I wake up, groaning, in a 35-degree lodge, my stomach in spasms, and my head pounding at an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet, a good week into the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal. How am I going to do this today, I wonder? Teeth chattering, I dress and stumble out to the small dining room, thinking about how I can tell the guide I can’t possibly go up another 1000 feet or more this morning. And then a guy from Alaska pushes a bowl of warm oatmeal and a mug of coffee at me and gently encourages me to eat. A young woman leaves her mom’s side as we get up from the table and commiserates about my cramps, and our guide slaps me five as we gingerly step into a snowy, misty morning. You’re looking good, Miss Lexie – ready to go? And indeed, there I went, held up by people I didn’t even know when I landed in Kathmandu two weeks before.
Tramping across this Earth has been one of the highlights of my life and, more often than not, I have been introduced to new lands in the company of strangers. Even when I have set off with family members or existing friends, I have collected what I always call “my hiking friends,” people I’ve met on the trail who become fast friends for as long as the trek lasts, and sometimes longer.
On rare occasions, those people become real friends, and some have joined me on future walks. While others do eventually slip away and become simply holiday card recipients or pleasant memories, there is a small circle of us, including a few guides, who will always be connected long after we left the pathways.
My husband and kids tease me about my hiking friends, wondering how I can become so attached to people with whom I have spent a mere week or two. But a week of post-hike beers and dinners gives friendship formation a power boost, and believe me, three days in camps with no showers and one toilet tent creates an intimacy one rarely experiences with friends at home! In a matter of days, we think nothing of sharing our trail food or embarrassing stories, and we take care of each other in ways that belie the brief life of our relationship.
Every step of the budding bond is accelerated when we spend our waking hours chatting on a tough mountain track and our evenings sharing meals, pains, and more life stories. Most of us are in the early-impressions phase of trying to be agreeable and supportive, and friendship blooms quickly and easily with those who are open to it.
In the last decade, I have met my Nepal hiking friends for a ski trip in Utah and reunited with them on the Paine Circuit in Chile, hosted my Tanzanian guide in our home in Chicago, gone back to Peru and linked up with my Inca Trail guides again for some smaller walks on my own, and recently had another Himalayan hiking friend over for dinner here in Houston. They may not be my everyday pals, but my hiking friends and I have a singular connection that I cannot share with anyone else, and my life is richer for them.