(What I didn’t mention is that I asked some other friends to write about friendship, and their experiences with this group generally. Tink and I have been friends for over a decade — she is my best friend from college — and she has a unique perspective both on climbing Mount Whitney [or not], and on this crowd. So…Tink‘s story)
I am an L.A. gal, so I wasn’t fully privy to the planning of the Mt. Whitney climb that was taking place in New York. But Meredith called me in June and invited me to join her and the Women of Winesday in the climb (but I’m sure she already knew the answer I was going to give).
I have a passing acquaintance with the mountain — husband and his mother successfully climbed Mt. Whitney a few years back. They had excitedly told me about their 20 hour day — getting up in the middle of the night, hiking to the sounds of bear bells on their packs, the grueling switchbacks, the altitude sickness, the short (but amazing) respite at the top and then the walk back down. A form of torture, obviously. My opinion of hiking was solidified about a year ago when I did a 7 hour hike up Mt. Baldy with my husband and my mother-in-law. I impressed them by making it to the top and then lost all credibility when I made them take the ski lift down the last 3 miles. It was $10 apiece to ride the lift and it was the best $30 I ever spent.
That in mind, when Meredith invited me to climb Mount Whitney, I answered immediately and without hesitation, “Hell, no!”. But then she mentioned that her parents, Tom and Linnie, would be throwing a BBQ to celebrate their climb and asked if I would come, and I answered immediately and without hesitation, “Hell, yes!”
When we were at UCLA, we would often leave the Westside on summer Saturdays and drive into the suburbs because Tom and Linnie’s was guaranteed to be a better time than standing at a college bar, drinking bad beer. A Tom and Linnie BBQ is one of those things that I associate with an L.A. summer — a warm desert breeze blowing; their calm, black-bottomed pool reflecting the fairy lights from the gazebo; chilled, white wine in ice buckets and Tom manning the BBQ, making amazing burgers. But the best part is the people: Tom and Linnie and their gang of good friends. You get a bit of parental fussing, which is fun when you don’t live near your parents like me (plus you get the benefit of the amazing side dishes and desserts that the moms make). Meredith’s friends from high school and our mutual friends from UCLA come, and there is laughter and good-natured arguments — all the wonderful things in life in one evening.
It felt just like old times as I arrived — it was a hot August night (i.e., 90 degrees at 11 o’clock) — the sun was setting and I had a glass of white wine in my hand in under 90 seconds. I hugged Meredith, was introduced to Kat and re-introduced to Strand (I had briefly met Strand when I visited Meredith a few years ago. After picking me up from the airport she whisked me off to….exciting Staten Island where I had to sit through an evening-long sorority initiation. To her credit, Mere did feel bad about that and took me to Bouley afterwards to make up for it).
Surprisingly, Meredith, Kat and Strand seemed none the worse for the wear and we all eagerly settled down to hear about the big climb. “How was it?!”, we asked. Meredith, Kat and Strand looked at each other, at a total loss for words.
“It was…….. amazing”, they all said at once after a bit. They told us about the technical aspects of the hike and how they had each prepared for it, but were having a hard time telling us more. It was clearly such a meaningful experience for each of them individually, and an amazing bonding experience as a group, that it couldn’t be put into words at that moment. So we congratulated them and turned to other topics, which included arguing politics with Tom.
Then, much of the rest of the evening was devoted to determining whether one friend of ours from UCLA’s new partner was a “bear.” And we were dissecting the practice among gay men of assigning animal nomenclature to hairy men: for example, a “bear” is a term used to describe a husky man with a lot of body hair while an “otter” is a term used to describe a man with a lot of body hair, but is smaller in frame and weighs considerably less than a bear. Given that there were multiple lawyers in the group (including me), this discussion necessitated the use of multiple iPhones to conduct research on Urban Dictionary and resulted in the member of the group in question “Googling himself into a corner” when Google provided the exact opposite answer of what he had been advocating about said new partner.
As I drove away after the BBQ into the August night, I left thinking about two things. One, I’m pretty sure that my husband would be an otter. Two, I was so proud of Meredith, Kat and Strand for setting a goal to climb Mt. Whitney and achieving it. So in awe, in fact, that next time Meredith calls me and invites me to climb Mt. Whitney (because everyone who knows Mere knows that there will be a next time), maybe I’ll say “Hell, yes!”