Le Be­hind

Is it al­ways rude to dash off as soon as slower hik­ers catch up? Maybe the slinky stop has its place.


In fact, the slinky stop is es­sen­tial backpacker trade­cra . I know be­cause I’ve been on both sides of the F you.

HERE’S HOW A SLINKY STOP works. You lag be­hind the crew, all heavy legs and la­bored breaths. Then— sweet re­lief!— your hik­ing part­ners halt to nosh trail mix and gulp wa­ter. But as you catch up, the uber-fit al­pha at the front an­nounces, “Let’s keep mov­ing!” So- called friends fall into lock­step. Your oxy­gen-starved mus­cles re­volt, and the gap widens once again. ( Un­der­stand­ably, it’s also known as the “F you break.”)

The take­away mes­sage is that you’re slow. And no, we won’t change the pace, even if that de­stroys the ex­pe­ri­ence and your ego.

I’ve been the backpacker, moun­tain biker, and skier nearly left be­hind. It’s no fun. And when a large group sub­jects a soli­tary lag­gard to re­peated slinky stops, we can all agree that’s just selfi sh, a bor­der­line bully tac­tic. But should we moth­ball this so­cial prac­tice? Should we stuff it into the hiker’s ar­chive be­tween cot­ton pup tents and Sty­ro­foam cups? No way. In fact, the slinky stop is es­sen­tial backpacker trade­craft . I know be­cause I’ve been on both sides of the F you.

Con­sider this sce­nario. I lead a friend down the Craw­ford Path as the route drops 2,350 ver­ti­cal feet in 3.1 miles, the last sec­tion in our 18-mile, 12-hour ef­fort on New Hamp­shire’s Pres­i­den­tial Tra­verse. When my trail part­ner com­plains of sore legs from the crunch­ing de­scent, I hit the gas. As a gap opens be­hind me, I pause, tee­ter­ing on a boul­der as she catches up, then leap into mo­tion be­fore she halts. It’s a de­lib­er­ate fake out. I don’t turn around. No eye con­tact.

This ver­sion of the slinky stop plays as clue­less, not vi­cious. I know my friend won’t be any less sore or tired, even with a break, so my job is to coax her for­ward. Keep up! Soon, as I in­tended, her pace matches mine, and we ig­nore shriek­ing joints as we rock-hop down­hill to the cold pizza wait­ing at the car.

Need to out­run weather? Beat sun­down? Dis­tract com­plain­ers? Let the slow­pokes catch you for a mo­men­tary morale boost—a confi rma­tion that you’re not leav­ing them be­hind—then keep mov­ing. Done right, th­ese fake breaks feed mo­men­tum, not re­sent­ment. And that means when bad weather rolls in, pea-size hail stones hit your tent fly, not your face. With the ju­di­cious use of slinky pauses, dusk will fi nd you stum­bling into the pub in­stead of trip­ping along a creekbed.

Plus, there are cer­tain sce­nar­ios that all but cry out for an F you break. Some can even be fun. My younger brother tow­ers over me at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with bi­ceps like Bruce Ban­ner mid-hissy fit. My abil­ity to beat him up steep peaks—and taunt him with slinky stops— of­fers me a rare edge in our sib­ling ri­valry.

Need a confl ict res­o­lu­tion tool for quar­rel­ing sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers? Look no fur­ther. Re­peated slinky stops won’t solve the prob­lem, ex­actly, but at least they’ll de­lay the bick­er­ing un­til camp. ( Ever tried to ar­gue dur­ing anaer­o­bic ex­er­cise? Not pos­si­ble.) Bolt ahead, en­joy the scenery, brake, let your part­ner catch up, re­peat. No face time, no confl ict. Be­sides, now you’re on track to get to camp early, so you’ll have plenty of time to work it out. ( Warn­ing: This tech­nique may backfi re.)

Of course, I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing overuse of the slinky stop. But you’ll have to catch me if you want to ar­gue about it.

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