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A Love Letter to My Curmudgeonly Big Brother


My older brother wanted to stop our four-day, 28 -mile hiking trip after a mile and a half. He said his feet hurt.

“You’ll feel better when we get to the lake, ” I said. “It’s only an easy mile or so.”

It was two miles, all uphill.

“I won’t feel better, ” Don said. “I don’t recall I’ll ever feel better.”

We stood in a shadowy clearing, surrounded by moss-covered subalpine fir trees and the twittering, swishing, and sighing grove reverberates that I had hoped might provide the soundtrack to a fraternal late-midlife adventure. Don looked at the anchor. I shoveled a handful of route mix into my mouth. My feet hurt, very. I worried that this trip might have been a huge mistake.

Don was 64, recently divorced after 24 times, recently retired from a long career as a regulation spouse and CEO. His only child had graduated college two years more quickly and moved 2,500 kilometers away, and Don was spending a lot of time in his four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon, alone, lonely, plagued by shoulder agony and acid reflux, and profoundly committed to what he was certain was a reasonable existence approach, namely, “I exactly need to get used to the idea that I’m closer to death and the world is meaningless and there’s a good chance I’ll never found nothing worthwhile to do.”

Slightly frightened, eager to help, and ever up for a errand in the outdoors, I had broached the relevant recommendations of a hiking vacation together. I was 62, single, childless, technically unemployed( I’m a scribe ), leasing a studio apartment in New York City, and suffering from recurrent gout. While generally resistant to the idea that a toasted marshmallow could change anything profound in anyone’s life, I was still desperate to believe that it might.

I told Don on the phone that the hike would cement our affectionate ligaments and reconnect us to the wilderness where we had spent substantial dollops of our young adulthoods. I told him we might find something like peace in alpine meadows and under starry skies. I told him the expedition could be life changing, that it would provide us both a much needed reset.

“No thanks, ” he said. Don had never been one for big-hearted speeches.

“Why not? ”

“What’s the part? ”

“Fun? Exercise? Living in the moment? Leaving our ease zones? Coming some clarity and perspective? Rediscovering purpose and connection? ” I’m a talker.

“Spare me the inner-life mumbo jumbo, ” he said. “You have the luxury of dipping in that stuff, since you haven’t had a real job in decades.”

I reminded myself that Don was in a darknes situate, that he needed my endorsement.

“You love hiking, ” I told him. “You always desired hiking.”

“I can’t hike. My Achilles tendon won’t allow it. I’ll never is well positioned to hike again.”

“Don, you can hike. Take an Advil. You hike every day when “youre walking” to the coffee shop.”

“That’s not hiking, that’s walking.”

“So when we’re on the course, pretend like you’re be present at the coffee shop.”

“At least at the coffee shop someone prepares me coffee.”

Three months later, I flew west, and we drove four hours south and east until we arrived at the Middle Rosary Lake Trailhead, smack in the middle of Deschutes National Forest on the east side of the Cascades. It was August 9, 2 P.M. At 3 P.M ., “were having” plastered a mile and a half. That’s when Don announced that his foot hurt.

Don (left) and Steve on a backpacking trip in Maroon Bells, Colorado, in 1980Don( left) and Steve on a backpacking jaunt in Maroon Bells, Colorado, in 1980( Photo: Courtesy Steve Friedman)

We shared a bedroom until we were six and eight years old. Don accumulated cliffs. I hoarded seashells. Angelo the barber passed Don a crew cut on the third Saturday of every month. I sported a Princeton. Don worked hard. I tested well. Don was tall, with skinny hips and broad-minded shoulders, and he won every 60 -yard dash and pull-up competition in elementary school. I had to wear husky breathes. Don devoted his allowance on comic books featuring Superman and Batman, advocates of justice who, like Don, continued their own counsel. I was more partial to the Silver Surfer, the conflicted and somewhat blabbermouthed guard of earth, who said things like, “My fate is of little result … if it can save the world that gave me birth! ” When annoyed or stymied, Don stewed, planned, and then behaved( often, it appears to be, against me ). I tended to cry, frequently and vigorously.

