Friendship Adventure Fiction

“Man, whose idea … was this? My feet are … burning. I’m tired. It’s 105 degrees. No clouds. We’re climbing this, … what? Mountain?”

“Easy, Ray. Easy. Stop. … Catch your breath,” said Karl.

Gasping for air, Ray went on, “We’re lugging … gallon jugs of water, and I am … losing … traction. … Loose rocks on … the … trail. This is nuts. Not … prepared for … this. Almost fell … a couple … of times already.”

Karl had been following close behind. The two of them had been going up fast.  He slowed down when he saw that Ray had stopped.

Karl walked up to Ray and laid his gallon of water down on a rock wall. He leaned over and rested his hands on his knees. After a few deep breaths, he was able to continue. 

“It’s called Piestewa Peak. Used to be called Squaw Peak. Would have been better if you had brought hiking shoes. Like I suggested. And it was my idea.”

There was another pause while Karl stood up, put his hand on his hips, and leaned back to stretch out his lower back.

He then said, “We’ll be in a training class all week. We’ll sit on our rear ends, try to listen to an instructor, eat cookies and drink soft drinks during the breaks. Big breakfast buffet to start the day. They’re feeding us a large lunch. Thought we needed to get out. To get some air and exercise and to stretch our legs before we start suffering from food coma.”

Ray sat down on a rock bordering the trail. He took the gallon of water that he had been carrying in his right hand and put it down between his feet. He unscrewed the cap, picked up the gallon jug, and took a big drink. Then he took off his sunglasses and his red baseball hat and poured some water over his head.

“Sorry, Karl”, said Ray. His breathing was still heavy. “Just in a bad mood. Been a tough couple of months. More like half a year. I’m still getting used to living alone. Had to do some last-minute packing this morning. Couldn’t find my travel kit.”

Ray closed his eyes.

She would have helped me find it. Then she would have chewed me out for not putting it back in the usual place after the last time I used it.

“So, what could be better than spending a week in Phoenix in the middle of June? With three of your best work buddies?”, asked Karl, taking sips of his water and looking back down the trail. “And where are Frank and Ed?”

Frank and Ed had been falling behind. They weren’t as fit as Karl and Ray. It took several minutes for them to show up. They had been going slower, taking it easy. But the high temperature and the sun was getting to them, too. Seeing Ray taking a break was all the invitation they needed to find a spot to sit down.

Ed complained, “Damn, this rock is hot. Burning my butt. Whose idea was it to go directly from the airport to a convenience store to buy water and then go hiking? I need a drink.”

“It was Karl’s idea”, said Frank, between gulps of warm water. “I think he owes us all a beer. If we don’t die first. Not much left in my jug.”

“We’re almost at the top, guys,” said Karl. “Fifteen more minutes, maybe. Then we can go back down to the rental car, turn the AC on, and drive the 5 miles to the hotel. We can shower and change and meet in the hotel bar. I’ll buy the first round.”

“Ready when you guys are,” Ray said, getting up and adjusting his red baseball hat.

“You guys good, Frank and Ed?”, asked Karl.

“Yeah. Let’s go,” said Frank.

Ed simply got up and nodded. 

All four grabbed their jugs of water and started walking up. They made it to the top. They found places to sit down. There wasn’t much conversation. No one was in the mood. They drank more water and took in the view. Karl poured half of his water into the empty jug that Frank was carrying.

Ray stared into the distance.

She would have liked this view. But she would have said that we’re crazy to do this hike in the middle of a summer day in Arizona.

They were all suffering from the heat. Except maybe for Karl. Karl was the oldest, in his 40s, but he was the fittest of the four. He had the body of a distance runner. Thin. Very low body fat. The conditions didn’t impact him as much. The other three looked to him to lead them on the hike. 

After ten minutes, Karl got up, and checked how each of them was doing. Frank and Ed were in better shape than he expected. They had been bitching non-stop since they had restarted the hike.

Karl motioned toward the trail. “Time to go back,” he said, taking the first steps down.

Forty-five minutes later, they were standing outside the Nissan Rogue rental car they had picked up at Sky Harbor Airport, drinking the last of the water. Karl had the air-conditioning running full blast. He had opened the windows trying to get the hot air out of the car.

