Summer Sunday: The Real Reason Women Hike

My favorite summer sport is mountain biking. But, I’ve found, if I want to hang with my girlfriends in the summer, I’ve got to hike. Sure, a few are up for a weekday ride, and more are game for a road ride, but when it comes to the planned, weekend, ladies-day-with-no-kids, it’s always a hike.

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I have reflected a little about why this might be. Biking is too fast? Too dangerous? No, these are Telluride women. Biking takes too long? Nope, the ladies get kid coverage for the whole morning, even into the afternoon if need be. Hiking is better exercise? No, biking is an ass-kicker.

Then I realized that hiking always wins for one reason and one reason only. You can talk.

The reverse of this reasoning also explains why men, especially my husband and specifically for a date activity, choose biking. While biking, you can’t talk, or at least you can’t hear, which apparently is even better.

For women, however, the weekend choice is hiking. And yes, the views, the wildflowers and the exercise are all important, but the exclusive, female, Saturday hike is really about the conversation. The hike becomes the emails we didn’t have time to send and the phone calls we were too busy to make. It allows space to discuss all of those things we can’t discuss at soccer drop off or in passing on Main Street. It allows the one thing we never have—undistracted time.

The hike goes something like this: A route is determined and early morning texts abound with weather reports, snack inventories, approximate return times, and insights on the proper layers to wear. The ladies meet at the trailhead at an ungodly hour for a Saturday morning, and espouse upon how in-shape and amazing all of the other ladies in the group are while also commenting on one person’s new trail shoes, another’s Lululemon shorts and still another’s cute North Face fleece.

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The walking begins and slowly pairs start to develop and the conversations organically begin. One pair discusses the latest school board meeting, another the challenges of trying to balance working, mom-ing, wife-ing, and staying in touch with each other. Two others discuss the similarities of corporate women and women in mountaineering, while others trade recipes. Each group finds a pace; the pace becomes their meditation. And, we walk. Talking and listening.

The front group stops for water; everyone gathers and the focus becomes the view. The walking resumes, the groups change, and new conversations emerge. Occasionally, crossing a technical ridge or climbing a steep couloir, it’ll be silent, each person focusing on her own thoughts.

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Inevitably, usually on the downhill, the group hikes together and settles on a topic. It is almost always about parenting. One person shares an issue. A botched conversation with a child, bullying, reading scores, a child living abroad, establishing routines. And the others listen, really listen, head down in a trance, focusing on the speaker and setting one foot in front of the other. There is thoughtful response and the next person shares. It continues like this until the trail ends.

And as soon as that trail ends, time is up. Each person is transported back to the logistics of their everyday life. Phones are checked, logistical messages are texted, hugs are given and good byes are said. The magic of that space, that only the trail can provide, is ephemeral. It moves to the background.

But we all know, as we go about our week and look up at the surrounding mountains, that the trails, and our friends, are always there just waiting for us to show up.

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