Episode 192: Kindness Out There

Episode 192: Kindness Out There

Your Stories

Your stories of the unexpected kindness you’ve found in the outdoors – from strangers, from nature. 

We’ve all been finding solace in nature after a hard year, and we wanted to gather your stories to inspire a kinder outdoor world. Of course, as we’ve talked about a lot on the show – the outdoors is not a utopia, or a place we can escape systemic issues. But kindness can create a chain reaction that has long-term impacts for good.

Find the episode below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you stream podcasts.

Featured in this episode: Helen Wallis, Kelly Hines, Trisha Stull, Ruth Nolan, Lois Van Leer, Hiranya de Alwis Jayasinghe, Jo Ann Hickey, and Andrea Schmuttermair.

Hosted & Produced by Gale Straub

Additional Support by Julie Hotz

A production of Ravel Media

Sponsored by Goodr, Yonder, Rumpl, & Pachamama

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Some of the Women Featured in this Episode

Hellen Wallis

Lois Van Leer and her late wife Lori Ragona (L)

Kelly Hines on the trail

Jo Ann Hickey’s daughters by the VW van she mentions in her story.

Andrea Schmuttermair on the Colorado Trail in 2014 with her pup

Trisha Stull

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Episodes air weekly on Wednesdays – subscribe wherever you listen so you never miss an episode. 


TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Back in May, I met up with a friend for a hike. It was our first time meeting in person, and my first time meeting up with someone new in a long while. I felt out of practice after this last solitary year. She just had time for a short hike, and we chose one of the more popular paths in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I felt shy as we headed up, knowing that we’d see a good number of hikers. My shyness didn’t last long – it couldn’t – my friend waved and smiled at every person we came across; she said hello in a way that showed them that we welcomed them on the trail we shared. She was like the sun finally peeking up over a tall mountain range, the light spreading out to find every inch of the valley to warm it.

Kindness is cumulative, it can catch on and take on new life. Which is my hope for this episode, which features listener stories of the kindness we find out there. Here’s Helen:

Helen Wallis:

A few years ago, I was walking solo on the UNESCO heritage trail of the commander Kodo in Japan. I hadn’t seen hardly any people on the trail, but on this particular day, a young Japanese man named Soji was walking with me off and on throughout the day, it is a very Rocky and tree ruder trail. As we walk together, he pointed out or look out to see the tallest Tory gate in all of Japan at Honga Tashu down in the valley. As I turned to go back onto the trail, down our wind face down onto the rock stairs. He looked back at me. And while the look on his face on you, it was bad. I made Utley put a scarf up to my bleeding face that I had been wearing. And he ran carrying a full backpack down the stairs and into the village to get bandages.

Helen Wallis:

In the meantime, two other Japanese men came along. One said, don’t worry. I’m a primary school teacher. I will help you. This comment really did put a smile on my face. They got me to the road and rang for help. A car came along from the tourist office where lady cleaned me up and put a bandage on. They were going to take me to the hospital, but I couldn’t leave. I said I had to wait for SOGI. I just couldn’t leave without seeing him not too much longer. He came back all hot and sweaty from running. He had bought bandages and antiseptic. I made him write his name and address on a piece of paper. He wouldn’t let me pay him any money. When I got home, I wrote and sent him a little gift. The three men stood there, looking at me as always driven away to hospital.

Helen Wallis:

I never saw them again, but the quick reaction of helping me enabled me to eventually continue my journey, less, a little bit of adjustment and sporting one eye closed and a cut above my eye. I shudder to think how would have made it down to the village in the state I was in. The impact of the kindness has stayed with me ever since. I like to think I’m more compassionate to others that may be struggling on the trail now. Taking the time to talk to people and smile when you are in the outdoors does create a domino effect on others. As you continue your journey into the great outdoors

Gale Straub – Narration:

Kelly shares the story that I could definitely relate to of the little kindnesses that keep us going.

Kelly Hines:

I almost called it quits, halfway up a concoction of a steady incline wildfire smoke and horseflies was driving me to the point of screaming. And the only thought that kept pushing me up, was it at some elevation, horseflies can’t fly. I didn’t know what that elevation was, but all animals have a breaking point. And I just had to keep pushing up and that maybe the next switch back was too high for them. I had to hope that my breaking point was past theirs, halfway up my assent, another solo female hiker spotted me as she came down, I let out a half laugh, half whale and made some complaint about horseflies bullying me. She immediately offered me her can of bug spray an act of kindness that would help me summit and reach our lake. Her generosity lit the fire under my butt to keep pushing up and 45 minutes later, I cracked open my hummus and dipped a pita chip in my feet, soaking in our lake. I didn’t know it when I got the bug spray, but the horse flies would follow me up to the top, but at least they couldn’t land now.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I couldn’t find the answer to Kelly’s question. So if anyone out there listening knows what elevation horseflies can no longer fly. Send us an email next up. Trisha whose submission reminds us that as valuable as our guts can be in the outdoors, it’s equally important to not hold on too closely to snap judgments.