They got in and drove for a few minutes to get to their hotel. Karl was behind the wheel. Ray was riding shotgun. Frank and Ed were in the back. They complained about how sore their feet were, and how hot and sticky the seats felt behind their sweat-soaked tee-shirts. Their mood improved after they showered, changed, and went to the hotel bar.

“Ah, that’s better,” said Ed, after drinking half of his glass of beer in one big gulp.

Frank followed his example, saying, “I second that motion.”

Karl smiled and said, “Got to stay hydrated in this weather. Remember to drink some water, too.”

“Okay, Dad!”, answered Ed and Frank at the same time.

“Yeah, you old fart. Let the kids have some fun!”, said Ray, laughing, and trying hard not to choke on his beer.

Frank and Ed were in their mid 20s. Both enjoyed being single. To them, multiple lifts of 12-ounce bottles was an upper body workout. They had worked with Ray and Karl for three years and played on the same company softball team. They were on their way to becoming expert at what they did. Karl worried that they would find better paying jobs elsewhere soon, leaving his team short of good people.

The four sat quietly in the cool, almost cold, air of the hotel bar, watching a sports channel and finishing their beers.

“Sushi restaurant for dinner?” asked Ed, looking up from his phone. “This Google search shows three that are nearby.”

Fred agreed, “I could go for some sushi. Something cold to eat in this heat. Raw fish.”

“Works for me, too,” added Ray. “But let me buy a round for you guys before we go. It’s the least I can do after you helped me move last month.” 

“How about you do that tomorrow, Ray?”, suggested Karl. “I’m hungry, and my body clock is telling me it’s 9 o’clock Eastern time.”

An hour later they returned from the restaurant.

“Meet in the lobby at 7:45 in the morning?”, Karl suggested, before they got into the elevator to go to their rooms. “That should give us plenty of time to eat at the breakfast buffet. The training class is only ten minutes away.”

Ray’s fourth floor room was in the front of the hotel. He had trouble falling asleep. Closing the heavy curtain and the blinds didn’t make the room dark enough. He started watching an episode of Law & Order on television. He seemed to always be able find the show when he traveled.

His mind drifted as he started getting sleepy.

Good sushi. Liked the octopus a lot. Menu said it’s called ‘tako’ in Japanese. The sushi chef was good. Big, friendly Hispanic guy. ‘Order of tako coming up. Pickled ginger, no salsa.’, he said when he took the order. Funny. 

Sushi wasn’t her favorite. When she said ‘not her favorite’ about something or someone, it was more like the kiss of death. She was into Mediterranean food. Greek food, mostly. Or Middle Eastern. She had a Greek background on her mother’s side. Her father was half Japanese, but he didn’t like sushi, either. Chinese was more his thing. She was a melting pot baby.

When he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, Ray turned off the television.

Karl walked out of the elevator into the hotel lobby at precisely 7:45. Ray was sitting in an overstuffed chair, flipping pages of USA Today. Frank was reading the news on his phone. Ed was sitting on a couch next to Frank, listening to music on his. Both Frank and Ed had cardboard cups of coffee on the low table in front of them.

“Good morning, guys! Get enough breakfast? Ready to go?”

“What?”, asked Ed, taking off his earbuds.

“Ready to go?”, repeated Karl. “I’m psyched. Let’s have a great day!”

“What did you have for breakfast? Energizer Bunny juice? Tone it down, will you?”, pleaded Ed. “Some of us haven’t had enough caffeine yet.”

“The fitness room is open all night. I did three miles on the treadmill before breakfast. Let’s get in the car and go to the training class. Grab your coffee. Let’s roll!”

The training class was hosted in a classroom on the second floor of a four-story building in an office park. When they entered the room, they were greeted by the instructor. They would be working in groups of two, with each group sharing a table and a laptop. Frank and Ed would be working together. Ray and Karl were split up. Karl went to the front of the room to meet his assigned partner. Ray’s partner was sitting in the back of the room, a couple of tables from Frank and Ed.

“Hi, I’m Ray,” he said, offering his hand as he sat down.

She shook his hand, smiled, and responded, “I’m Chris. Christine. Nice to meet you.”

Ray formed his first impression.

