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Backpacker Magazine – November 2008

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.

by: Steve Friedman, Illustrations by Ronald Kurniawan

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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Dear Canadian-john
Jan 25, 2009

Does anyone else see the irony of Canadian-john's post complaining about the author of the article's lack of writing skills, and then using "than" instead of "then"? What a doooooooooosh.

I don't think the story was award-winning, but reading it was a good way to spend ten minutes.

nick in Cinci, OH
Dec 25, 2008

Great story, thanks. When trips go like clockwork you miss all the fun. It's always good to get out with some people who aren't used to that kind of thing, don't get out often, or don't get along perfectly with you. The backcountry is the best place for making friends.

C'mon John, did you study lit at Oxford to move back to Canada and tell people their modern, casual articles should be made tedious for the reader to show off their "literary and writing" (look up literary, check for redundancy) skills? Anyways he's been published in the Times and the Post, John, he doesn't care about your comment.

And, Wiki says a soft or hard "G", but the Mongolian sound clip sounds more like a "ch" or a "dg" like in "edge". Regardless, he only spoke Mongolian, maybe Turkic. Different language and different sounds than ours, probably no writing or letters at all...

Dec 19, 2008

It's Genghis with a soft G.

Dec 13, 2008

I must say, it quite clear why this writer hasn't won a Pulitzer. A great story with some deep thought and sentiment was ruined by a lack of literary and writing skills. Although this may seem profoundly rude to comment about, I feel as if the readers of backpacker deserve a little more talent behind the pages of their magazine/website. If this article is a fan submission, than I am sorry.


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