Trisha Hull:

This past July, I went on my first backpacking trip. Me and my mom went to Catalina island and it was a wonderful experience, beautiful fun, but also really painful. I ended up getting blisters, covering the bottoms of my feet. We had to hike half of our three-day trip, the last 12 miles with me limping and in pain. And on the last day we had made it back to two harbors where we were going to get picked up by the ferry and taken back home. We saw two women walking past us, and it was two women who had been at our campsite the night before, who had just stared at us when we slowly limped into camp. And I remember that night thinking, why are they staring at us? I felt really judged and uncomfortable, but that day we were clean. I had thrown away my boots.

Trisha Hull:

I was in slightly less pain. So I was more friendly. So we said, hi, we were those people who came into camp late, you probably saw us. And one of the women said, oh yeah, we saw you are sitting there drinking too much wine. And we’re probably staring, but I was just excited to see other women on the trail. I usually see men, I don’t see women traveling alone. So it was really awesome. And so I told them a little bit about my foot problem, my blisters. And she said, oh yeah, I noticed you were limping. I did this hike, this backpacking trip last year. And the same thing happened. My feet were covered in blisters. And I had to do most of my trip, limping, just like you, but you know, way to go. Glad you stuck it out. So happy to see women on the trail. And she, her and her friend just kept going. And I just remember thinking, wow, it was really cool to connect with this person who I earlier had thought was judging us, but was really just excited to see us out on the trail. And it was really encouraging and uplifting to hear that she had gone through the same thing and was out there hiking again, backpacking again. And it just encouraged me to do the same.

Gale Straub – Narration:

While Trish’s story is innocuous, there are those moments out there where snap judgments can have a negative cumulative impact — especially when we encounter folks who are different than ourselves in the outdoors. As we talk about a lot on this show, we carry our full selves into the backcountry with us, along with the good and bad of societal problems. Assumptions don’t just take place within snap judgments, sometimes what we think might be a kindness: unsolicited advice or encouragement, for example, is offensive to another person with a different ability level and/or identity than yourself.

Take mansplaining. Say a man stops a woman on the trail to give them advice about how they’ve loaded their backpack. This man does this knowing nothing about the woman. Nothing, not how far she’s hiking, what she has in her backpack, or why she’s out there — let alone her experience level. This theoretical man might think he’s being kind when in reality he’s being condescending and his attention could even make the woman feel unsafe.

While I don’t want to discourage anyone from acts of kindness, I do want to encourage folks out there to understand that just because your intent is good, it doesn’t mean it can’t do harm. We all hold different feelings of safety while we’re out there, depending on a multitude of factors: our gender, race, ability, size, age, experience level – the list goes on. So it’s worth taking a step back when you begin to make assumptions about others when you’re out there. It might just ultimately make the outdoors a kinder place.

Ruth shares a story of camaraderie and kindness:

Ruth Nolan:

On the day, my grandson, Charlie was born 2000 miles away. I was sitting on a huge rock in the midst of a small Creek splashing across the little used Ernie Maxwell trail, where a sweet little waterfall tumbles down. It was a rare and precious place near the Southern California mountain town of Idlewild. I wanted to honor Bebe Charlie’s entrance into the world at this beautiful spot. More it often hiked with my daughter when she was growing up. I sat alone mesmerized and feeling both innervated and lonely on this warm may afternoon. Wishing I could be with mother and baby in Minnesota. And then I looked up at the sound of a friendly voice. Hello, there a group of several women hikers smiled at me as they approached from the forest in the flickering afternoon light. I stood up and we got to talking. They were in high spirits having been spending the last few days at a women’s retreat.

Ruth Nolan:

And as somehow came up that my baby grandson had just been born hours before. One of the women came over to give me a big hug and thanked me for allowing her to share this joyful news. They lingered a while longer. And my private joy became one of community and togetherness shining brightly in this wilderness area. Then they turned to go and I watched as their footsteps carried them away. I again sat down on the big rock and the waterfall sparkled in dance, just a little more brightly it’s saying and danced with the song of a chorus of voices, surrounded by the soothing and contended size of water and trees and sky and the comradery of women hikers on a mountain trails who smiles two years later, I’m still warm by to this day. We were strangers no more.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear more stories after the break.

