Show Them the Way to the Sunshine

By Jonathan Riley12003181_10154289514016002_2708976850750850409_n

People are dying to get out hiking.

I know because they keep turning up in droves for monthly walks with the Fundy Erratics.

This is the message I wished I’d given to the Recreation Nova Scotia conference.

Greg Turner and I were asked to speak about our hiking group and we tried to explain why so many people come out every month.12004101_10154296082216002_9036773786062231017_n

It wasn’t until after we were done talking though, that the simple truth hit me: our group is popular because people are dying to get outdoors, to walk in the sunshine, to feel the wind on their faces.

It’s that simple.

People know it’s good for them. They don’t need research or proof. They know walking is great exercise, they love it when their cheeks are glowing, they love the taste of fresh air, the smell of a summer forest.

People want to connect with nature because they know it makes them feel good. They are curious about their backyard, about the history and culture of their home, about the plants and animals that live around them, that live with them here in Nova Scotia.

They know the outdoors is beautiful and they want to see more of it, they want to get off the couch, they want to get out of the house, but…there are barriers.12039311_10154296081646002_9215799114871840658_n

Whether these barriers are real or just perceived is irrelevant. Something is stopping people from getting out.

A hiking group is like a wrecking ball when it comes to these barriers.

Perhaps the biggest barrier, real or perceived, is people don’t know where to go.

Freeman Patterson says the best place to take pictures is right there wherever you are. And for me it’s the same with hiking and walking. However a lot of people need to know there is a trail and they need to know it leads somewhere.

Greg and I have led hikes to over 30 different destinations right here in Digby County over the last three years. And we’re still finding more.

It took us two years of searching to piece together our most recent hike, along the path of the old Bear River aqueduct. Sure people in the area knew where it was – I met 19 people walking that trail on Thanksgiving Sunday – but most of us a few miles away had no idea about this spectacular, easy-to-follow trail.

When it comes to guiding, Greg and I don’t just know where the trail starts, we know where it ends too.

Over the years, we have given hundreds of people directions to the shipwreck monument on the shore west of Point Prim. But 90 per cent of them don’t find it because they turn back too soon.

On a guided hike, you can be relatively sure you’re going to get to the destination. And back to your car again.

Because let’s face it, the fear of getting lost is a big barrier keeping people from exploring the outdoors.
People also want to know what conditions are like on a trail before they walk it. My motto is: you never know until you go, but most people can’t embrace that much uncertainty.

Again our hiking group demolishes the questions marks – Greg and I pre-hike every trip and describe it in clear, accurate and honest detail.

I often think of Jacqueline Ameriault when I’m organizing a hike. This pleasant enthusiastic lady has participated in 19 Fundy Erratics events over the last three years. She recently told me however, if I use the word challenging in any part of my description, then she gives the trip a pass.

I’m starting to think that people don’t even care where they go, as long as they can get out of the house – if it’s somewhere beautiful, interesting, exotic or fun, well, that’s a bonus.

People are also afraid of animals or getting hurt or some other trouble.

Travelling in a group offers safety and security and reassurance.

More than that, hiking with a group offers social contact – we have a core group of hikers who look forward to seeing each other every month, to catching up, to hanging out for a few hours with like-minded, active, healthy, happy people.

Sometimes it seems the hiking and the trail and the views and the history and environment are all secondary to our hikers.

And this is the way it should be – because the hardest barrier to breakdown is the fear that the hike won’t be fun.

As hike leaders, Greg and I agree, our job isn’t to make the hike fun. Our role is to show people the trail, get them to their destination and back safely, but mostly our job is step aside and let the hikers have fun.

To put it another way, a good hike leader doesn’t stand up on a rock casting a big shadow, but rather they show the hikers how to get up on the rock themselves where they can feel the sunshine.

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