In a week’s time, I should be (hopefully) on a short walking trip. This is as much I will say on this for now. I haven’t been hiking as much as I would have liked. Many times during conversations with friends or acquaintances, we talked about what we’ve been up to or where to go. Naturally, I will talk about how crowded it is and people will nod their head saying they hate the crowd too. We never talk about the extent to which we hate it and the degree to which that has affected us, leaving the impression that people just go about their activities as usual despite their dislike for the crowd. Because we don’t talk about it, I wonder how people cope with it: are they as annoyed as I am; do they get frustrated as I am; does it refrain them from going out like I do? Every time people nod in agreement, I am often left to wonder if everyone shares my sentiment, why am I not taking it all in stride like others do? Are they better at hiding their anxiety than I am? Or am I exaggerating my reaction and acting like a whiner wallowing in self-pity?
Maybe it is human nature, maybe it is the inclination to want to feel connected to one another, we often like to relate our experience with someone else’s to demonstrate understanding and empathy. Nothing wrong with that but sometimes people use it to the wrong effect such that it sounds like they are belittling a problem (such as “I get that and I hate it too but you just have to deal with it, to put it nicely or suck it up”) or to demonstrate their superiority (such as “I’ve been through this so I would know better than you”). My stance, in this respect, is only assume to know less and never presume I know better than the person.
Back to the topic of crowdedness, I don’t know how people in Hong Kong deal or manage with the constrained space, there are many people who do not like crowd, this much I know. I once had no choice but to commute at the rush hour. I caught a staff of the train station looking at me with an amused concerned look. If looks could kill, I would have committed a mass murder (I am not going to sugar-coat my words here, it is exactly how I felt. I might be overly sensitive but please don’t twist my meaning to suggest that people on the spectrum are innately violent or criminal). Underneath that murderous looking mask however, concealed a highly anxious, sensory overloaded, deeply trapped and sensitive soul. What drove me to write this was I’ve been meaning to go on a day hike over the past two months (in preparation of my upcoming trip) but that has not materialised. I woke up one morning this week with some time to spare so I thought I could go on a hike. What followed after was I spent the next 3 hours seating by my desk pondering just one question repeatedly: should I go out for a hike or stay indoors? The debate revolved around “My mood would be much less agitated at home but I really should go on a hike to build up my fitness”; “The satisfaction I will derive from the hike is not worth the frustration that comes with the commute”; “I still have some unfinished work and even though they are not urgent, perhaps I should get them done sooner than later”; “I had to make a detour to the post office and it is near lunch hour, it is going to be crowded”; “The longer hiking route involves commuting and that kinds of put me off.” I didn’t get much work done during this period. I do realise that the longer time I take to decide, the shorter time I have for a hike and the more likely I will finish my hike at the same time as the rest of the people get off work, which is a no-no. I got somewhat mad with myself for the indecisiveness. However, I also came to realise that this is exactly why I am going elsewhere abroad for a hike ~ because I can’t do it here anymore without major struggles. People exhaust me and I am tired of competing with the crowd.
I am not a clingy person, I value my independence but I am losing the motivation to step out of the house for reasons other than work or if I need to get something specific or do my grocery shopping, I do it quickly and then return, that is, I usually have a very specific purpose when I step outside.
Eventually, I did go for a very brief walk up the Peak again (not the longer route I was originally thinking). I carried a backpack that was bigger and heavier than the usual one I carried even though it was just a short walk as I wanted to prepare myself for what it’s like to carry a bigger load. During my hikes in Hong Kong, I never had to carry a pack that is more than 20-litre, in fact a 10-litre will do for most of my hikes which could be between 20-30km, or about 8 hours. I was thinking I need a bigger backpack for my trip as my 10-litre pack would not suffice. Now I do have other backpacks that are bigger in size but they are not for hiking purpose (which means no in-built features for my water bladder, lack of ventilation features, no hip straps etc.) ~ perhaps I could use those? I mean Emma (Grandma) Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail with a drawstring sack, certainly my other backpacks, even if they were not made for hiking, would do better than a sack? Or perhaps, I could just manage with my 10-litre pack even though that would be like walking with a tight budget. I wasn’t planning on spending additional money to get a backpack but at the same time, I do want to walk comfortably. I was debating with myself as to whether getting a new backpack is a luxury item or essential. The bigger backpack I carried today felt rather bulky. In the end, the brief hike ended with a shopping trip to the outdoor store where I got a brand new light-weight backpack. Oh yes, I even got a collapsible hiking pole that fits nicely into my backpack which I could check-in with my luggage. I don’t actually use the hiking pole much in Hong Kong and the times I brought it along, it served a dual purpose ~ to defend myself against potentially aggressive dogs which are quite commonplace along some of the trails. Then I remembered reading from the guidebook that dogs (along with ticks, leeches and snakes) are fairly common on the trail that I plan to walk. Should I be worried? I might feel safer with a hiking pole, which I could also use for support. How else can I justify my purchase ~ if I’m buying something that is potentially useful, that wouldn’t be splurging, right?
I was actually quite pleased with my shopping trip but it comes with a feeling of guilt and a sense of shame that I ended up buying these for the reason that it will make me and my walk more comfortable as opposed to being essential for survival. Gosh, I am such a wimp. Grandma Gatewood would have called me a pantywaist ~ I am guilty as charge.
“Most people today are pantywaist,” Emma Gatewood told a reporter five decades ago. I wonder what she’d think of us now. I wonder what she’d think of the gear we’re packing by the light of our headlamps, into ergonomically designed backpacks with what must be hundreds of pockets. Our Leatherman tools and cookstoves and iPhones with compass apps.
Ben Montgomery, “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk”