Backpacking With a Stranger

Art by Jason Schneider, Backpacker Magazine.

I’m on the road a lot for work, which means I’m almost always without a reliable backpacking buddy. Sure, I could go alone, but I’m a social guy. As therapeutic as solo trips can be, adventure is more interesting when you share it with someone.

I’d never thought about going on a weekend trip with a complete stranger, but when I found myself at a networking event in Denver with an offer to head down to Great Sand Dunes National Park for two days, a light bulb went off: Maybe this was the solution to my lack-of-a-partner problem.

I’d always wanted to check out the dunes. At up to 750 feet high, they’re the tallest in North America, tucked between Medano Creek and the 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains—and just four hours south of Denver.

Enter my new acquaintance, a fellow work function happy hour attendee. Thanks to some flaky friends, his weekend plans had just fallen through, and like me, he was itching to get out. I hadn’t brought backpacking gear, but he had spares of everything I’d need, a four-wheel-drive Jeep, and a local’s knowledge.

There was nothing romantic about the offer, yet it still felt like being proposed to on a first date.

“You seem cool, man, but are we ready to share a tent? I don’t even remember your name,” I joked.

“Justin,” he said, not laughing like I thought he would. “Come on, what’d you come to Colorado for? To sit around all weekend?”

A little bit forward? Sure, but he was making a lot of sense. I did want to go backpacking, and here he was handing it to me on a platter. But that’s what made me skeptical.

I wondered: Did his friends really bail on him, or did he kill them all?

Read the rest of this story in Backpacker Magazine.


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