The Compass Blog

Trail Talk

Matt Moore

If you’re currently or have previously worked a seasonal job in a beautiful place (as we hope you all have or will), chances are you’ve participated in a timeless rite of the seasonal work experience: Trail Talk – folks coming back from their weekend and recounting the exploits from their days off. The stories are as colorful and varied as the personalities that retell them:

  • The Understater – Hikes anywhere from 30 – 50 miles in two days, and when you ask them what they did with their weekend, they simply say, “I went backpacking.” Where at? “Just over in  ___ National Forest.” Cool, how long was that hike? “Hmmm, I’m not really sure. It was a decent clip.”
  • The Master of Disaster – Can’t step foot on a trail without encountering swarms of grizzly bears, apocalyptic weather, and/or catastrophic equipment failure: “It got so cold, my stove gas froze.” “I had a foot of water in my tent.” “My sleeping bag spontaneously combusted.”
  • The One-Upper – Comes back from hiking well-known trails, but somehow managed to double the mileage and do it in half the normal time as everyone else. “I hiked (insert popular trail). Yeah, it was 12 miles, took me about 2 hours.”

In his book On Trails, author Robert Moor relays the account of an inquisitive physicist who spent many hours observing the trail-blazing behaviors of the ants who had infested his house. He placed a sugar cube on an edge of his bathtub, waited for hours for the first ant to discover the cube, and then traced its return path with a colored pencil as the ant hauled a piece back to its nest. The first ant’s path was squiggly, indirect and took a long time to arrive at the cube, but each subsequent ant followed a progressively straighter, faster, more direct route to the cube. The physicist didn’t study ants academically (a field known as myrmecology, I’ve come to learn), so he may or may not have been aware that ants produce “trail pheromones”, leaving behind a scent trail for others to follow when they discover food, which contributes to their amazing talent for blazing and then optimizing trails.

Upon reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all of you explorers out there who’ve chosen to venture off, to seek natural places and fresh experiences. Every one of you is a trail blazer. You’ve sought something out, taken those intrepid first steps to wander, and now, your stories, your experiences, your “trail talk”, all serve as an inspirational map for others to follow your trail or create their own.

I hope that you all are spending these precious, fleeting summer months accumulating and documenting tall tales and vivid memories so that your current selves may revel in and be ever grateful for the joy and freedom of an audacious life, and your future selves can inspire the next generation of Trail Blazers.

Many of you have already shared your fascinating tales of personal exploration. Get inspired for your next adventure – check out our Journals!

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