I didn’t know I had a wild side until I moved to L.A. I arrived from the East Coast decades ago and took my first hike on a trail in Griffith Park led by a local Sierra Club leader. It was nothing short of mind-blowing.
Frederick Law Olmsted designed the woodsy Ramble in New York City’s Central Park to make you feel as though you were in the wild when you were in the middle of a city.
Here, I really was in the wild.
I followed the leader on night hikes in the park and experienced the pulsating radiance of the L.A. Basin from on high. Coyotes yipped, owls hooted. Sometimes tarantulas skittered across the trail. Sometimes orange monkey flowers exploded on the hillsides. Sometimes we hiked to the Hollywood sign. The gorgeous panoramas that unfolded behind the 45-foot-tall letters helped me grasp what my newly adopted city was all about.
L.A.'s wild parts took hold of me hard, a baptism of dirt and sweat I don’t think could have happened in any other big city. I fell in love with it all — and the leader. How could I not?
Connections made in the outdoors can be powerful and long-lasting. I have bonded instantly with strangers while sharing an unexpected view of deer in a meadow or encouraging each other up the last few steps to the top of Mount Whitney. In those moments, they understood me — and I them. Would I ever see these people again?
On July 5, he posted on Facebook a love letter of sorts to a woman he had met hiking a year earlier at Trolltunga, one of Norway’s most impressive rock formations. Martinsson remembered that he had given her a chocolate and chatted with her on the way down. Now he wanted to find her, posting photos from the hike and writing: “I saw a lady hiking, she walked as if she was born to the mountains and every step looked like she loved what she was doing. I saw and felt in my whole soul that she loved it, so I had to ask her. And quite rightly, this is what she lives for and loves.”
It took only 15 days and 7,300 Facebook shares. “I FOUND HER!” Martinsson posted triumphantly.
Daniela Schopp of Germany recognized the photos and the man she met on the trail: “You found beautiful words to describe our encounter. I am quite touched. And thank you to all the people who shared the post and it really resonated with me. Impressive.” She also said she had a boyfriend who loves exploring mountains too. Martinsson’s response was nothing but joy: “I am so happy to hear that you have found love. You have removed a stone from my heart.”
Looking for that stranger after a chance but meaningful encounter is not odd or unusual, said Vickie Mays, professor of health policy and management at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. In fact, she says, it’s healthy to want to act after realizing how meaningful the experience was. And she doesn’t use the term “missed connections” because, well, they aren’t.
“I call them connections made,” Mays said. “Sometimes we don’t trust our judgment. You talk to a person, you walk away, then you start to reflect. It isn’t missed.” Social media does make reaching out easier, but some people act in the moment and skip the regrets.
Roxanna Lewis, a travel agent and avid hiker and runner from Los Angeles, took a few friends on a hike up Mount Baldy a while back. “One of my friends starts up a conversation with an unknown guy, and the next thing I know she is giving the guy her phone number,” Lewis wrote to me. “I surreptitiously take her aside and explain that most guys who hike are on the weird side, and it would be best if she didn’t respond or in future repeat her action.”
Turns out, she was wrong. “My friend is now happily married to the chance encountered potential weirdo, and I have to eat crow every time I retell this story,” Lewis wrote.
My trail connection turned out to be real too. I kept returning to the night hikes in Griffith Park. The leader and I formed a powerful friendship that lasted more than a decade. Love followed. We married on a hiking trail above Arcadia in the Angeles National Forest — and it lasted a good long time. See what I mean about indelible trail connections?
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