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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.

He continued to look at me through slitted eyes.

“What’s your problem?” I demanded. “Just say what’s on your mind.”

“Something’s melting,” Yogi said.

“Look, Yogi, just because you wish you had a Backpacker’s Stool is no reason to try to bring me down.”

“No, really, something’s melting.”

He was right. I had neglected to remove the orange plastic cover from the bottom of the cook-stove pot. (And what was the cover doing on the bottom of the pot anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense to fasten it on top of the kit? I made a mental note to write a letter of complaint to the manufacturer when I returned to civilization.)

Strings of orange plastic dripped onto the ground. Yogi smirked. The wind seemed to pick up a little. That could have been the low point of the trip. But it wasn’t, because at that moment, the downpour started and I made a couple of distressing discoveries. First, a flat tarp horizontal to the ground doesn’t stop rain from blowing in sideways. Second, the 15-year-old nylon ski pants I had rescued from a box in the back of my closet at home–and was at the moment wearing–weren’t rainproof.

The rain came down harder, and the air temperature dropped, and I was wet and cold but still committed to strengthening our friendship, which had been challenged once in the crucible of an alpine meadow. So I poured our coffee. I handed Yogi his cup. I prepared to eat.

“Here,” he said, “why don’t you wear these.” With that, he thrust a pair of rain pants into my lap, which made me spill my granola onto my already soaked legs. Which made me scream. Which made me inform Jeff that he could have the Backpacker’s Stool for a while. Which made me retreat to the tent, where I listened to the rain fall, and the wind blow, and where I curled on my extra-long air mattress and wondered what had made me think that Jeff and I could ever have fun camping together.

I had come up with the idea a year earlier. I was living in New York, having recently gone through a breakup and been evicted from my illegally sublet rent-stabilized apartment. Jeff lived in Annapolis, where he had a fancy newspaper job. Since our last trip, in addition to slimming down, Jeff had married, bought a house, and won seven Pulitzer Prizes. I had developed gout and always carried around a bottle of elephant-strength anti-inflammatories to pop whenever my left big toe started tingling. Some fresh air and a return to exercise would be good for me. Also, I needed to get out of the city. Also, I had always considered myself an outdoorsman, and even though I had only been backpacking once since my disastrous trip with Jeff in the Rockies in 1996, I was sure that two nights under the stars might help me regain my emotional bearings. Also, I hoped to unravel the mystery of how a guy like Yogi, who ate as gluttonously as I did, could have lost so much weight. Most important, though, I sought to exorcise the ghosts of Colorado.

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