The day of the naked hike.

October 1st, 2000

Sleepy. Was up all night studying.

Well, I say studying. It’s hard to focus on stuff when Ralph’s around. He knows it, too.

Right. Sleepy. Was up all night; spent five minutes studying and the rest of the night doing things with three hundred pounds of pig meat it’s not even proper to hint at in polite company.

So much better to just be honest, right?

Still, sleepy. It’s ten a.m. and Ralph’s supposed to take me hiking today.

He’s got the energy of his weight in plutonium. He’s banging around in his room as he packs. I think I’ll nap a bit.

I woke up wrapped in a blanket, riding in the back of Ralph’s pickup.

Also, naked.

I banged on the back window and opened it up.

“Hey, I’m driving here!” he said.

“Ralph, where’s my clothes?”

“Clothes? Where we’re going, we don’t need… clothes.”

“What, but—”

“Hold on.” He pulled over by an overpass and let me get in the cab with him. I tried to keep the blanket around me; Ralph was driving in the buff, as naturally as if he had been born that way.

“Dangit, Ralph, you can’t just pull this kind of thing on me without telling me.”

“What, and ruin the surprise? Besides, I didn’t think of it till I had loaded you in the truck.”

“You’re a psychopath,” I said.

He laughed and grabbed a corner of my blanket, pulled it all off at once, and flung it out the window.

We drove way out into the mountains before stopping again. I still wasn’t too keen on what I’d been roped into, but at least it was a beautiful day; clear skies through the trees, and warm enough that Ralph didn’t seem uncomfortable.

Of course, by the mad grin on his face I’m sure he would’ve been up for this mid-winter.


The trail head was obscure and not marked by much other than a gravel-covered space for parking, which Ralph’s truck pretty much obliterated.
He grabbed his backpack from the truck bed and put it on, yelling at me to get out of the car.

I crossed my arms and held my ground. He came around to my door and pulled it open.

“Come on, buddy.”

“Ralph,” I said, “You know I usually don’t mind this stuff you come up with, but… this is way too public, hey?”

He laughed at me, and pointed at the trail. “This is a forest,” he said, then pointed to the road. “Now this, this here is public.”

A car drove by, and he waved at it cheerfully. It honked back.

“Now come on, buddy,” he said, pulling me out. Let’s see how good this famous tiger camouflage hides you.”

And really, I couldn’t do anything else but follow him.

About an hour up the trail I was sweating heavy and begging to stop.

Ralph and I sat on a rock by the trail, and he passed me a bottle of water from his pack.

“Do we ever stop going uphill?” I said.

“Not till we get to the end, buddy,” he said. “This is Green Frog Mountain we’re going up.”

“Mountain?” I said, raising my arm to my forehead and falling on my back in a mock faint. “Ra-alph…”

He lay down next to me, his body so warm against mine. The strong smell of sweaty pig made my stomach rumble. I shut my eyes. The wind was rustling through the trees, and it felt nice and cool. It also brought another sound that ruined my restful moment: other hikers.

I jumped behind the rock, hiding myself from the trail. Ralph didn’t seem to have heard them. “Dude,” I said, “People are coming!”

He sat up slowly and stretched, and I saw a pair of hikers coming around a bend in the trail.

Ralph just lay on his back as the hikers approached, laughing to himself—about me, I was sure.

They didn’t stop to look at him as they passed, but he rolled over to face them and gave them his manliest oink. When they had passed out of sight, he rolled back over to the edge of the rock and looked down at me.

“I love you,” he said.

I kissed him.

“Come on,” he said, patting my belly and getting up. “We’re about halfway there, and I want to get up to the top with time before sunset.”

At the top of the mountain there was a level place, with sycamore all along one side and a view of the Cawhee valley on the other, where the sun was going down.

I sat by Ralph and he leaned in with an arm around me, watching the bland yellow sunset.

“Well, tiger,” he said, “What do you think?”

I thought about it.

“I could have stayed home… I miss my comfort zone…”

He bit my ear. “You’re so tame,” he said. “More like a housecat than a tiger.”


“No,” he said. “I’m serious. What do you think I brought you out here for? A second-rate sunset and an infestation of fleas? I wanted to explore life, and I wanted you with me.”

“But I didn’t want…”

I didn’t finish the sentence. Ralph was getting to his feet. He moved like he was angry but he seemed to be trying to keep it down.

“I know,” he said, a bit sadly. “Let’s go home, tiger. I’m tired.”

The hike down was silent. I was afraid I’d crossed a line with him; his footsteps were heavy and he never took his eyes off the path.

I tried to remember what it was like to be him, for some clue on what to do, as the sky darkened with oncoming night and storm.

When I found the answer I almost didn’t understand it. It was a very clear signal from that overflowing memory box in my head that was everything I knew about Ralph, but it was one of those fundamental things that makes one person different from another. Well, it was two things.

First was that, because he loved me, he saw our differences as a problem in himself. The reasoning, as far as I could tell, was that if he loved me, he’d change to match me. But he both loved me and didn’t want to be like me.

The second was that he was lonely with me. The same part of him that let him open up to me, that let him act, around me, as though no one was watching—that same part of him failed to register me as someone providing companionship.

The rest of the way down, I thought about how to make things better.

“Ralph,” I said, as we arrived at his truck. “I wanna make it up to you. Tomorrow.”

“Hmm?” he said, frowning, as he started up the truck. Rain was beginning to fall, and it passed, over the space of a few seconds, from a sprinkle to a downpour the windshield wipers couldn’t keep back.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “Another adventure. But on my terms. How’s a burger-eating contest at K.R.’s sound?”

He laughed, and then kissed me. “You’re on,” he said.

Even with the rain, we rolled the windows down; the heat was stifling and the AC broken. I stuck my dusty feet out the window and let the storm wash them, and I slept that way, leaning against my Ralph, the whole way home.

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