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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

After dinner (avocado-and-cheese sandwiches and chocolate bars), we relaxed by the fire and looked out at the dimming world through mosquito netting.

"This is the life, huh, Yoge?" I said.

"You didn't tell me we'd have to climb so much," he replied, sullenly crunching on his chips.

"I already said I didn't know it would be so steep. And, come on, aren't you happy I brought the mosquito nets?"

Silence, except for some bird twittering and fire crackling and other melodious day-is-done-gone-the-sun-beginning-of-evening sounds that you'd think would warm the soul of any Eagle Scout.

"Come on, Yogi," I said. "You have to admit, this is incredibly nice."

"If you like nature, I guess it is," he grunted.

We sat in silence for a while, and stared at the flames, and listened to the crackle of the wood.

"Let's burn it all," Yogi said.

"Huh?" I said.

"Let's burn all of our wood. Let's make a bonfire."

"But if we burn all the wood now, then we won't have fire for tomorrow night."

"The forecast said it's going to rain tomorrow anyway, and if it rains, we're not going to want to stick around, so who cares?" I remembered our last trip, when Jeff had suggested the same thing on the first night, and I had resentfully complied, and we had a raging fire, then no wood for two days. I didn't want to run out of wood. On the other hand, if it rained tomorrow, I could only imagine the barbecue-potato-chip-fueled bitching and moaning I'd have to endure.

Could we at that point in our journey of healing have gathered more wood? Sure, and we also could have been young, slim, and optimistic, regular and enthusiastic fixtures at the soup kitchens and homeless shelters in our respective neighborhoods, lending a friendly hand to the people who needed it most, bestowing heartfelt and dazzling smiles designed to lift the spirits of those whose spirits were low. But we weren't those people. There would be no wood gathering at the moment.

We fed the fire. We listened to the crackling. We munched on chocolate and pineapple, and discussed life and serial killers and women and the greatest war movies of all time and who would win in an Ultimate Fighting match between Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, and then we argued about whether it was pronounced Genghis with a hard G or a soft G, and then we talked for a little while about who was hotter, Ginger or Mary Ann, and then we debated the appeal of thin- versus thick-crust pizza, and then we brushed our teeth and climbed into the tent, where I discovered the root, and Jeff complained that I had the good side, and then we drifted to sleep, and woke to more flies and rumbling clouds, and things were looking bad–until I got on the Backpacker's Stool. And then things were looking good, and then I made the coffee and granola, and then things were looking great as they can only on a backpacking trip, and I was filled with the joy of the wild and our friendship was finally almost fully healed, and then Yogi spilled granola on me and I wanted to kill him but instead I laid down in the tent and wondered how long it would take to hike out, and what time Sweet Sue's closed.

Half an hour later, a miracle.

"Hey," Jeff yelled. "I just did the dishes. Let's go for a hike."

"What are you talking about," I yelled back. "It's raining. It's going to rain all day." I was so tired. I couldn't even summon the energy to unzip the tent and walk to the food bag to sneak one of my secret Pop-Tarts. What I didn't say but what I thought was, "If I get out of this tent, the only place I'm hiking is straight toward pancakes."

"Nah," Jeff said. "It's letting up. Besides, we've got to do something today. We might as well hike."

"I'm tired," I said. "I don't want to risk hypothermia."

"Quit moping," Yogi said. "You're like Achilles sulking in the tent."

Was it Yogi's knowledge of Greek mythology that explained the multiple Pulitzers? Did he feel guilty for spilling granola and coffee on me? Had he, while I was sulking, gotten into his stash of barbecue potato chips and been sent swooning into soporific bliss, much as a grouchy bear turns happy and docile after getting into a dumpster and eating its fill of rotten fish? I decided that these were unanswerable questions. So I got out of the tent, packed lunch (avocado-and-cheese sandwiches and chocolate), and we started tromping north, toward Panther Mountain.

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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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