One of the hardest parts of moving to a new city is finding people you really connect with. Sure, there are friends at work and neighbors who share your street. But finding a group of people who spend their waking hours planning a hike, taking inventory of gear, and daydreaming about rocks – that is hard in a new city.
When my husband Dave and I moved to Salt Lake City last June, we were amazed at how many outdoor options we had. We tried a new trail every weekend, joined a climbing gym, and invested in all sorts of fancy gear. But we were missing friends. We were missing the conversations and relationships that are built on a long trail.
Then Dave found #hikerchat. Every Friday at noon EST, Teton Sports and American Backcountry Tees host a Twitter chat for anyone who loves to get outdoors. It’s a rapid-fire download of trail beta, gear recommendations, and personal experience. But #hikerchat is more than that: it is the open door to a city you’ve never seen, to people who like to be outside, and to everything they know about the city they live in.
Through #hikerchat, Dave and I met Shawn Parry of Teton Sports. As it turned out, their headquarters is just around the corner from where we live. It’s through Shawn that we’ve met more local hikers and found those conversations we were so desperately missing.
My favorite #hikerchat-organized evening was late last summer. Ten of us gathered in Little Cottonwood Canyon to hike up to Lake Blanche. The trail was steep, and we naturally fell into groups of two or three. I hiked with a local guy and his 4-year-old daughter who wouldn’t ride into the rest spots on her dad’s shoulders – she insisted on hiking in herself. We saw a sunset so vivid that we couldn’t bear to watch it through viewfinders. We all stood on the glacier-gouged rocks and took in the color, the silence, together. And we each had those conversations – the ones you remember only by the scenery around you and the easy camaraderie of a kindred soul.
#Hikerchat led us on a mid-winter snowshoe trip on the first good snow day last year. It was the first time I’d ever snowshoed – honestly, it was the first time I’d seen snow that deep in my life. I was in awe. But what I remember most is the smiles and breathless laughter and sound of kind, snow-muffled voices.
Our most recent Salt Lake City hike was another early morning snowshoe. We met hikers from Minnesota, Colorado, Texas, Washington, Vermont, and Oregon. And because of Twitter, we got to bring them in as locals, with our intimate understanding of the mountains and trails around us. We took them to Donut Falls, which freezes into a secret underground ice chandelier in the right weather. We told them about Hector’s bigger-than-your-face burritos. We all trooped into the best local gelato place in our sweaty, post-hike clothes. And we shared our personal favorites, like Red Iguana (where you order take out if you’re in a hurry or else you wait two hours for a table). Without #hikerchat, Salt Lake City would have been a big city with untapped potential; with #hikerchat, we made new friends and the visitors felt like locals.
For me, #hikerchat has been the catalyst for good friends in a place where I saw only strangers. It helped transform a city that I was in awe of to a city I am in love with. #Hikerchat made Salt Lake City home, and if you’re ever in the vicinity, you know where to find me: on Twitter @JessLHutton. I’d love to show you the view from Lake Blanche.