The hike was to take them through both familiar and unfamiliar terrain. They were all experienced hikers. They were confident in their skills, but because they were going to venture into new areas they hired a guide. Anytime he guided a group for anything more than a short walk, he required a brief meeting the evening before the hike. He reviewed the basics hikers should know, pointed out the risks, and gave general guidelines.
The morning of the hike the sun rose about 6:10. It was a gorgeous day for a hike. Their backpacks were loaded, their boots were laced tight, their hiking poles were in hand, and they were ready for the day. The guide reviewed the trails they would follow and asked who had hiked them previously. After making some quick mental notes, they were off.
Two of the more experienced hikers in the group quickly took the lead. They set a comfortable pace. The guide hung back and chatted with the last two folks in the group. They had hiked before, but they were still kind of new to the sport. Once during the first hour, one of the lead hikers called back to the guide to ask about a fork in the path. Other than that, they were guiding the group, and the guide was just along for the walk.
During the second and third hours, the pace slowed a little as the less experienced hikers seemed to lag a bit on some steeper terrain. The guide gave tips on distributing the weight of their packs and how to stride to take full advantage of each step. The experienced hikers already knew these techniques.
At lunch there was a discussion about the path ahead. It was clear that they were coming to a portion of the trail that was unfamiliar to all but two hikers—the two who had been leading from the start. When they hit the trail again, the guide assumed a position near the middle of the group. He offered some suggestions for how to best deal with the path they were about to cover. There were several swampy areas, a narrow section along a steep ledge, and an area prone to minor rock slides. The guide assumed a position closer to the front. He was just behind the two hikers who had been leading since the beginning.
With five hours in, they were just about to cross into the section of the forest where no one but the guide had ever been before. With no fanfare the guide moved into the lead position. He set a pace that was comfortable for everyone, and he talked the group through the unique features of the path as they encountered them. At the sixth hour, exactly on schedule, they came to a clearing. The sound of the waterfall was unmistakable and the sight was breathtaking. The group had arrived safely, they were on schedule, and their efforts were rewarded with a truly spectacular view of one of the larger waterfalls in North America. Few people ever have the opportunity to see this waterfall because getting to it required a great deal of physical effort and either significant experience or the services of a guide.
After a brief rest they were back on the trail again. The hikers who lead most of the morning were once again out in front, and the guide was back near the middle of the group. The hikers who had been bringing up the rear from the beginning continued to do so. The guide saw that they were slowing down, so he again joined them for a brief time and offered some suggestions to maximize their efforts.
As the evening sun was falling lower in the sky, they came back to the head of the trail where they had begun more than 12 hours earlier. One of the novice hikers shared an observation with the guide. She said, “I noticed that during some portions of the hike you were near the back, at other portions you were near the middle of the group, and then there were times when you were out in front.”
The guide smiled and said, “It took me years to learn how to do that. You see, whether folks are on a hiking trail or just making their way through life, there are times when they want to lead, there are times when they need to have someone walk beside them, and then there are times when they need to be lead. It’s not always easy, but recognizing what folks need and reacting accordingly will determine in large measure how helpful you will be to those trying to find their way either on a hiking trail or in life.”