When I was 11 and my mother, for the third year in a row, couldn’t locate the present I had bought for her birthday( a gift stimulated after one nighttime I bore witness on television to the gadget’s incredible slicing and dicing dominances ), Don pulled me aside after a trip-up to Angelo’s, and he laid an previously muscled forearm across my naked, flabby, soft, and, as I retain, somewhat quivering neck. “Steve, ” he said, “do you really speculate momma is losing all those Veg-O-Matics? ”

“Wow, ” I ejaculated. “Amazing! ”

Don grunted.

We stood upon the edge of a sparkle green jewel of a lagoon( listed, coincidentally enough, Green Lake ). It was day 2, and “were having” climbed about 1,000 hoofs and extended four miles, moving alongside Fall Creek, past waterfalls, into and out of dense woodlands of red pine carpeted with clover. The information that Don had not spoken for the past hour wasn’t odd, but combined with the “closer to death and the world is meaningless” stuff, it unsettled me some. I had mentioned to Don more than formerly that perhaps his perspective was shadowed, by retirement, by divorce, and that maybe with time he would determine things more clearly. Maybe, he allowed, but probably not. He doubted he would ever find love. He suspicious that lucrative, fulfilling use was out of reach forever. And genuinely, weren’t those who had saw adoration and fulfilling cultivate doomed to lose both?

“How about a speedy trough? ” I said. When I worried about Don, which I often did, I showed things he might do to feel better. Over the past decades, I has been proposed that he see a therapist, consider the latest emotional-retreat weekend workshop I had recently attended, and/ or “ve been thinking about” connecting a Kundalini yoga practice that took place in a salt cave. I had sounded good things about salt caves.

“You go ahead, ” he said. “I’m going to take a pass on the hypothermia.” When Don worried about me, which was often, he proposed I get married and settle down or at least stick with a regular girlfriend or, if I couldn’t finagle it, that I maintain a semi-regular writing schedule or, if that was too much, that I at least make an attempt to get out of bunked before 10 A.M. most frequently.

Also, that I might “reroute some of the money you’re spending on your inner child into a SEP-IRA.”

We stood at the lake’s edge. The irrigate lapped.

“You should take off your boots and soak your paw, ” I said. “It will hearten you up and construct our return hike go faster.” I stripped, dove in.

Don gradually squatted, stick the ring and middle digits of his left hand into the water, exerted his right hand to colors his eyes as he studied the horizon, still bright and blue-blooded.

He looked at something merely he could see. “The return hike is soon to be the return hike, ” he said. “Four miles, at least two hours. Unless someone precipitates. Harder on the knees, going downhill. Slew of soil. And tomorrow’s hike is going to be longer and steeper. But experience the dive. I recollect I’ll conserve my energy.”

Don showed me that by deeming my pillow next to the air conditioner on time lights, then running back to bed with it, I could prevent my leader cool. He taught me that when Wolf, the neighborhood German shepherd, pranced on me, I should knee him in the chest and frown. Over the years, he has coached me before work interviews, refreshed contracts, counseled me through professional calamities and breakups, corrected me up on dates, and uttered sure I wasn’t alone on holidays. When our younger sister, at the time living by herself and developing a three-year-old and an newborn, told me that she was having trouble getting out of berthed and was crying for hours every day, I told Ann that she should “lets get going” of her anxiety and include gratitude and pleasure. I told Don about our discourse, and the next morning he flew to Colorado, jam-pack her containers and those of her two children, flew them all back to Oregon with him, and then, with his wife at the time, cooked for Ann and the babies, babysat, and generally wet-nurse her back to health.

He praises button-down shirts and lace-up shoes and travels with his own pillows, plural, because “better to carry a little extra than to be surprised.” He listens to recordings on his turntable, reads the reproduce form of The New York Times, watches structure word, naps every day at accurately 4 P.M ., and has erected some sturdy and clear personal bounds, peculiarly when it is necessary to our baby. For his 60 th birthday, he hosted a small gathering, to which he invited Mom. When she asked if there would be cake, he replied in the affirmative. When she asked what flavor it would be, he asked why she needed to know.

