I have written before about hiking pickles, and I make no apology for turning to the subject once again. It is, I would attest, a topic of endless fascination. Most reasonable people would agree that there are few spheres of human activity which lend themselves to the likelihood of becoming embrangled in a proper pickle as hiking. When we consider just three of the challenges with which the hiker must contend – weather, terrain, and human folly – it is hardly surprising that pickles are a commonplace of the hiker’s lot.
But let us not make the mistake of muddling the pure hiking pickle with such other pickles as one might be plunged into when hiking. Take, as mentioned, the terrain. A hiker might be hiking in the fells, and, in the enshrouding mist, come suddenly upon a tarn, so suddenly that he fails to break his hiking stride, and instead finds himself ankle- or knee- or, good heavens!, waist-deep in tarn-water. In itself, this is not a proper pickle, as the hiker merely needs to turn around and hike back out of the wet tarn on to the dry fell. There will be a bit of a pother about drying out the tarn-soaked boots and socks and trousers, never an easy task in the moist air of the enshrouding mist, but this hardly constitutes a pickle. The hiker can sit on a stone and smoke his pipe and consult his map of the fells while awaiting a sunburst. No, for it to be a proper pickle we would have to add the detail that, lurking in the tarn, below the surface, is an unimaginably tangled tangle of subaquatic creeper or nettlevine, possibly with an eerie primitive sentience, such that at the first hint of the hiker’s legs invading its watery domain, it wraps itself round and round, with the rapidity and colossal strength of a boa constrictor, thus entrapping the hiker helplessly. Up on the remote fells, in the mist, his cries for help will be unheard, except by the birds of the fell, and other creatures. If he dares plunge his arms into the tarn, to make an attempt to untangle his lower limbs from the fiendish vegetation, then his arms too will become entangled, making his predicament all the more terrible. This, you can be sure, would be a proper pickle. But is it a hiking pickle per se?
I would argue that what we have here, in this mercifully theoretical scene, is not a hiking pickle but a tarn pickle, or even an uncanny subaquatic sentient vegetation pickle. The fact that our hiker hiked across the fells to get into this pickle is, in a sense, incidental. Given the mist, and the tarn, the very same pickle could happen to, say, a farm-person in search of a lost sheep, or an athlete in training for a prize race, or a commando parachuted on to the fell with instructions to survive until picked up in a week’s time. You get all sorts of people on the fells, and not all of them are hikers.
The true hiking pickle, then, is one in which the action or deed or pursuit of hiking is fundamental to the pickle itself. What we must –
Excuse me, I have just been handed a piece of paper, rife with scribbling.
I see, when reading it, that the scribbling is pertinent, not just to the topic of hiking pickles in general, but to the specific theoretical pickle I have just described. I had better copy it out, so that you may read it too, and to avoid accusations that I am trying to set myself up as the sole authority on this breathtakingly exciting subject.
A Counterblast To Mr Key’s Assertion That The Theoretical Pickle Described Is Not A Hiking Pickle
In attempting to portray the pickle as a tarn pickle or an uncanny subaquatic sentient vegetation pickle, Mr Key posits three non-hiking persons to whom the pickle could have happened. I will take each of these three in turn and demonstrate, in each case, the absolute wrong-headedness of Mr Key’s argument.
I. The farm-person in search of a lost sheep. It is well known that farm-persons know every inch of their land. Be it fell or meadow, field or dale, they know every blade of grass, every pebble, every ditch, every sprig. They certainly know where a bloody tarn is. Even in an enshrouding mist, high on the fell, the farm-person would never plunge inadvertently into a tarn. And even if we wildly surmise that he did, he would, like all farm-persons, be wearing wellington boots, from which he could easily extract his lower legs and leap with great agility out of the tarn and on to the fell, before the submerged creeper or nettlevine had sufficient purchase to entrap him, the outer part of wellington boots being smooth, unlike a hiker’s boots.
II. The athlete in training for a prize race. In this case, Mr Key’s error is so blindingly obvious that a slow-witted monkey would not make it. We have an athlete scampering across the fell, his brain focussed entirely upon the finishing tape of the prize race he is in training for. So, when he plunges all unawares into the mist-hidden tarn, does he stop and allow his legs to be entangled by creepers and nettlevines? Of course he doesn’t! He keeps on running, like the tiptop athlete he is, emerging on the other side of the tarn before any eerily sentient vegetation has a chance to bring him to a halt.
III. The commando parachuted on to the fell with instructions to survive until picked up in a week’s time. Commandos are armed to the teeth. Within seconds of having his lower limbs entangled, the commando would have unsheathed a knife so sharp it would make you shudder, and hacked and slashed at the vegetation to free himself. If, in the process, he hacked and slashed his own legs, he would not care one jot, for as well as knives and guns he has packed in his kit swathe upon swathe of bandages, and sachet upon sachet of disinfectant unguents, and as soon as he has clambered commando-fashion out of the tarn and on to the fell, he will smear and patch up any wounds he has inflicted and be on his way, bent on survival.
It is thus clear that the pickle Mr Key describes is indeed purely a hiking pickle, and could not in any circumstances short of arrant stupidity be considered as any other type of pickle whatsoever.
I stand – no, I hike – corrected.