The Prisoner’s Dilemma but for Hiking

Nate Edwards
Sep 7, 2016 · 4 min read
Wikimedia Commons. Note: Don’t search Wikimedia Commons unless you want to scroll through pictures of naked people, even if all you searched was “group of hikers.”


See, easy enough! Saying “hi” to strangers is easy with a computer. It is traditionally the first thing you do in a programming class, but also it’s way easier than that, so that’s a bad example. All you really have to do is write the word “hello” somewhere on your body, take a picture of that body part using a camera and a mirror, plug the camera into your USB port, drag and drop the photo to your desktop, create a throwaway Reddit account, then upload that photo to r/GoneWild, and you’ll successfully say “hello” to thousands and thousands of strangers with no trouble at all, so long as the mirror was not in a recognizable public location.


There are certain situations that force us to greet or salute real people, and a camera with a Micro-USB port won’t help you.

I went on a hike this weekend, and it was good. Did you know trees are beautiful? Imagine two totally different kinds of 3D fractal generators plopped on top of each other, one of which does green stuff and the other a totally different kind of brown thing.

Wikimedia Commons. No naked people on the page for “tree” as far as I can tell.

But unfortunately sometimes instead of 3D fractal things and the occasional neat bug there are also other people there walking past you. Hikes usually aren’t one-way, so there are people who will walk by you while facing you, forcing you to greet/salute them.

It would be better if hiking were one-way like mini-golf, because then no one walks by you while facing you, so you don’t have to greet anybody, ever. Instead you just have this weird and exciting adversarial relationship where you get to stand impatiently just behind them as they putt, stalking them so as to make them have fun as quickly as possible, so you can then have fun as quickly as possible for the people behind you.

Anyway, I don’t like having to say hi to people. But it’s a little uncomfortable to walk by someone while looking at them without acknowledging them verbally. And it’s very uncomfortable if only one person says hi. The silent person in that situation is either deaf (very unlikely) or a psychopath (yes). If you are out hiking, you are probably far from emergency services, difficult to locate, and you might not even have cellphone service, so it’s not a good place to run into a psychopath.

You might be familiar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma, or at least the old game show Friend or Foe? It’s like those things except:

Trying out this font, lemme know what you think on my Twitter: Nate Edwards

I like it best when nobody has to say anything to anybody. Usually what I do on a hike when I’m about to pass somebody is look at them, nod slightly if they look back, then look down at the ground and try to walk by them silently. If they say hi, then my stomach will drop slightly and I’ll say hi back, usually after having to clear my throat. If they don’t say anything, then I’ll feel a sense of relief the moment I pass by them and we are no longer required to say anything. If they say hi after passing me, then I assume they’re talking to someone else and just keep walking.

I’ve never tried saying nothing after the other person says hi to me (assuming they’re still in front of me when they say it), because clearly something bad would happen. They would think I’m crazy, for sure, and probably report me to somebody. If I were you, I would wear a disguise before trying this so they can’t report you accurately.

Occasionally, while checking out the hiker coming the opposite way, I will determine subconsciously that I am the social superior and therefore should be the first one to say hi. Then it becomes a race to say hi first and establish dominance. Give your greeting too far down the path from them and you look crazy and might be ignored, but too late and you’re the submissive receptive loser who didn’t establish terms and wear the pants in this extremely brief relationship.

This past weekend, I said hi first exactly once, and that was to a teenage couple who were holding hands, wearing oversized T-shirts, and staring straight forward at me. Also they were barefoot. I said hi and the male member of the couple gave a breathy, deep “hi” back to me that I thought was uncomfortably intimate. Hiking is so good!

Wikimedia Commons. Just felt like I needed to break up the text with another picture here.

My recommendation: For every hiking trail, let’s pick which direction to hike and stick with it, everybody. Face the same direction and go. This ain’t Mario Kart 8 and there ain’t no Mirror Mode. If you’re faster than the people in front of you, then say “excuse me” and hike right by ’em. No verbal reciprocation necessary there, I think. Do you need to say something if someone says “excuse me?” I don’t think you do. Like when someone is squeezing past you to get to their seats at a baseball game. Honestly can’t remember.

In summation, hiking is good, but… Also bad? Thanks for reading.

Nate Edwards

Written by

Humorist, Motivational Speaker, Author of the NYT #1 Bestseller “The Bible”

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