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I’m Hiking with Stupid – A Buddy Story

The last time our author took his buddy camping, they stopped speaking for a year. A decade later, they still haven't hit the trail together. Which means there's only one thing to do: Try again.

Yogi laughed at me when I strapped the giant French press coffee maker onto my bulging pack.

He’d also snickered when I crammed the three-legged aluminum Backpacker’s Stool inside my extra-long inflatable air mattress, which was nestled just above the secret stash of Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts.

“But who’s laughing now?” I demanded. “Huh, Yogi, who’s laughing now?”

Yogi is what I call my friend, because he tends in certain areas of his life toward sloth, lumbers when he’s grouchy, and possesses a prodigious appetite. (The night before our trip, he actually said “Let’s have another dinner” before we tucked into a gigantic pizza at 11 p.m., then followed it with a double order of chocolate mousse with whipped cream.) Yogi, like a Kodiak bear who gorges on moose meat to the point of grunting, insensate immobility, is a creature who inclines toward immediate and often debilitating gratification. So, honesty compels me to mention, am I.

Yogi said nothing, but glared at me through slitted eyes. He slumped on the ground, in a damp bed of leaves he had scraped together. For some reason, he seemed resentful. I lounged on my Backpacker’s Stool, holding my French press in one hand while with the other I nudged a pot of water that was boiling on my shiny new camp stove. It was early morning, and we were beneath a tarp I had rigged the night before while Yogi had hunkered next to the fire, shoveling smoked duck breast and barbecue potato chips into his gaping maw. But I wasn’t complaining. We were friends, had been for 30 years–except for a 10-month period of hostile silence 12 years earlier, brought on by the one and only other time we had ever tried camping together. “That time you tried to kill me,” is how Yogi still described the event. Yogi’s gross misinterpretation of that summer weekend of 1996 had motivated me to plan the trip that had landed us here, under the tarp. This outing was going to provide us the opportunity to put that terrible expedition from long ago to rest forever–and to bond as guy friends seldom do.

And what an opportunity for guy bonding this was! It was early morning in the wilderness, in a clearing in the woods, on a towering ledge in New York’s Catskills State Park. We were miles and hours from deadlines and obligations, traffic and mortgages and rent and all the other superficially pressing but ultimately meaningless nuisances that will sap the joy from a guy’s life and force him into unwise choices, like working for a living.

Yogi and I had started our careers together as cub reporters. I had been best man at Yogi’s wedding, and at my sister’s wedding reception Yogi had helped cook burgers. And now here we were in the great outdoors, together again, putting the Colorado catastrophe behind us. We were healing. It was like a really cool beer commercial.

Except for the swarms of black flies, and the massing black clouds, and the not-so-distant rumble of thunder, and the fact that the night before I had pitched our tent right on top of a very pointy tree root, and except for Yogi’s snoring, and his complaints that I had the “good side” (his side sloped a little), I thought things were going well. I had already poured us granola with powdered milk, which we would tuck into once I had our coffee ready, which would be soon. To my eye, from my vantage point on my Backpacker’s Stool, life looked very sweet indeed. This is what I was trying to convey to my friend when I said, in the playfully joshing manner that man friends tend to use with one another, “You mocked the French press and the Backpacker’s Stool, and now you’re stuck in a wet pile of leaves, jonesing for some java. How’s that for irony?”

Yogi continued to look at me through slitted eyes. Was he meditating on smoked duck breast? Did he resent the nickname? (His real name is Jeff.) Was he inwardly gloating over the fact that since our last trip he had lost 40 pounds, while I had gained 30? Was he still holding on to that time 12 years ago, in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, when, after he had puked the first night and twisted his ankle the second, I had gently suggested that he should “man up and keep walking”? Why did he insist on holding on to the past? I had let go. Why couldn’t he?

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