I like hoodies and Hawaiian shirts, have occasionally lied about my age on date places, and have, in the past ten years, inspired by infomercials, bought impostor digits that well-lighted up when activated with confidential buttons, a Bowflex Xtreme 2, and something called the Owl Optical Wallet Light, which consists of a magnifying glass and a interpret light-headed. Actually, I bought two of those. I answer any and all questions from my mother, then is working with my displeasure and shame by eating Entenmann’s Devil’s Food Crumb Donuts and Ben& Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream until I am sick.

For times, Don had been telling family members that they needn’t give him talents on holidays or for his birthday, but if they felt obligated, they should only shop from a inventory he circulated, and that first we should check with each other to avoid duplication. I decided that his energetic efforts to control the world disguised a painful interior sense of chaos, and that a catch might psychically jolt him into a more relaxed, happier state. So one winter disruption, I carried home from college and presented to Don a 13 -pound authentic “country-cured Boone County Ham, ” along with printed instructions for scraping off the ham’s mold with a stiff clean, laundering it, then immersing it in cold water for 12 to 24 hours before roasting. He read the instructions, then stared at me. “Are you fucking kidding me? ” he said.

Don (left) and Steve hiking near Point Reyes, California, in 1977Don( left) and Steve hiking near Point Reyes, California, in 1977( Photo: Courtesy Steve Friedman)

Day three, and I have accepted the impossibility of either of us find peace by eating toasted marshmallows. There have been and will be no toasted marshmallows, because after discovering that the only campsite available on our first night sat next to a dumpster, we has been determined that, for the remainder of the trip, we could bond just fine without sleeping on the grind or having to urinate outside. So we’ve been sleeping in hostels and rooms the past two nights.

We have been watching downloaded movies, analyse ourselves to pancakes and clambered eggs in the morning, and spend most of our daylight hours hiking. Today, descending through a thick-witted hemlock forest, we have been discussing knee pain, shoulder sting, love, divorce, cortisone, our mothers, physical care, Don’s child, our sister’s children, our childhoods, yoga, and real estate properties. I have been doing most of the discussing.

Just as I was weighing the relative perils and benefits of therapy under the influence of psilocybin, we sounded out of the forest and onto a rocky, nearly lunar plateau. Jutting up along the range were the granite, snow-veined South Sister and Broken Top Mountains. Between them and us, though we couldn’t see it, set Moraine Lake, which a website I’d checked announced one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the area.

“It resonates incredible, ” I said.

Don consulted his delineate, cross-checked with his compass. “It ever voices incredible on a website, ” he said.

He has never shied from straight talk or hard truths. The supermodel lover a young cousin once brought to a family wedding? “Super skinny is more like it, ” Don said. The newest four-star Manhattan restaurant where we celebrated a birthday together? “Noisy. And overpriced.” The three-story, five-bedroom Florida house we snagged one Thanksgiving? “Have you been monitoring red-tide positions? ”

When we met it to the lake, I immediately began disrobing. Don consulted his watch, the map, the sky, his watch again, the compass, then the pond. I moved in, up to my knees.

“C’mon! ” I said. “It’s great.”

He studied the sky again.

“What are you doing? ”


Ten years earlier, when Don was a CEO, the chairman of the board’s secretary told Don on a Monday that he needed to be in the chairman’s office that Friday at 4 P.M. for a private one-on-one cros. Don told me it could only mean one thing: he was going to be fired. I told Don he had been sure he was going to be fired many times before, that he would be happier if “hes spent” less season fretting and more period focusing on the present. Instead, Don depleted the next week imagining all the gaffes he might have committed in his tenure and jotted down the purpose of explaining each. He also worked on an elaborated, technological, and airtight legal document that, if necessary, he would present to the chairman, expecting a two-year severance package, with asset alternatives. Really in case.

When Friday arrived, the chairman said he wanted to discuss the company’s annual festivity revel. That was it.

I studied all the time my brother has expended planning for cataclysms that don’t happen.

“Did you learn anything from that knowledge? ” I had asked Don.

“Yeah, ” he said. “It pays to be prepared.”

