“Hey! You're hiking the PCT too? Cool.”
And a lot of times that is where it ends.
Or so you thought.
Various levels of schmoozing exist on the Pacific Crest Trail, and where your conversation with fellow hikers gets to depends on a number of factors, including the length of time you are together, whether or not you camp together, how annoying the other person is, how annoying you are, and whether or not you wanted to be talking to this person in the first place.
It is true that out on the trail and in towns you share a special bond with fellow PCTers, allowing you to approach and speak with them as if picking up a conversation from earlier. However, some people take said liberty too far and are probably better off not opening their mouths in the first place (you know who you are, and I hate you).
Tiers of conversation topics dictate verbal interaction on the PCT beginning with the necessities and reaching up to levels of genuine interest (quite rare).
THE BARE NECESSITIES
When you encounter a fellow hiker of the PCT, there are some very basic questions which may be asked regardless of circumstance:
- How far until the next water source?
- Where are we on the map?
- What time is it (aka how much daylight is left)?
- Can I have some toilet paper?
These questions take precedence over formalities such as exchanging names, basic information (tier two) and shaking hands (warning: do not shake hikers' hands, chances of fecal contamination = 100%). You may also find yourself asking if your new acquaintance has seen another hiker you are looking for (because chances are this new person is less interesting than your old hiker friend(s)).
As you progress farther into the trail your encounters with other PCT hikers become shorter and shorter (by the end I would simply get their name, give mine (for reference purposes) and move on), but maybe you are different, maybe you enjoy telling your life story to every hiker you meet – I hope that works out for you.
Now that the important stuff is out of the way, you may proceed with the always exciting details:
- Name/trail name
- Distance traveled today
- Today's destination/ultimate destination (damn section hikers)
- Fun fact of the day (usually not very fun or even factual).
Often you will come across other hikers on a break (opposed to passing them whilst walking), and what better time to justify a break than when you find someone else doing the same.
This requires a stop and chat minimum, so if you get this far, then you are close to sucked in, but you can still escape before the personal level is reached.
THE PERSONAL LEVEL
If you have gotten this far, then chances are that you are stopped somewhere with this person (which can be dangerous since it allows for you to both start again together).
You are now possibly discussing reasons for having started this trail, plans for after the trail, interesting persons met on the trail, or another trail-related attribute. You had better hope you like this person since now you are possibly stuck with them.
But this is also an opportunity for you to explore the freedom of the PCT. Don't like someone? Hike faster. This person is also fast? Decide to take a ridiculously long break. You do like this person? Hike their pace and stick together. Want to be alone? Sneak off the trail and enjoy the hours of alone time. Don't want to be alone? This can be difficult sometimes, but usually you can find friends should you require them.
Ultimately you will end up meeting truly awesome people out on the PCT, and that's whether or not you started the trail with the intention of doing so. The trail attracts all different sorts of people from all over the world (literally, I met people of all ages, and all professions, from every continent (you got me – nobody from Antarctica)), and it forces you to open up to people in a way that only the masochism of long-distance hiking can facilitate.
No matter who you are or how lost a soul you have become – there will be someone out on the PCT just as determined, just as broken, just as adventurous, or just as crazy as you.