It was back in October 2012 that I first joined Brunel Walking Group in an opportunity to meet like-minded people of a similar age and to explore different areas on foot. Since then, I’ve become a regular and well-known member. It was only six-months after joining that I was leading my first group walk (I was encouraged to do it but, still).
On average, I’ll probably lead five or six walks in a year and often more. What I’d like to do in this post is to explore and share why I take on this responsibility.
In those early days with my Ramblers membership, I had only recently discovered the joys of walking myself. As my own self confidence had begun to grow from venturing out and exploring new places alone, I found myself following desirable routes and wanting to share some of these lesser-known sights and spaces with others.
From the group’s point of view, our annual walking calendar was very healthy, with walks for both age groups (20s & 30s and 40+) filling most weekends. On some Sundays, you’d even have the luxury of choice between two if not three walks. I felt as though I was beginning to give something back to the group in which I was only beginning to discover so much. My decision to lead walks was never questioned and any event I have created has often been well attended.
Going in to each of my own group walks, I still get as nervous today as I did on that very first occasion. For a naturally-reserved and anxious person, being in command of an unspecified group is a daunting prospect. This, in itself, may be a reason why so few other members are prepared to entertain the idea of organising a walk of their own (and, consequently, our programme has begun to suffer in recent years).
Managing people, following a route, navigating and thinking ahead… I’ve never received any training in any form of management so I cannot pretend it’s a ‘relaxing’ experience while the walk is underway. But come the end and, sometimes, in the hours after an event’s closure… A feeling of satisfaction grows inside of me. Knowing that a number of people have turned up and been satisfied with what I have prepared and offered. Recognising that I am capable of something I might not have done in the years before.
With this knowledge of all the good feelings that can follow, I would often look forward to my latest up-and-coming group walk. Even if I was to feel a bit sick in the morning and under pressure through much of the day.
Do I still enjoy it?
More recently (let’s say within the last two years, here), I’ve found myself less able to enjoy the experience of leading a group walk. I still enjoy plotting routes and the potential of sharing my own creations with others (in the beginning, I would use walks and guides from other sources). At the point of submitting my event, I’m liking the idea and the prospect of that future day.
But on the day… More often than not, I’ve found myself looking forward to the experience less than I had used to. That is with or without the general feeling of nerves and unease. It’s not quite the same as that ‘I have to go to work now’ sensation and there have certainly been exceptions (if only a few) in the last couple of years, where I have looked forward in a positive view. But I haven’t yet found a certain answer as to why.
A part of me recognises that I can see these walks almost as a ‘chore’ or necessity now… We are struggling to recruit and encourage new walk leaders to step forward. Older members have either faded from the group or exceeded the age limit. In that sense, I can see that if I don’t make my own contributions, the group will otherwise struggle without. I’m putting a pressure upon myself to (partially) keep the 20s & 30s programme afloat.
In reality, it will always require more than my own input (plus a very few others) for long-term sustainability.
I even began 2019 with a very private thought that I might take ‘a year off’ from walk leading… But still wanting to remain an active member and attendant within the group. As comfortable and familiar as I am with the concept of leading group walks, it is a commitment and a responsibility. I make it a consistent and repeated one.
Another thought I entertained privately was to ‘leave Brunel’… Which isn’t the most rational of ideas I’ve had in recent times, considering that my time with this local Ramblers group has effectively spurned a social life that I’d been lacking for several years.
Avoidance may be a common theme of recent paragraphs. There’s possibly a fear at play, here. Of what, I’m currently unsure. I don’t believe I have quite the same issue with navigating walks with close friends, outside of the group – where I also enjoy sharing each experience.
As I come to end this post, I’d like to reference other thoughts I’ve had, following a brief conversation I shared with someone on social media yesterday. These days, it is very commonly regarded that ‘being outdoors is good for you’ and for your mental health. While there are definite benefits to spending time outside and exploring, I can also say from experience that it is not necessarily a “cure” for psychological issues. This may fuel another post from me soon.