Stories about mental illness and germinating aged can be amusing, even comical, especially before you or someone you know endures either. So this might be a good place to mention that, about two years before our hike, doctors had diagnosed and commence giving Don for depression. Until then, for the most part, I had viewed his periodic grouchiness, frequent cynicism, general dismissiveness( especially toward me ), and ever vigilant posture toward the world as merely elements of his personality.

Then again, until I had been diagnosed and treated for hollow myself, a few years before Don, I had considered my romantic impediments, binge ingesting, orgy sleeping, binge crying, and overeat Veg-O-Matic and Owl Wallet Light purchasing as a number of aspects of my nature. But couldn’t we reform? Our hike in the woods coincided with a quality in our lives when we were trying to ascertain accurately which of our not entirely welcome behavioral decorations are likely to be malleable and subject to our best intentions and which ones we were simply doomed to endure. In other words, our hike happened right around the time we were getting ready for Medicare.

Don (left) and Steve during their hiking trip in Oregon’s Deschutes National ForestDon( left) and Steve during their hiking trip in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest( Photo: Courtesy Steve Friedman)

Pudgy gray shadows scud across a sky so blue-blooded it glances covered. Pine trees above us quiver in the soft sail, while the deep, clear Metolius River flows below. Today, our last hike, is a gentle five-miler, flat, principally shaded.

It’s a narrow-minded road, and Don goes onward. The wind picks up.

“Hey, Don, ” I say, “thanks for teaching me how to handle Wolf the dog and picturing me the cooling-the-pillow trick.”

“Uh-huh, ” he says.

Across the river, clear spray runs from a outpouring, turning the wandering stream to churning whitewater. We enter a meander valley, territory by old-growth ponderosa pine. Offsprings of goslings paddle next to us. Bunches of shining yellow-bellied tanagers hop in the shrubs stringing the banks.

“And I admire your break-dance the word about the Veg-O-Matics to me, ” I say, “even if it hurt my feelings at the time.”

Don grunts.

We have two miles left in our jaunt. I wonder if they’ll be done in silence.

“I should have remained the Hanukkah ham, ” Don says.

“Huh? ”

“I just couldn’t get past the mold. I can see now that it was a mistake. You wanted to surprise me, and you thought it would help me. I appreciate that now.”

I feel something dislodge in my dresser. I don’t know what to say. So I said today I have been saying for the past 55 years or so.

“My fate is of little outcome … if it can save the world that gave me birth! ”

I can sounds Don sigh, even over the wind.

“Right, Steve” he says. “Of course.”

We’ll survive the hike to the trailhead, the drive back to Portland, the unpacking. We’ll endure house trips. We’ll live family drama.( Don will tell me that if I write about our trip-up, “Please quote me as saying the narration will be incomplete and chiefly true.”) We’ll survive the next two years, a season when Don will satisfy the status of women, and they will move in together, develop chickens, and plant a garlic patch. He will call his son in Brooklyn many times, and in Portland he’ll join a lawyers’ support group, and when another man in the group says that he has been suffering cripple despair and paralyzing tension and has decided that in order to improve, he needed to imagine the future he hoped for and pray to a influence larger than himself, Don will ask, without meaning to be funny or mean, “Just in case, do you have a plan B? ”

He will include a hot tub to predate his daily siestum, and admit plights on the boards of three Portland nonprofits: one that helps adults suffering from mental illness, another helping homeless youngster, and a third dedicated to preserving the Columbia Gorge. As a voluntary, he’ll take the adults on hikes and the girls to a boxing gym owned by a gentleman he has helped with legal issues over the years. He knows where to find meaning and purpose but will continue to worry. I will continue to assure him that everything will be OK, to which he will invariably reply, “Sure, unless it won’t.”

I will cut back on the Chubby Hubby and the Devil’s Food Crumb Donuts. I will save fairly money to hire a hut in the lumbers for a month in the summer, where I will host my mother, sister, and nephew for 2 weeks. I will divest myself of all but three Hawaiian shirts, as well as toss the Bowflex Xtreme2 and both Owl Optical Wallet Lights. I will make the 7 initiates of Lightup Magic Thumbs from their special casket on my bookshelf simply on special occasions.

