Making Friends With Snowshoes

Skill: Turn strangers into friends. Tool: One pair of snowshoes.

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A few years back, I moved to Missoula, Montana, in the dead of winter, knowing exactly zero people there. It was a bold—maybe crazy—decision for an introvert like me, but I needed a fresh start after the Plan A for my life went seriously awry. However, it only took a few nights huddled in my apartment, staring out at the snow with only my cat for company, to realize I needed friends. Some of my best relationships had been built on outdoor excursions, and here I was in the middle of wilderness heaven without a single adventure buddy.

I was ready for my first attempt. I’d read about the Montana Dirt Girls hiking and biking club in the local paper; that night, they were doing a snowshoe trip in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area just north of town. Luckily, my MSR Denalis had made the cut when I downsized for the move. They’d carried me up summits from Colorado to the Cascades—maybe tonight they would help me climb a mental mountain. Making friends had never come easily to me, but hiking did.

Soon enough, I was tromping through shin-deep snow with a dozen other women. Although my heart was pounding, the Denalis were steady and sure. As they bore me down the trail, my apprehension waned. I took a deep breath and introduced myself to the nearest woman, then the next, and the next. We started out chatting about the snow, the route, our gear; but before long, we shifted to families, jobs, favorite Montana novels, and the best place to take a cycling honeymoon.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot I was a nervous stranger and started to feel an inkling of belonging with this crew of cool women—my Denalis had floated me across the snow and into their world.

I’m used to thinking of gear in terms of where it can take me, not who it can introduce me to. But this time, it was more about the company than the climb. Maybe this move wasn’t as crazy as I feared. Maybe I’d find my place after all.