vermont Ambassador
Everyone is gathering at the trailhead, the excitement in the air is tangible, but you feel a little catch in your throat. You drift toward the back of the group, hoping that everyone passes you by and lets you fall in behind – cause let’s be honest, that’s where you will end up anyway. You are afraid to hold people back and just want to enjoy the hike on your own terms.
In the back.
Where no one will notice if you stop.
Ever felt like that?
I have. Many MANY times. For approximately the first 2 years I hiked.
I first started hiking when I moved to Vermont for graduate school. I was 22 years old and had never hiked a mountain or summited a peak (for realz). I grew up in Maryland, which is mostly flat. Sure, there are mountains, but I never hiked any of them. So, I was stoked to move to Vermont – the land of the Green Mountains. They were literally the biggest mountains I had ever seen, and I was so excited to experience them in all their glory.
On my first hike, and many thereafter, I was S.L.O.W. Seriously, my legs were basically a sloth on the trail. No matter how hard I tried I was always at the end of the line. When starting off hikes I always made sure that I was at the back of the line to avoid people needing to pass me. This allowed me to be as slow as I wanted without drawing too much attention to my sloth like hiking. I wanted to be as small and as silent as possible, because I felt embarrassed.
And it super-duper sucked. I felt bad because I thought that I was holding the group back. I also felt incredibly self-conscious about my fitness level – cause somewhere along the line society told me that my worth was connected to how in-shape and skinny I was. Whenever I had to stop for a water break or to catch my breath I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to draw attention to how out of shape I was. I would also try to mask the burning in my legs and need for rest with my desire to take pictures – which as actually awesome, because now I have some amazing pictures to look back on. But, all in all, this resulted in me falling behind – A LOT.
At first, falling behind was a little scary. What if something happens to me? What if there is some crazy guy on the trail who abducts me? What if I see a bear? What if I twist an ankle? One could say I started catastrophizing – but still, it’s not cool to let a beginner feel that way. But I did persevere, and got over my fears. One could say that this was the start of my solo hiking career.
I have always said that nothing makes you feel more out of shape than hiking up the side of the mountain. Because it is HARD. Climbing a mountain is basically walking up really steel stairs for about 2 hours and then turning around and walking down them again. Except there are also rocks, and sticks, and some slippery bits. Oh, and the footing is REALLY uneven. Did you know that a runner who can run a 15:00 5K on the road runs 8-9 minute miles on the trail. That’s because trails are straight up challenging.
Today, looking back at the beginning of my hiking career I realized that my embarrassment over being slow was totally unwarranted. Why the heck did it matter how slow I hiked? It’s not like I was trying to get PR mileage in, and no one’s safety was ever at stake – we were doing 4-5 mile day hikes, nothing crazy. I am sure the people I hiked with honestly didn’t even care how slow I was, they were just happy to be outside. So, I just want to tell you that it’s okay to be the caboose. We are all going to the same place and it doesn’t matter how fast we get there.
A little PSA for you - When hiking in a group, be sure to keep everyone in sight and encourage everyone to keep going. If the group is getting dispersed take some breaks and let others catch up, or break into smaller groups to accommodate the different paces. Also, if you find yourself hiking in a group that leaves you in the dust, or actually makes you feel bad for being slow, consider finding new group of hiking buddies who’s goals and motivations for hiking align with yours. Cause what really matters in the end is getting outside, breathing in that cool mountain air and having fun.