Except for a determined of Perfect Pushup Rotating Handles, who the hell is, after all, state associated, I will cease infomercial-inspired shopping.

But all that occurs later. At the moment, there is only the two of us, and the path, and high winds, and the scudding glooms, and bright blue sky. Brothers. I stop, tilt my face to the warming sun.

“A perfect end to a excellent trip, ” I say.

Don stops, too, face-lifts his face to the exact same sunshine. The river, deep and cold, floods past. He shades his eyes, He studies the sky.

“True, ” he says. “Even if it rains.”

Read more: outsideonline.com

Two Veterans Are Assembling the Avengers of Thru-Hiking

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While doing a chore check of legislating vehicles in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, in 2006, Sergeant Trey Cate and his person soldiers were attacked. Standing in wall street, the initial blast–triggered by a suicide bomber–shattered his legs. Minutes last-minute, gunmen disguised on nearby rooftops to fire, hitting him in the back, weapon, and helmet. A stray missile touched a cask of gasoline, and ardor enveloped the wounded soldiers, including Cate.

Remarkably, every soldier represented it out alive. But when Cate got to the hospital, a doctor told him he’d never walk again. Cate didn’t countenanced it. “Watch me prove you wrong, ” he told the doctor.

“They told me I didn’t understand how injured I was, ” says Cate. “I told them they don’t understand my mentality.”

Thirteen year later , is not simply does Cate, 35, saunter, but he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2017 and the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.

Cate was introduced to former Marine Jeremy “Mac” McDonald, 34, as part of the thru-hiking community. Together, the two ex-servicemen are organizing one of the most ambitious thru-hiking expeditions in recent years: a 12-person team that will take on the 6,875 -mile Great Western Loop.

McDonald spent eight years in the Marine Corps, did three safaruss in Iraq, and was the head of Marine security at the U.S. embassy in Dakar, Senegal. “I’ve backpacked in some of the craziest neighbourhoods, time because I’ve gotten to travel so much, ” he says. In 2014, after he left the Marines, McDonald hiked the Appalachian Trail.

But Cate has the more surprising thru-hiking conversion story. Stuck in the hospital as he recovered from his war injuries, Cate would expend hours figment. “I’m in a infirmary bed, and beings are telling me I’ll never walk again, and so all I could think about was accompanying again, ” he says. Not acquiring he’d spend his life in a wheelchair, Cate obliged himself to get out of bed and rehearsed putting one hoof in front of the other.

“While walking around, the hospital aide-de-camps would follow me with a couch on rotates for when I’d fall, ” Cate says. “I’d lost a lot of value at this point–I’m six foot three, and I weighed 140 pounds.”

It was Cate’s younger brother who firstly told him about the Appalachian Trail. When Cate construed photos of how happy his brother seemed while trekking a 30 -mile section, he immediately knew he wanted to thru-hike the part thing. “I had already been daydreaming about “ve got something” with my legs, ” says Cate. “Why learn to walk again if I don’t do something incredible? ”

But it wasn’t merely the hurts to his legs that Cate was trying to overcome. The explode left him with a traumatic ability hurt, and when he first came to in research hospitals, he had amnesia. “When I woke up, a woman was hugging me, and I reviewed, Wow, my girlfriend is old, ” says Cate. “I shoved her away. But turns out it was my mom.” He recognized her after a few daytimes, but his recalls never fully returned.

After Cate retired from the Army and graduated from the University of South Florida in 2015, he decided to fulfill the promise he’d made to himself on research hospitals berthed years ago. He began preparing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, but Cate says a side effect of his brain harm was that it left him too relying of others. On White Blaze, a meeting for Appalachian Trail hikers, an anonymous consumer toy a joke on him, feeding him false information about what thru-hiking necessitated. He told Cate that if he started hiking the Appalachian Trail in January, he wouldn’t need anything warmer than a 30 -degree sleeping bag.( That is very incorrect; temperatures often remove to single digits .) Cate likewise believed it when the stranger told him that the backcountry refuges had electric outlet, and that he could charge his telephone there at night.( Too not true .)

Cate ended half of the hike, starting in Georgia and going off trail at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia because he wasn’t appropriately organized. He then should be going, studied what he did wrong, and tried again the next year. That period he successfully hiked the part line, and he loved it.