MIDROLL

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back. Here’s Lois on finding kindness from the environment around her.

Lois Van Leer:

Lori died January 17th, 2019, after nearly 20 years together, she broke the only promise she could not keep she died before me. And so I took myself cut canyon deep in grief to the only places that were big enough, gentle enough, harsh enough to hold a soul, scorched the Southwest with the beauty that also puts a person on survival alert to frontier west with its remnants, not only of wildness, but of the untamed to the water’s edge of the Pacific Northwest coastlines and rivers and onto them with kayak in each place. I found an offering of benign kindness and offering of healing. Every paddle, a tear, every rock, a heartbeat, every step of remembering I kayaked eyes combing the shoreline for treasures left by winter waters. I walked and walked on thing for whatever rocks allowed themselves to be seen. Agates Jasper shirt, petrified wood. My head was never silent.

Lois Van Leer:

It turned ensured the last five years, the last three months, the last three weeks until death came my heart tormented itself with wondering not the what ifs, but the would wheeze would we have been able to stay together with her. So sick and me so broken nothing unresolved, but enumerating the regrets that they in drying me out out into the perspective, creating places so much larger than any suffering each river trip, the Heron squawk their prehistoric squawk overhead. The distinctive Osprey cry. The Eagles seemingly skimming the water with their talents as they hunted the indignant call of this king Fisher. And as I walked the red tail, the Harrier, the Kestrel, and one evening Nighthawks though, I could not receive the gift of another person’s presence here in the wild outside, I was able to receive his gifts. There was no other comfort to be found.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Last week’s episode featured Brianne Lauro, who talked about showing reciprocity to the lands and waters that have taken care of her family for generations. Lois’s story reminds us to give back to the natural world as it gives to us. Just this week, a new report came out from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change or the IPCC, compiling the last 8 years of climate science and citing over 14,000 studies. The overarching message: the climate crisis is here. The Atlantic states that “the climate is now changing on political time,” meaning that what we once projected into the distant future is happening now and within shorter cycles, like elections. All that to say — change is here. It’s been here. And taking action is both an act of kindness and a necessity. I’ll link some resources in the show notes.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We also received several stories of kindness from strangers. First you’ll hear from Hiranya, who you might remember from her interview a few years ago on solo walking the Welsh Coastal Path:

Hiranya de Alwis Jayasinghe:

So I was hiking the Welsh coastal path at home quite a long day, and hadn’t really had much rest. And finally, kind of 18 miles later, I got, got to a place called Dale and took my backpack off. The sigh of relief, sat down, ordered some food, looked at my phone, realized I don’t have any battery, which from my cable and suddenly thought, oh dear, I’ve left my cable where I’d stayed the night before. So I spoke to the owner and I said dinner anywhere that I could get a new cable. And he said, oh, I think the nearest base is probably Milford Haven, which is where I’d start to now in the morning. So I started running through the scenarios and thinking, oh, if even if I did hike back kind of 20 miles, um, I wouldn’t, wouldn’t be able to buy a cable until the next mornings.

Hiranya de Alwis Jayasinghe:

And my family would be worrying about me overnight. And he called his son over. And before I could say anything, his son said, oh, I’ve got plenty of spare cables at home. And I’ll just jump on my bike and get one for you. And he did. And 20 minutes later, he arrived back with a cable and he wouldn’t even let me pay for it, you know, as a, as a, as a thanks. And that’s always stayed with me. I know which cafe it was. I’ve long wished to return the favor. I remember he had some photography up on the wall, which, you know, would have liked to have bought something, but you with the backpack I couldn’t, but it is something that I, I really hope to return one day to that cafe and to say, thank you. Um, in more than words, it is worth saying that my experience hiking out loan, I have experienced this lots of kindness.

