a conversation with the earth guidebooks + guided hiking

Ask a Traveler: Questions that Wring Meaning from Experience

Travelers often yearn for friends and family to ask stimulating, thoughtful questions. It rarely happens. When it does, it’s a gift. It helps travelers better understand their own motivations and articulate the deeper meaning of the experiences they’ve had en route.

The standard questions… What place did you enjoy most? Where was the best food?… are briefly tolerable but soon wearisome. When asking them, people don’t realize they’re short-changing themselves. More probing, challenging questions elicit more surprising, entertaining, revealing answers.

How do you know if it’s a “good” question? You’ll feel it’s daring of you to ask it. Or you’ll hesitate before answering, because the question demands reflection. Good questions are personal. Contemplation is necessary to think of good questions, as well as to answer them. A good question discloses something about the person asking it. Good questions are the ones you wish someone would ask you. The result of a good question is that both people know each other better and feel closer to one another.

A great friend of ours, with whom we’ve traveled and hiked in the Canadian Rockies, New Zealand, and the French Alps, recently emailed us several good questions about our experiences this winter in the mountains along the Mediterranean. He’s pondering a long, adventurous journey himself and wants it to be soul-enriching, not just a sight-seeing trip. Here’s what he asked and how we answered:

Q: What do you find challenging about your work hiking/traveling?

A: Balancing how much we take with how much we give. We don’t want hiking/traveling to be entirely selfish, which it can easily become. We want to use what we experience to heighten our contribution to others through our books and website blog. We want hiking/travel to make us wiser and more compassionate. What we learn, we can share through our writing. Compassion is a welcome gift in any human exchange.

Q: What meaning did you get from Liguria as opposed to the Costa Blanca?

A: We’re in Liguria now, just inland from the Italian Riviera. The true meaning of a travel experience takes time to bubble up through the soul into the conscious mind. We think it’s yet to do that. We could, of course, offer several answers to that question now. But the real answer will probably emerge later.

Q: What did France’s maritime alps say to you, and what did Italy’s Alpi Apuane say to you?

A: France said “You’re here rather early for hiking.” Italy is saying, “Just in case you didn’t understand it in French, I’ll repeat it in Italian: ‘You’re here rather early for hiking.’”

Q: Why did you choose, or what feelings led you, to go to Liguria?

A: We came to Liguria for the same reasons that have motivated all our European journeys. It feels as if our mental/emotional tank, with regard to Europe, was barely a quarter full. We want to fill up. Our desire to see Europe’s architectural and natural beauty remains intense. Because European society is ancient, there are trails everywhere. More trails per square kilometer here than anywhere. We’re hikers, so how can we resist the Continent of a Million Trails? The reason we came this winter is that we wanted to escape the vastly harsher winter weather at home, in the Canadian Rockies.

Q: Do you get a sense for local people when hiking in Europe?

A: Yes, but not the present-day locals. We rarely meet anyone hiking here in winter. But we get a strong sense for the Europeans who built the ancient trails. These people are no longer physically present, of course, but we sense them nonetheless. We not only see their handiwork, we use it, much as they did. The trails they built are not just functional, they’re art. Beautiful, earthen art. The terraces they constructed are marvels of patience, engineering, craftsmanship. The trees they cultivated are gorgeous. These people obviously had a profound relationship with the land. We can’t help but begin to see the world through those people’s eyes and to feel kinship with them. And through them, we deepen our relationship with the Earth.

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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.