Jeremy McDonald (left) and Trey CateJeremy McDonald( left) and Trey Cate( Photo: Jeremy McDonald)

The two got the idea to tackle the Great Western Loop because they wanted to do more with their passion for the outdoors, “something really interesting that gets the attention of the entire thru-hiking community, ” says Cate. Taking a dozen beings on the longest thru-hike in the United State certainly certifies.

The loop links together five existing long-distance footpaths: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Arizona Trail, and the Pacific Northwest Trail. Its footpath follows the Sierra, the Cascades, and the Rocky Mountains and surpasses through 12 national parks and 75 wilderness areas. To appointment, only two beings had previously been hiked the Great Western Loop to completion in a calendar year, one of whom is Outside columnist Andrew Skurka.

To accomplish their objective, Cate and McDonald set up the expedition as an LLC called the Push Beyond and partnered with a marketing company for notoriety and to acquire patronizes to provide furnishes and funds to the hikers, which include McDonald. They spent much of the last year getting patronizes and now have a budget of around $250,000. With the contrive in place, they are ready to start hiking in March, beginning and ending in Cuba, New Mexico.

Because of the logistics required, Cate volunteered to follow the hikers in a supporting van rather than hike himself. “This level of organization is what we used for military missions, ” Cate says. “You have to consider everything down to the final detail: the condition, the gives, the travel.” Two vehicles will follow the hikers, ferry them to town, and resupply them with food. Support staff will also gauge pick-up phases, respond to emergencies, and even do their laundry.

“There surely will be a rate of harm, ” says Phaneendra Kollipara, one of the thru-hikers selected for the expedition. Kollipara, a 27 -year-old engineer from India living in Michigan, has hiked all three main roads in the U.S. “There are things we can do to help prevent injury, but bad luck can happen to anybody, ” he says.

Seven men as well as five ladies between the senilities of 22 and 36 and applauding from four countries were selected. All are suffered thru-hikers. Each selected a donation to raise money for, including the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the Semper Fi Fund, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and they’ll be seeking subscriptions while they hike as well as questioning patronizes to support their chosen makings.

Cate and McDonald initially spread message of their plans in person and by posting in thru-hiking Facebook groups, and soon enough, applications began flooding in. Experience in long-distance hiking was requisite, but not sufficient: Cate probed for individuals who were patient and easy to get along with and who followed tacks well. “I tried to stay away from people who wanted to’ race’ the whole time or would get angry the moment something didn’t go their nature, ” Cate says. They missed people from different backgrounds, they recruited internationally, and they tried to balance the number of men and women. Because 12 people is an unwieldy number on a route where campsites rarely fit more than four tents, the team will be divided into four groups of three beings, with staggered start times.

Skurka was the first person to ever hike the Great Western Loop, completing it in 206 epoches in 2007. “It was complicated enough when I did it by my dreary, ” he says. “I can’t imagine what it would take to organize for 12 people.”

He points out that the biggest challenge the group will face will be hiking through the Sierra Nevada once the blizzard starts to melt around mid-May, and then booking it all the way to the Rockies, where it’ll have to exit the San Juans of southern Colorado before the snow precipitates in October. “You’re mostly hastening against winter the whole time, ” says Skurka. “You need to throw down 30 or 40 miles a period. That’s the inherent difficulty.”

Even if you can handle the physical challenge, says Skurka, it is possible to just as tough psychologically.

“I would is difficult to do that expedition nowadays, because it’s came so many mind-bogglingly boring miles, hour after hour after hour, ” he says. “You can’t do these things for fame and luck, you have to desire it at the end. There are too many hours at some tier of suffering to make it worthwhile otherwise.” That said, Skurka glances back on the Great Western Loop as one of the best things he’s ever done. “I hope they can experience that, too.”

Cate and McDonald are hopeful that the success of this expedition will allow them to host brand-new outdoor challenges in the future. But for now, they’re counting the working day until the undertaking begins.

“I am very excited, ” says McDonald. “I wish we were starting yesterday.”

Read more: outsideonline.com