Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Nerd Side of Hiking

"A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away..."
A very small amount of gear.

Today is Pi (3.14) day, and while Pi day has little to do with hiking, it does allow an outlet for a topic I has been bouncing around in my head for the last few months. The topic, of course, is hiking, more specifically, hikers and their personalities. If you ponder this for a few minutes, you will start to see that as hikers and climbers, we are quite nerdy. We read topographical maps, scrounge around for secret spots in guidebooks, and even collect climbing gear, shoes and backpacks like they are “Magic the Gathering” Cards.  What may seem like a natural juxtaposition, pitting people who climb mountains and hike for hours, demonstrating their outdoor skills against Trekkers, Star Wars fans and Dungeons and Dragon players who typically stay indoors, is actually something that has more in common than most would guess.

Being a nerd has so many connotations, yet, we all have aspects of our hiking selves that are quite nerdy. If you have guidebook with sections underlined, most hikers will agree that they do too. Yet, to the outside world, highlighting passages in books is historically quite a nerdy thing to do. We bury ourselves in books, researching routes, trails, and are frequently monitoring weather conditions. Climbing and hiking is a science, and in some ways, we are all scientists of nature. I know for me, I love reading topographical maps, I love getting deep into old trail guides, or finding that map that has abandoned mines and locations of forests service roads long since overgrown. Friends of mine have so many pairs of shoes, so many books, maps and climbing equipment that they don’t have room for furniture in their house. Yet, despite the fact that the majority of us do quite a bit of research and study to be good hikers and climbers, society doesn’t see it as nerdy since we are outside and don’t mind getting dirty.

Topo Map of the SW Side of Mt. Olympus
Society views climbers and hikers as people who rough it, people who are in touch with nature and true or not are usually manly, rough and maybe even tough. I am here to say that while we may be exactly that (I sure know I am), we are also in touch with nature and our inner nerd. Case and point is looking at how a hiker coexists with nature. We eat healthy foods, leave no trace and more often than not, will take some time and meditate by a river, on a cliff or deep in the woods. In fact, looking at the definition of the word “nerd” it states that nerds are “an intelligent, single-minded expert in a particular technical discipline or profession.” While I take some offense at the single minded section of this definition, I have a lot of climber friends who could be the picture next to the word.

Personally, I am a nerd on all fronts. I have an R2D2 climbing helmet, maps all over my bedroom walls, a car full of a week’s worth of supplies and even a ring (my precious) that has Darth Vader on it. I make references to Star Wars and Back to the Future on a daily bases, yet I know how to start fires with no matches and know edible plants along trails. Let’s face it, hikers and climbers are huge nerds. The majority have a blog, a twitter account that we update regularly and Facebook pages where we stay in the loop. We use our smart phone to take pictures, or the latest in wearable cameras to document everything we do. We have stacks of books, piles of gear and more pairs of shoes than we would like to admit. We geek out on climbing videos, typically avoid mainstream music and some of us get amazing farmer’s tans. We are all nerds, and it is time, especially on this day of Pi, to embrace it and wear the badge proudly.

Next time you are in the woods, specifically the Olympic Peninsula’s amazingly dense rainforest, picture yourself with Ewoks, battling storm troopers and taking down the evil empire. Read the guidebook like Yoda, try to use the force to get your backpack on instead of doing that awkward squat lean that we all do.

May the Force be with you and see you on the trails I will!

Douglas Scott,
Exotic Hikes

Best. Helmet. EVER!

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