The art of the tramping conversation
Tramping is not about walking. For a lot of people it is just as much about talking while they are walking. Also talking while between walking and talking while falling, stumbling, sliding, puffing. Tramping is an ideal activity to shoot-the-shit with your buddies or, if you prefer to go alone, shoot-the-shit with yourself.
At its most sublime tramping takes a long time, most of the day is spent plodding on, one foot after another, and even in the most stunning locations the scenery eventually grows somewhat repetitive. That’s when trampers turn to mindless chatter, jokes, silly stories, serious debate, ridiculous scenarios put up and then shot down. The kind of conversations you don’t have over a coffee or when catching up with friends over a drink. The kind of talking where time is never a constraint – wild talking.
On a recent tramp with a couple of friends, the conversation turned to superpowers, as in what superpower would each of us like to have. The usual selections came up – the ability to jump very high or breathe underwater. At this point, we were walking up a river valley. It was steady going, nothing too strenuous. The hut was still three hours away and we had plenty of daylight left. The superpower ideas came thick and fast and increasingly, more and more ridiculous – the ability to sleep standing up, the ability to grow a beard really fast, the power to telepathically shift deadlines. At the end of a long stream of absurd suggestions, I said, what about the ability to will a government department into existence? Thom pointed out that the Prime Minister can pretty much do this already and that was that. It ended as quickly as it had begun, our imaginations turned to the PM in tights and a cape. A natural place to decide to talk about something else, like a detailed analysis of the Coen brothers’ films?
Interestingly, this can go on for hours and we never seem to tire of it. None of us are what I would call big talkers, but for some reason the monotonous plodding, the fresh air, the fact that we are miles from another human being loosens the larynx and frees the mind and we start to babble about everything and anything under the sun.
One topic that always comes up is food. Tramping and food conversations seem inevitable. Food is everything in the bush. The day is marked by it. All activity leads to, and away from it. Halfway through the first day the hunger sets in and the mind naturally turns to the meals ahead. We end up discussing how good the bowl of rice or two-minute noodles is going to be – how light and supple the flavours, the texture. We build it up to a feast of epic proportions. Amazingly, when we actually eat the stuff, it is even better than we imagined.
The tramping conversation is a precious thing, only found in remote, wild places, not unlike the bush and landscapes themselves. I’m sure there are various intense trampers out there who creep around never making a sound, but for me the tramping conversation is something to look forward to and then savour as it evolves into the absurd.