Ryan Conklin was his name.
At first, he just seemed like another member of the beginners’ hiking group I’d joined some 6, 7 years ago in Las Cruces, NM; well before the idea of Franklin Mountain Life was even in its inception phase. He was a tall guy, 6’5” and a lean silhouette attached to a hiker’s daypack and sunglasses that never left his face. He had a cool California vibe, laidback radical, “alright dude”-type of attitude which made hiking whatever killer trail we were on a whole lot more bearable. He wasn’t necessarily the leader of our troupe but what one could call an Administrator.
He and Yubao. Oh boy, Yubao.
It’s hard to put this man through a blog and process him into an image for y’all to interpret…but if I had to I’d closely relate him to a mountain goat. No height too steep and no precipice too narrow to place a wide foot or hand; many a time did I find myself questioning why I thought it would ever be a good idea to be on a trail with this man.
Nevertheless, there I was. Scurrying, slipping, nearly falling to my death countless times and all I had was his smiling face as a strange comfort.
Despite my lack of ability in climbing mountains or hiking 8-9 miles a trail/day, or even my seething fear of heights…they accepted me as one of the community. Even when the second-tallest peak in the continental U.S. (Mt. Elbert near Leadville, CO at a heaven-scraping 14,440 feet) came across their eyes, they still invited me (with no knowledge of elevation sickness or any experience in summiting peaks anywhere near that high) and taught me along the way.
Death seemed an inevitability when I summited.
Though here I am! And as I think about them on this slightly windy, but still absolutely beautiful day to go hiking, I think about the things I’ve learned that only the trail and people like Ryan and Yubao can teach. That feeling of community amongst everyone where you wouldn’t have to know anyone or anything about hiking, yet we are together living in our own world of rock, scrub, and desert (sometimes alpine forest, sometimes fear-inducing trails where there are only 6 inches between getting home and being rescued by COMSAR).
So when you see someone you don’t know on the trail offer a passing smile, a quick hello, a wave or moreso a “do you need anything?” type of love. This is what makes our backyard one of the best this country has to offer:
Us. You. Them.
We’ll walk these trails until the soles fall off our shoes and we continue coming back to them because of the scenery, the fresh air, the whole getting away from society and being a hermit for a few hours…most of all though, the people. The people you meet on the trail teach you about the importance of keeping things close-knit and familiar, taking care of each other as fellow human beings not at all closely related. So when you’re out on that trail today, share a wave, a smile, or a quick hello and a conversation about where you’re going because that’s what family does. And we are a Franklin Mountain Life family that loves, teaches, and hits the trails together.
You’re our family and we are yours. See y’all out on the trails!