Common among hikers is a way of talking, of storytelling that is seemingly meant to scare fellow hikers; an explosion of a simple experience into something near-impossible or almost-unattainable. The exchange usually ensues as such:
Hiker A – “Hey, how was the ascent of Mount X?”
Hiker B – “Oh man, it was so gnarly! There were slabs of granite at almost a 90 degree angle that were all moss-covered and you couldn’t climb up without using both hands and feet! One small misstep and you’d definitely plummet right off the mountain!”
This, of course, usually leaves Hiker A fearful and sometimes in a state of dread for what may lie ahead. Some hikers, upon hearing similar experiences will even choose to skip over an entire section of the trail, deeming it ‘too dangerous’ based on the loaded stories they hear; or, a lot of hikers will ‘slackpack’ a section so as to decrease their weight and, therefore, in this case, make it easier to maneuver through tougher sections (“Slackpacking is hiking without a backpack, or with a day pack. It usually means you have to get to a hostel or outfitter, leave most of your gear there, take a shuttle up trail, and hike backwards to the outfitter carrying only what you need for the day.” http://blog.ctnews.com/forbes/2011/05/18/slackpacking/).
Similar interactions have occurred several times since we have been on the trail, and have happened among others as well. I have noticed it to be a common machoism among some hikers versus others who will speak of the same scenario with far less exaggerated words and tone, saying, “Well, there are lightly graded slabs of granite that are moss-covered in some parts so you have to be careful, but that’s only a small section and nothing to worry about; just take it slow.”
Corresponding with fellow hikers, we have found that the Hiker B personality exists fairly regularly throughout the trail. Most people become desensitized after the first few epic interactions, and learn to take the words lightly; others revise their modes of hiking (as outlined above).
All of this has left me wondering though: Why do we tell stories in this way so as to invoke fear among others? And what is it about narrative that ties in to personal identity regarding what we want others to observe or think about us, and who we, in fact, are?
Creating fear in others based on the language we use is no new tactic in human experience. A rhetoric of fear is something effectively used for years in the realm of politics and marketing to deceive others in support of a proposed idea. On the trail, this sort of ‘fear talk’ and machoism implores others to feel anxiety or concern, both emotions that could be perceived as being inferior to the urged confidence of the storyteller.
This is a discussion much better reserved for my personal Web site where I intend to focus on this at length in the near future. Though I do think there is something to be mentioned on this blog regarding this epidemic of speech and action. Not only does it serve to form a deception for others, but it also becomes a sort of self-deception for the person telling the story. So much of life and meaning is shaped by storytelling/narrative. It is, in this case, merely a harmless act of communication that could simply be shrugged off, but for those interested in any form of social and moral philosophy or psychology, the nature of narrative speaks lengths about yourself and others.
What stories do you tell others, and how much of it is laced with exaggerations and frills?
Now, I’ll turn to photos, where no story is necessary!