Hold My Beer

Hiking electric Peak

The value of being up for anything.

A few weeks ago, I saw a hoodie in a small-town Montana dive bar reading, “That sounds like a terrible idea. What time?” Its occupant was a Coors Light–drinking outfitter, and it got me thinking: how many people can I bounce an outlandish idea off, and they’ll commit without a moment’s hesitation? I used to tally the number on two hands, but slowly the count has dwindled. Friends got married, had kids, moved abroad, or just took on jobs with a meager two weeks of time off per year.

Now, there’s one contact remaining. One person, who under any circumstance is willing to drop nearly all other commitments and go on an adventure: Tom.

Adventure buddies don’t fall into your lap.

Every week or so I’ll get a voicemail from him: “Yo, you ever heard of the Susitna River? We could fly into a volcanic crater, packraft a 30-mile class IV run, portage to another river, hike into a basin in the Brooks Range, shoot a moose, then get picked up by a float plane. Anyways, see ya. Bye.”

My laptop’s hard drive is full of photos from past explorations like these: scraping feet of snow off a raft, a half-frozen river gurgling in the background, restitching hiking boots deep in the backcountry using fishing line serendipitously found in a bush, smoking joint after joint on Thanksgiving Day while huddled under a leaky blue tarp in an unrelenting downpour. Not to mention things that we’ve promised to never show or tell anyone else. Photos our grandkids will find and think, No way is that you, butt-ass naked, double-fisting rifles. Stories that can never be told—to anyone.

But adventure buddies like Tom don’t fall into your lap. It takes trial and error, day-trip test runs, and complementary mentalities to make a good partner-in-crime. These are people whose judgment you trust, and who you can split off from for days or two at a time and unequivocally know they’ll make the rendezvous. Whose movements become intuitive—to the point of knowing what line they’ll run, what move they’ll make, or what elevation they’ll contour without having to discuss it.

We bailed on each other less than a mile into the run.

Only problem is, Tom fights fire in the summer, which left me searching for a new warm-weather partner a few years back. The process has resulted in some serious mismatches, like the time I planned a big trail run with a guy I met at the bar. We rendezvoused early the next day, only to discover that we had seriously different ambitions and fitness levels. We bailed on each other less than a mile into the run. But it’s also resulted in some unexpected friendships, or at least fun days in the mountains. Take another guy I met—a former advisor to the Trump campaign. We spent the day antler hunting, shooting guns, cracking jokes, and telling stories. We ended up going separate ways afterward, but the day flew by—a great memory now. And the common denominator through it all? Saying yes to a bad idea.

This summer, when you get a phone call with an outlandish, seemingly infeasible, incredibly dangerous trip idea, answer the call with: “Sounds like a terrible idea. What time?” You never know what it might turn into.