Just a few feet away, in another tent, a friend whom I have known for over 30 years is snoring so loudly it sounds like he’s eating celery in his sleep. For the last year or so, he’s slept with a CPAP, a respiratory machine that treats his sleep apnea and makes him look like the Batman villain Bane taking a nap. But here in the mountains, without the CPAP, his cacophony of carbon dioxide is just one more reminder that my friends and I are all much older than we realize.

There are six of us on this hike, all a few months away from turning 40. And tomorrow morning, we’ll be treated to another reminder of our age as we rise and spend the first half hour of the day shuffling around camp like actors auditioning for a role in Frankenstein. In our 20s, we dealt with sprains and blisters on the trail. Now, it’s plantar fasciitis. Where beef jerky and trail mix used to be our hiking staples, this trek couldn’t have been made without Advil and Vaseline. I wish I were kidding when I say some of us even brought Ziploc bags with Metamucil. And without consulting one another, each of us packed biodegradable baby wipes instead of rolls of toilet paper, because between the six of us, we’ve changed the diapers of 18 children.

And yet, even after the changes a couple decades will make, and with all of our whiney ailments, these four days in the mountains are exactly the kind of trip we wanted to take.

Months earlier, when we began discussing a guy’s trip, the greatest challenge was trying to land on a destination. Six different voices agreed our man-cation should be “epic.” But that only meant there were six different definitions of the word. One man’s epic adventure is another man’s lame weekend eating at the Hard Rock Cafe in San Diego. “Epic” was going to be a hard target to hit. Even in high school, most of our group were never risk-takers. And now that we have wives, children and mortgages, our aversion to risk has grown in proportion to our guts.

Training for, and running a marathon near Big Sur, California was suggested. But that conflicted with too many habits of eating ice cream while watching re-runs of Friends. Another idea was a week in Costa Rica, but our mid-life crises weren’t acute enough to leave our wives and kids for such an indulgence. A wilderness survival course in Utah’s red rock country was summarily shot down as “un-fun.” I was really afraid we were going to drag each other down to the lowest common denominator of breakfast at Denny’s in the town where we went to high school. Epic, no. Doable, yep.

But eventually, we decided on this backpacking trip. We were all aware that “six old friends head into the mountains for a backpacking trip” is the opening pitch of a slasher/disaster/psycho-suspense movie. All we need now is to run into Jon Krakauer on the trail so he’d have something to write about when our bodies are discovered months later. But it’s easy to see why backpacking makes for the perfect reunion tour.

Backpacking is inexpensive. We all had the equipment, however far back in the attic we may have placed it. All we needed was money for gas, food, and backcountry permits.

Backpacking is social. As close as I am to these guys, Christmas dinners and texts during Words with Friends can’t compete with four days of quality time in the backcountry.

Backpacking is challenging. So far, we’ve covered more than 30 miles, rising and dropping hundreds of feet in altitude every day. Hauling food and equipment on our backs through forests, meadows and mountain trails has been trying. But we’ve all carried tired kids through Disneyland before, so we know it’s not impossible. (In fact, this is far easier since we won’t have to buy churros and Mouse Ears for a screaming backpack.)

Backpacking is reinvigorating. There’s nothing like a view of a waterfall-lined mountainside to remind you that not all the best images are jpegs. And knowing the only deadline any of us has to meet it making the next campground by nightfall is refreshing.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish our four-day hike. We’ll be sore, bruised, stiff and exhausted. We’ll have duct-taped blisters, and we’ll be full of the acetazolamide we’ve taken to combat the altitude. Our individual stories aren’t man vs. nature. They aren’t even man vs. man. They’re more like man vs. the old creaky guy he didn’t know he’d become.

But these four days on the trail have been a better way to renew our friendships, make better memories, and see more beautiful country than any other vacation we’d considered. True, we could have spent the week snore-less in some hotel with electrical outlets for my friend’s CPAP machine. But a good night’s sleep in a cushy room with HBO isn’t how great memories are made.

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