Hiranya de Alwis Jayasinghe:

And I think that there’s something about it that sort of strips me of the privilege and comfort that I’m lucky enough to enjoy in my, my normal life. I think it makes me more open to receiving and also to noticing the magic of, and the gifts that are along the way. I think it’s so easy to miss out on beauty and kindness by rushing through and trying to be independent and armoring ourselves from the world. But I think what I’ve realized is that when you shut out the bad, you also shut out the good and all these opportunities for human kindness and connection,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Because getting out there can be an adventure in and of itself, Joann shares a time on the road she got help when she needed it:

Jo Ann Hickey:

Was camping with my daughters and the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Uh, they were approximately six and three years old. I was newly divorced and trying to show my daughters that we could do fun things together. We had a canoe on the roof of our Volkswagen camper. And as we were driving down the Adirondack lodge road, someone was tailgating me, which happens often when you drive a Volkswagen camper and I let him get under my skin. And I was probably driving faster than I should have when I came to a sharp turn in the road. And sure enough, the canoe sailed off the roof of the Volkswagen camper. The girls were very upset. I was upset. Fortunately, it was still tethered to the camper by the straps that I had used to tie it down. And it was dragging in the shoulder of the road.

Jo Ann Hickey:

They were worried about the canoe. They’re worried about the car. Anyway, the person who was tailgating and caused me to drive faster than I should have just drove right by me, could not have possibly missed the fact that that canoe went sailing off the roof of the van. Anyway, I wasn’t there for more than 30 seconds when a complete stranger stopped sized up the situation and said, okay, let’s get this back on the roof of your van. And without a word, he started untying the canoe, chatting up. My daughter’s asking us where we were going and where we having a good time. And I never got his name or did more than thank him because he left. As soon as we got the canoe back up on the roof and secure, and I will never forget that act of kindness. And I hope that I can repay it someday. If someone has ever stuck on the side of the road and in need of help,

Gale Straub – Narration:

If you’ve ever hiked a long trail, you know about Trail Angels — people who provide “trail magic” or acts of kindness and generosity for hikers. It might be a cache of cold beverages or a ride to town. Andrea and her dog Weston encountered the kindness of one on the Colorado Trail:

Andrea Schmuttmair:

I dug out a picture of the other night. It was one of Weston and I in Durango at the end of our, through hike of the Colorado trail, it was the same one I sent to melody. And in the letter, when we finished the trail, if it weren’t for her Wesson might have been one of the few dogs to finish the Colorado trail that year. It was the 4th of July, the end of a tough week of hiking Wesson. And I had barely outrun a hailstorm down a steep road into the town of Nathrop. We were tired, soaked and eager to pick up our resupply box in town. Western had begun limping a bit that day. I was hoping he could make it the short distance to our campsite so he could rest, but not even 20 steps down the road. After picking up our box, Wesson sat down and he wouldn’t budge.

Andrea Schmuttmair:

Maybe he needs to rest for a night or two. Maybe we needed to go home. I decided quickly we needed a place to stay for the night. It being the 4th of July a weekend and a small hot Springs town. There was nothing but the woman who worked at the general store told us she had a friend up the road who may be able to host us for the night, not holding out too much. Hope. Wasn’t an I waited while she rang her up melody and picked us up in her old SUV. About 20 minutes later, Wesson couldn’t have been happier for the car ride, melody and loved Wesson. From the moment she met him and went straight to filling up bowls of water and kibble for him noticing his limp. She asked if I’d like to give him some remodel, which I accepted. She looked after him while I showered and rested from our grueling week. Melody Ann Fields, us not only with delicious food, but also with laughter care and compassion. Two days later, Weston had recovered and she brought us to the Trailhead. I thanked melody Ann for all she had done for us. And we continued on our way. Wesson had his best day of hiking yet. Although he kept looking back that day in his own way, he too was thanking melody and for helping him on his journey.

Gale Straub – Narration:

The last story I’ll share I got from an anonymous listener who did not submit a voice memo. Instead she wrote the anecdote in our submission form, which I’ll paraphrase for you.

For her son’s 10th birthday, they launched rockets at an outdoor open space. A group of young students who had just learned about flight joined them. They had a great time, but once the celebration was ready to take place, she realized she’d forgotten napkins and plates for the treats she’d brought along. A local hiker walked by and offered to grab some paper towels from her house and deliver them in a few minutes. Even though they could probably do without, the hiker insisted and said, “I’m a believer in small acts of kindness.”

The listener who wrote in said that this story, which otherwise might not be too significant, stuck with her because it is the small acts of kindness that will move this world into a better place.

Which is where I’ll leave us all today, to contemplate how we might pay kindness forward. Here are some ideas: tending to a community garden, teaching a friend how to do your favorite outdoor activity, not making someone feel rushed on the trail, wearing a face mask, packing out trash you find, advocating for wheelchair accessibility, packing extra snacks, actively listening. Just like kindness’s ripple effects, the possibilities stretch like a sound wave, its reverberations lasting longer in the presence of others.

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