Adventuring With My Ugly Friend

I boarded my last flight of the summer on Sunday afternoon on my way home from Calgary. After 35 flights and over 93,000 kilometers, I was finally heading home for more than a few hours. You might think that after spending the bulk of the summer traveling that I’d be more than happy to head home, but in reality that wasn’t exactly the case. Instead, I spent much of my flight thinking about the grand adventures that I’d just been on, and how lucky I was to end it as I have ended my summers for the past number of years; hiking through the mountains with Rick, my ugly friend1.

Adventuring with Rick has become a staple in my annual travel plans. And for those of you who’ve been keeping track, you’ll probably also know that hiking the mountains near Calgary and Banff have become a bit of an August tradition for the two of us. That tradition had its roots in 2010 when I made my way west for a friend’s wedding. Rick and I and a group of friends opted to hike up Yamnuska, just outside of Calgary.

It was during our Yamnuska hike that Rick and I both became aware of how much we loved the mountains, and how much we didn’t want to punch each other after spending several intense hours making our way ever higher up the mountain. While the former seems to be an important factor in a friendship that has grown through countless mountain adventures, the latter was of no less importance.

In fact, Rick’s sense of adventure and ability to laugh through almost every situation were the very things that led me on an amazing trip across two of the Hawaiian islands with him only several months after we hiked Yamnuska. We spent 16 days driving the Big Island, exploring volcanic fields, traipsing across an active volcanic crater under the light of a full moon, trekking deep into lava tubes, and bombing our way too quickly to the top of a volcanic mountain. At the end of our Hawaiian adventure, I remember looking at Rick as he was kneeling on the floor wrestling with his suitcase, chuckling all the while.

What’s so funny? 

I can’t believe we’ve spent 16 days together, and I don’t want to kill you.

Ya, I know. Me too!

Although I think I’d realized it earlier in the trip, I knew I’d found my travel soul mate. And so on our return flight, we talked about other travel plans and other adventures. And not long after I’d returned to Guelph I booked a return trip to Calgary, this time in April 2011.

Despite these travels, our end-of-summer mountain adventuring wasn’t firmly established. In fact, since I was sidetracked with a surgery to correct a sliding hiatal hernia in August 2011, the real tradition didn’t officially start until 2012 when Rick won the Big Mountain Challenge. Since then I’ve spent at least 4 or 5 days every year visiting Rick in Calgary. And every time we’ve hiked through the mountains I’ve learned why this guy is as important to me as he is. We chat about everything and nothing. Sometimes we chat endlessly about life and decisions we need to make. Sometimes we talk about our jobs, or our family and friends. And still, other times we spend long periods not talking at all, mesmerized by the beauty around us, perfectly comfortable in our silence.

And so this most recent trip was especially important to me because it would mark potentially the last of our August adventures in the mountains near Calgary. You see, as I was making my way home to Guelph, Rick was also heading to his new home in Vancouver. August 28th, 2016 was Rick’s last official day as a Calgarian.

 

The weird part about this is that I knew this would not be our last adventure together; something far greater than moving to a new city would have to get between us for that to happen. Regardless, I found myself feeling like I was saying good-bye in a way that I wasn’t expecting, that this was the end of a particular chapter in our lives. And I found that our hikes through the mountain meant that much more than normal. Much of our conversation was centered on our experiences in the mountains together; not just any mountains, but these mountains – our favourite mountains. And much of the time we spent in silence I found myself thinking about all of the amazing moments I’ve spent with my ugly friend, listening to his advice, laughing, goofing off one moment, and then diving into a serious topic the next. And with each of these thoughts, and with every moment that we shared in silence looking out on the world from a view that few get to experience, I couldn’t help but feel an intense sense of gratitude that somehow the universe deemed it necessary for our paths to cross like they did, that I was lucky enough to have this ugly friend of mine.

Strangely, Rick and I grew up in the same town and even went to the same high school where we won similar academic awards. His childhood home was only about a 10-minute walk from where I lived, and one that I passed on a very regular basis whenever I’d walk or bike with friends to the mall. For all we know we may have randomly met at some point in the past, but given the 6-year difference between our ages, I’m sure that even if we’d met neither of us would have given it a second thought. Eventually, Rick would end up doing his MSc in Statistics at the University of Guelph while I was plugging away at my PhD, and while we knew of each other through the group of math and stats nerds that came to be known as the Nerd Caucus, we really didn’t hang out or talk very much. Regardless, the group knew him and so we ended up likely having several very superficial interactions. To be honest, the only conversations I sort of recall from this period were those that included Rick appearing at my office door and asking for my friend Steph. When Rick decided to move to Calgary the Nerd Caucus decided to throw a going away party. I went out and found an appropriate fare-thee-well card, quickly scribbling I can’t believe how much you’re going to miss me inside it. And with that, he was gone.

I don’t know what exactly happened after that, but suffice it to say we started emailing back and forth on a rather regular basis; perhaps it was due to boredom at work, or perhaps it was because one of us had a statistical question. Whatever the case our friendship actually developed once there was a significant distance between us. I seem to even recall asking him in an email how were we not better friends when you lived here? And then my trip to Calgary for my friend’s wedding came up. And Yamnuska happened. And Hawaii. And all of our many adventures since then. And with each trip, with each adventure, I’ve been reminded of how lucky it is that he’s in my life. The road to our friendship was odd. Our paths couldn’t have been closer to each other, couldn’t have been more intertwined, and yet it took a move across the country before I even learned how amazing he was, never suspecting how important he would become to me.

So while this trip was rather bittersweet, an end to a particular chapter in my life, it’s definitely not the end of our story. There will be more adventures. There will be more mountains. There will always be my ugly friend.

Rick, thanks again for an amazing adventure. But most of all, thanks for being my ugly friend. I know I don’t say it enough, but I guess you’re alright. Sentiments.


1 For those not in the know, Rick is the opposite of ugly.

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