Blonde. Tall. Nice. Smart. Young. Maybe too young for me.

Bright-colored neck tattoo. Hoka running shoes.

Brooks lightweight running jacket. Tech tee-shirt. Khaki hiking shorts.

She’s athletic. At least she dresses like she is.

“You four guys work together?”, asked Chris. “You walked in together.”


“Where? You’re not wearing a name tag with a company name.”

“Avionics company in south Jersey.”

“Been there long?”

“Almost ten years.”

“What do you guys do?”

“Testing. That’s why we’re taking this training.”

“Are you divorced? How old are you? Are you straight?”

It took a couple of seconds for Ray to respond.

Whoa! Direct. Very Direct. Aggressive. Not afraid to offend? 

“Why do you ask?”, Ray answered.

Chris looked him in the eye, and said, “I noticed your ring finger. I can tell you had a wedding ring. And you’re good looking. Just thought I’d check out the facts. You know, just in case. Just in case you’re only pretending to be single.”

Ray chuckled.

I guess first impressions cut both ways.

“I’m 32,” he said. “Got divorce papers at home waiting to be signed.”

“So, you’re straight?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Good,” said Chris.


“Oh, I like men.”

“Good to know,” said Ray.

“What happened? Did you leave her, or did she leave you?”

“Long story.”

“Five-day training class. We have time.”

Persistent. Relentless.

Before the instructor introduced the first topic, Chris blurted out, “I live around here, by the way. Born in Montana. Went to ASU. Graduated two years ago. Work for an aerospace company. I’m single. I live alone. Just wanted to fill you in. You know, just in case. Just in case you’re interested.”

Won’t be a boring week.

The training class was provided by a company that sold hardware and software tools for testing electronic subsystems. The first day introduced the tools, and included basic exercises to be performed by the trainees.  At 3 PM, the instructor assigned the last exercise of the day.

The exercise was easy for Frank and Ed. It took them five minutes. It took Chris and Ray ten. When Karl and his partner finished a couple of minutes later, Karl walked to the back of the room. Frank and Ed joined him. The three of them stood next to Ray’s table. Chris was talking.

“You guys went hiking yesterday? Have you done Camelback yet? It’s close to here.”

“I want to,” answered Karl. “I’ve done it before, five years ago. I’m not sure about these other guys.”

“I’m up for it,” added Ray.

Frank scrunched up his face, threw up his hands, and said, “Eh, why not?”

“Oh, man! It was really hot and dusty, and not a lot of fun yesterday. Do we have to?”, said Ed.

“At 5 o’clock, it’s going to be cooler than it was for you guys yesterday. Should be enough daylight to make it to the top and back if you don’t go too slow,” said Chris.

“Why don’t we talk it over on the drive back to the hotel?”, offered Karl.

“Maybe I’ll see you guys out there. My running group is doing Camelback this evening”, said Chris, picking up her things and starting to leave. 

“People run up these mountains?”, asked Ed.

“Sure. All the time. See you,” she replied, walking out of the room.

When the four men got in the car, they didn’t start talking about hiking right away.

“How are you holding up, Ray?”, asked Frank, sitting behind him.

“Crazy stuff, Ray. We could hear the conversation between you and Chris,” said Ed from his side of the back seat. “It got ... pretty personal. Frank and I kept looking at each other, expecting you to lose it.”

Ray replied, “She's like a breath of fresh air.”

“Sure. Like you get fresh air from an F5 tornado,” said Frank. 

Karl interrupted, asking, “Ed, can we talk about going to Camelback this evening?”

“Not crazy about the idea,” replied Ed. “I can wait in the hotel until you guys get back.”

“Ed, let’s give it a try. If it gets really bad or you really don’t like it, I’ll turn around with you whenever you’d like,” suggested Frank.

“You good with that, Ed?”, asked Karl.

“Yeah, yeah. Sure,” answered Ed.

“Great! Let’s go to the hotel and change. We can stop at that convenience store again for water. Maybe some Gatorade, too,” said Karl. “Ray, can you look up where the trailhead is on your phone?”

They made it to the Cholla trailhead a little after 5. There were more people on the trail than they had seen the day before on Piestewa Peak. Maybe because it was cooler. More than a few of them were runners. Frank and Ed noticed the young women among the runners on the trail.

