I want to preface this by saying that the group of 13 other hikers (and three excellent dogs) with whom we ventured to the Bridge To Nowhere up San Gabriel Canyon in the Angeles National Forest above Azusa yesterday are a great group of people. They were personable, lively, congenial, conversant, interesting… for the little time within the 7.5 hours we actually spent with them. By that I mean that in the wake set by their pace, Susan and I were relegated to the extreme rear guard. Therefore we were an actual part of the interior half of the 10.5-mile roundtrip at the beginning of the journey and for brief respites somewhere around the three-mile mark, and at the bridge itself. The rest of the time we were left to our own devices. On the way back, things slowed down a bit so that Susan and I mostly never completely lost sight of them up ahead some distance in front of us. Mostly.

I’ll be honest here. I went through some pointed emotion along the way in. First off as it seemed to me that Susan and I were the least cross-acquainted throughout the assembly (with me having never met any of them in person before and only knowing some through our online photo posting exploits), frankly I was bothered at being left so decidedly behind and thus much further removed from the anticipated social aspect as we already were going in to this gathering.

Of course, a peanut gallery suggestion would be for us to have gotten our little doggies along and kept up! And there may be some validity to that, but then again this was not a forced march. We weren’t on some accelerated time limit.

The fact is as evidenced by yesterday and with past jaunts with friends, Susan and I apparently just step out a whole lot less lively than other people. Those hankering to put not too fine a point on it can call us molasses-assed if they want but while it might be a shame in some circles that we’ll never break any land-speed records, we actually enjoy a more leisurely pace during which we do strange things called “taking our time” and “looking around” and “experiencing the outdoors.” We even stop to watch and take pictures of lizards, and bees and rock formations and vistas and each other. And shocking of all: on top of all that lackadaisicality we take breaks along the way, just to stop and shut up and listen and smell and see. Nuts, I know.

Adding to all that slow-motion were further delays thanks to the nature of the rugged trail itself. Traversing some of the more disjointed and poorly marked sections of the trail by ourselves made it easy to lose and to force backtacking, especially around a couple river crossings, and distinctly undeveloped or washed out parts required extra-effort scrambles the likes of which Susan and I had never before seen together.

Ultimately what it comes down to is a fundamental difference in hiking philosophy. They didn’t subscribe to ours and we didn’t subscribe to theirs and everything worked out in the end, which is fine. But whereas yesterday’s operation was all about everybody keeping up, the way I operate is that groups should soooo stick together. Whether it’s two people or 20, longtime friends or almost complete strangers, one mile or 10, you go as fast into the wilderness as the slowest person. As fast as you move on up trail, the pace is ultimately going to be controlled by who’s bring up the rear so if nothing else hanging back and keeping everyone together is not only common sense but it does something silly like foster an environment that consists of inclusion rather than over-the-shoulder glances wondering how far back the slowpokes are — the increasing resentful slowpokes like me who couldn’t completely reconcile being so deserted out where where there were 4,000 ways to sprain an ankle, a couple opportunities to go spilling off-trail down steep terrain, chances for exhaustion, and let’s not forget the venomous snakes, spiders, insects, and plants one might be unlucky to encounter.

So here’s how it’s gonna be from here on out. Susan and I are going to hike by ourselves. It’s our own private hiking club and only we know the password. Because beyond wanting to do things our way and soak in the surroundings and not just get as quickly as we can to a destination and back, what we don’t like is the grandeur of a hike like the Bridge to Nowhere to be diminished by being led to feel rushed and inadequate and unimportant and no matter how nice everyone involved was, Susan and I felt all of those things yesterday.

UPDATED (10/03): After hearing back from a couple people who were part of the group I do feel it important to add that I do feel at least partially responsible for how the hike developed. At the beginning of the hike I could have taken any of several opportunities to light-heartedly mention how speedy everyone else was going. And even before that I had actually considered discussing it on the drive to the trailhead just to put out the alert that Susan and I tend to go slower than most or at least get a sense of what hiking style we might be in for. But instead I just kept my mouth shut figuring (hoping) it would all work itself out. It could’ve made a huge difference had I piped up and I do regret not doing that.

Some of the 100-plus pictures my molasses ass took yesterday are up here in a Flickr set. My love offers a much more lovely and polite version of the hike with pix here.