Last week three (now) friends and I did a backpacking trek in the Beartooth Mountains of south central Montana. The only person out of my three backpacking companions I knew before the trip was my friend Thad from Nashville. He and I have known each other for only a year or so. His friend Jon lives in Bozeman, MT and largely put the trip together. Jon’s friend Mark went along too and neither Thad nor I had ever met him. The point being that the four of us didn’t start this trip out with a deep, close friendship.
Every multi-day backpacking trip has that “hardest” day and last Friday was ours. We had spent the couple days before hiking many miles in tough (but gloriously beautiful) terrain with 40 lbs each on our backs, fighting off mosquitoes that were as omnipresent as god him/her/itself, and enjoying some of the best conversation I have had in a long time.
On Friday, after already covering many mountainous miles, I fell in a cold stream and my boots were soaked. Jon accidentally threw his boots in some water while crossing. We kept going. Climbing. Bouldering. Crossing. At some point the conversation stopped and the four of us just kept putting one foot in front of the other—each within our own minds contemplating things that matter and simply persevering. We got to our original destination, Crystal Lake, and a thunderstorm hit. We decided to keep going and climb up one more ascent—our steepest of the trip—to Maryott Lake. I’m severely acrophobic and had a bona fide panic attack on the way up. Thank god I brought my Xanax with me. (More on that in a future The Wes Gazette post.)
We got to the top, found the lake, and made camp. We were exhausted. Our feet and legs were sore. My boots were still wet. Jon had blisters. And we were hungry. What happened next is one of the best memories I have of the trip.
Mark and Thad filtered water from the lake while Jon and I got ready to cook. We all changed into clean(ish) dry clothes, gathered around the stove and sipped on some scotch as the water came to a boil. First we had some dried minestrone, then some Katmandu Curry, and then topped it off with some apple cobbler. We talked about Joan Baez and trout. Bruce Springsteen and politics. The challenges of the day and anxiety issues. Our families and the condition of the world. There were plenty of laughs to go around, but also solemnity when appropriate.
Dehydrated backpacker food is not usually the best in the world, but that meal was one of the most memorable I’ve ever had. There was such a sense of accomplishment; the notion of all being in it together—dependent on one another—was strong. We looked after each other and made sure that the weakest among us (generally me) was doing alright. It was a collective even in the middle of the rugged, individualistic West and an example of what experiencing things together can do.
I mentioned that Thad was already a friend of mine, but after this trip I now consider him a close friend who I know I will have many profound conversations with in the years to come. Jon’s graciousness and willingness to put others before himself were and are an inspiration. Mark’s steadiness and Socratic style during conversations were calming. My life is now better than it was just 10 days ago because of knowing these guys.
An epic backpack. An epic meal.
I’m terribly excited about the new direction Eikon is going in. I look forward to sharing some food, memories, and some life with all of you.