They hiked together for the first 30 minutes. Then Frank and Ed started to really slow the group down. 

“If we go to the top at this pace, it will be dark way before we get back to the trailhead,” said Karl. “Do you two want to keep going? Or should we all turn around now?”

“Karl, why don’t you and Ray go ahead without us?”, suggested Frank. “Ed and I will figure out what we want to do. Okay with you, Ed?”

“Yeah. I can go a little longer,” answered Ed. “But probably not all the way to the top.”

Karl and Ray picked up the pace and left Frank and Ed behind. Frank and Ed were out of sight when they saw Chris and her running group coming in the other direction. There were six of them. Chris and five other women. They all seemed to be the same age as Chris.

“Hey, Ray and Karl!”, said Chris. “So, you did make it! Frank and Ed decide to stay at the hotel?”

“Frank and Ed are back there on the trail. We decided to split up,” said Ray.

“These are my friends Dana, Fran, Samantha, Joni, and Harriet,” said Chris. “This is Ray and that’s Karl.”

The women waved briefly in response.

“How’s the run?”, asked Karl,” I’ve never run a trail like this one.”

“Hard. But we’re used to it. Have to walk parts of it”, answered Dana.

“Sorry, we need to go. We want to get to the top,” said Ray.

“Okay, see you tomorrow!”, replied Chris as she and her friends started running again.

Karl and Ray sat down and rested when they got to the top. Karl got a text from Frank saying that he and Ed were returning to the trailhead.

“Great view,” commented Ray.

“Yeah,” said Karl. “You like your training partner?”

“She’s fun.”

“Why don’t you ask Chris out for dinner? Use the car.”

“Thought about it. But no.”

“I’m worried about you, buddy. Sign the papers yet? She’s not coming back, you know.”

“I know, I know. Time to move on.”

“Anything I can do?”

“Can you be my witness when I sign?”

“Sure,” answered Karl. “No problem.” Then looking at his watch, he said, “we should go down.”

They made it to the trailhead before dark.  Frank and Ed were waving to two women in running gear. 

“Make it to the top?”, asked Frank, as they made their way back to the car.

“Yep,” said Karl.

“How was it?”, asked Ed.

“Tough,” answered Ray.

“You two doing okay?” asked Karl, looking at Frank and Ed.

“We’re good,” said Frank. “Met some girls.”

“Can we come back tomorrow?”, asked Ed.

“Seriously?”, said Karl. “What do you think, Ray?”.

“Yeah, I can make it back up.”

January 20, 2023 04:15

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Eileen Turner
01:04 Jan 22, 2023

Nicely written metaphor about starting over and facing the work it takes.


Conrado Maher
05:34 Jan 22, 2023

Thank you.


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Aeris Walker
12:36 Jan 29, 2023

Enjoyed your story, Conrado. This line made me laugh: Ray replied, “She's like a breath of fresh air.” “Sure. Like you get fresh air from an F5 tornado,” said Frank.


Conrado Maher
19:30 Jan 29, 2023

Thanks, Aeris. I had fun writing this story. Glad that part made you laugh. Imagining the situation and what Frank would say to Ray made me chuckle, too.


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Jack Kimball
16:56 Jan 24, 2023

Hi Conrado. I like your story because it seems true, autobiographical even? I especially liked where you transition, smoothly btw, into the mind of Ray. It would have been interesting to get deeper into his head. Too young for you but why? What if you made the "too young" mistake? What would happen? Trouble of course but it would be interesting to hear Ray get in trouble trying. Why would "she" think you're crazy? Oh, yea... I'm an ASU grad and have hiked Camelback in '75... on mushrooms! Best. Jack Ray closed his eyes. She would have...


Conrado Maher
19:52 Jan 24, 2023

Thanks, Jack. The basis / inspiration for the story was a training trip to Phoenix with 3 other guys (quite a while ago). I think that maybe Ray could have asked Christine out ... and then they might have dealt with the awkwardness of being training partners the next day in some interesting (and blunt, from Christine) dialogue. In the real-life situation that this story was based on, it was more a case of not knowing what to do. Can you ask someone out when you don't have your own transportation (yet)? Is it cool to dump your work friends...


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