A hiking group and a lifeline

This newsletter may be called “Mostly Water”, but it’s not all water all the time. This week’s essay is merely water-adjacent. It’s the latest in what has now become a series of essays celebrating community.

It was a year or two after coming to the island that a neighbor persuaded me to join the local mens’ hiking group, the Sons of the Beach, or SOBs for short. There’s a story behind the name of course. There had been for a while a group called Ladies of the Beach, who would walk the beaches and coastal roads of the island. When a few gentlemen asked to join the ladies group, their request was politely declined, and they decided to start their own group. While several names were proposed, Sons of the Beach, and its acronym SOBs, rose to the top and stuck.

As the name suggests, the group’s early hikes were mostly on the beach, including a circumnavigation of the island in stages. Hikes these days are more varied. Although during the winter most hikes are on the island, in the summer we’ll venture out into the North Cascades or Olympic Peninsula for some of Washington’s classic mountain hikes. It’s worth mentioning that Washington has an extraordinary volunteer organization called the Washington Trails Association that, in their words, “mobilizes hikers and everyone who loves the outdoors to explore, steward and champion trails and public lands.” Through trail maintenance, trail descriptions, trip reports, and more, they truly facilitate our ability to get out there.

Each week someone will post a hike. Anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen and a half of us will carpool to the trailhead and hike anywhere from five to ten miles. We look out for each other on the trail. Here’s an example.

One of my first hikes with the group was ten years ago. On July 17th of that year – my 14th wedding anniversary – about a dozen of us set off to hike Mt Sawyer. Tonga Ridge / Mount Sawyer — Washington Trails Association ( I rode with a couple of neighbors. We enjoyed the usual banter on the drive to the trail head. I joked “Today is my wife’s wedding anniversary”. Karma, while not instant, was prompt.

It was foggy as we set out, but cleared on the way up. As it was early in the season, we found some snow patches as we approached the summit.

Most were content to have lunch near one of the snow patches, but I wanted to see the true summit. The trail up to the summit was narrow with rhododendron bushes on both sides. I borrowed a pair of poles to help navigate the snow patches. I made it to the summit OK.

On the way down wading through the bushes I could barely see my feet or where I was stepping. The poles were in the way and I had to hold them up above the bushes. My left foot stepped on a rock or root and my left ankle rolled to the outside. I instinctively put my right foot down to take to load. The trail was cut into a hillside. My right foot missed the edge of the trail and slid down the slope, leaving all my weight on my bent left ankle. I heard a snap like a twig breaking. It was my ankle. 

I struggled to my feet. I noticed that when I turned my left leg my foot did not turn with it. I figured this might be a problem. One of the car pool neighbors was Bob, a retired orthopedic surgeon. I scrambled, mostly on my butt, back down to the lunch spot where folks were packing up and heading out. Fortunately Bob was still there. “Hey Bob, I might have done something to my ankle”. He diagnosed it on the spot as a Weber B fracture.

“Anyone have any tape?” Bob called out. Someone did. Bob taped up my ankle in a way that stabilized it enough that I could hike out. On a taped up broken ankle, and with my borrowed poles, I headed down the mountain with Bob behind me calling out “Slow down, you’re going too fast!” We made it the three miles down to the car, and with me installed with my leg across the back seat, John driving and Bob riding shotgun, we headed down the dirt road.

On the way back, we detoured towards Seattle. As we passed under an overhead sign that read “Seattle 45 minutes”, he called his former partner to secure an after hours appointment, telling him “we’ll be there in 15 minutes”. An hour later, I limped out of the elevator to see the surgeon, nurse, and x-ray tech waiting for me. Now that’s concierge service!

In a nod to the newsletter title, I’ll mention that many of our hikes include waterfalls or lakes, and that I’ve taken to going for a dip, even in Iceberg Lake near Mount Baker.

By tradition, we stop at a watering hole on the way home. An alternative expansion of SOBs is “Seekers of Beer!” The car pool, the ferry ride if we’re headed off island, and the post hike beer stop are as important as the hike itself. There are rituals, nicknames, sports rivalries, and an endless supply of yarns, some of which are true. Our professional backgrounds include surgeon, lawyer, engineer, and electrician. Our activities now include baking, brewing, woodworking, music, and writing. Many of us are active as volunteers and in other community groups. Occasionally one of us will host the post hike gathering. Today, our host provided home brewed beer, including a tasty IPA made with hops from my back yard. Others brought offerings ranging from home baked bread to a Jello salad inspired by a childhood as a preacher’s son.

We’re an older bunch, most of us retired. In an age where it seems so many men have few, if any, close male friends, this group is a lifeline. We’ve helped each other through illnesses, including four cases of prostate cancer alone in the past few years, injuries, joint replacements, spousal illnesses, from cancer to dementia, several bereavements, and a divorce. We’re keeping each other alive.

Some say we’re a beer drinking group pretending to be a hiking group, but really we’re a support group pretending to be a beer drinking group pretending to be a hiking group. Our wives are supportive, not only because we’re out of the house on Wednesdays, but also because it makes us better husbands; better men.

I went to all boys schools throughout. I’ll maybe share the details in another post some day, but the overall experience has led me to prefer female company and to have predominantly women friends. I’ve been slow to warm to male friendship. Maybe it’s working better now because we’re older and testosterone levels are lower. Maybe we all realize that we need it.

Thank you for reading Mostly Water. This post is public so feel free to share it.


I’d love to hear about your official and unofficial support groups. Who is keeping you alive? Please share this post with your friends and join me in the comments.

6 thoughts on “SOBs

  1. It’s interesting that online interaction is derided as isolating, but for many who for whatever reason lack the opportunity to build a community in “real life”, online communities can be really important. I have an online community of practice in addition to my in-person groups.

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