Letter Re: Observations During a Group Nature Hike

Hello James,
I wanted to pass along an observation from this weekend that I thought everyone could appreciate. This gave me some good insight into what it would be like to travel by foot with a large diverse group of people.

Our local nature center had a nature walk through a historic woodland valley down to the river. The total walk was 3 miles down and back. The beginning of the walk was through pastureland and the second half followed an old road grade through the woods. There were five naturalists assisting on the hike and about 30 guests. The ages of the group ranged from 10 to 80. There were about 10 children with their parents in the group.

My first observation was the way many of them were dressed for the hike. It was a damp weekend and we had rain the day before. Several of the folks only had on sneakers and others had muck boots. Most of the others had more appropriate hiking shoes with trail worthy treads and ankle support.  My only mistake was not wearing a windbreaker or layered clothing. The walk through the pasture was windy and cool, but the walk through the woods was damp and chilly.

As we started out I noticed how the group would string out and we had to wait at certain points for the stragglers to catch up. This made for slow progress and we going about 1 mile an hour. I was amused to think of this group as a herd where the younger “calves” were running around with the energy of youth and the older members would hold everyone back. We also came across several choke points on the walk that everyone struggled to get through. For the most part it was orderly but several times they rushed to get through or took longer than necessary. Often branches or briars would whip back on the person behind if they were not watching. My wife and I have been on many hikes and have learned to watch where we step to avoid slipping or kicking up branches along the trail. On this walk we had to keep our spacing such that we had to let the ones in front tear up the trail before it was safe to follow.

This was a nature walk so there was plenty of discussion about the flora and fauna but also many discussions that made it difficult to enjoy the day. The volume of group chased away any chance of observing wildlife. In a SHTF scenario we would have been discovered with ease. Another observation was how poorly the parents would watch their children. There were many dangerous creek banks and stone ruins that could have been catastrophic if someone would fall over the edge. Those running the group would often warn the children and parents to stay back. But in many cases the adults were just as bad. One child in particular was in need of serious attention. The worst was when he threw a rock at a metal culvert. The bang echoed through the valley and startled everyone. It also kicked up a herd of deer. We did see them but off in the distance with no hope of taking any if we needed to hunt.

Even though we had naturalist who had been in this area before, we did get off the trail once. I had noticed the road grade off to our left and was able to get back on track without too much difficulty. Many of the others had to scramble up a hillside. Even experts can get off track.

The trip back up the valley took about the same time. We didn’t stop to look at every plant and fungus as before but we did have to wait for the slower members of the group. I did notice that our walk down had left a lot of impact on the trail and a blind man could have tracked us in the dark. The leaves were disturbed and branches were broken.

During this hike I was wishing our group was smaller. I was looking for defendable positions, access to water and food or places to set up campsite. I was also playing out scenarios in my mind. What if someone got hurt, we were approached but MZBs, or we got lost. Most importantly I was evaluating our group. I wanted to gauge who could be relied upon to support in an emergency.

It was an interesting experiment in social interaction in a natural environment. I know I would not want to be in a SHTF situation with many of those folks. A smaller, physically-fit, and prepared group is more desirable than a large diverse group of varied abilities. It also drove home the point that that [in a worst-case situation] not everyone will survive. Thanks, – John G.