News of the loss of a good friend reached me today. Ryan B. Squires passed away three years ago on this date, but it has taken until today for this sad and surprising realization to hit me. And it knocked the wind out of me. For the past few years, I thought we had simply been out of touch and assumed that we would reconnect one day. Now, however, I mourn the loss of a good friend I hardly knew.
I only knew Ryan for a short time, but I very much liked him.
I met Ryan, and his sister, Devan, in August of 2012. Like I was, they were backpacking the Wonderland Trail, a 94-mile route that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. We were not hiking together, but as luck would have it, on August 6th, we each had permits to stay at the Maple Creek backcountry camp. Once we had prepared our respective sites, we ended up by the creek for a lazy afternoon resting, eating, and reading. We struck up a conversation, made small talk, and discovered we again had the same destination for the following day—Indian Bar Camp.
The next morning, I hit the trail early and arrived at Indian Bar in the early afternoon. A little while later, Ryan and Devan arrived to discover the remaining tent site was snow-covered and wet. Indian Bar Camp includes a “group site” with a small stone shelter and sufficient space for several tents. But on this date, the group site was occupied by a solo hiker, a woman who said she valued her solitude and refused to share the site.
Ryan was a little annoyed at the group site occupant, but I am grateful to her. As a result of her possessiveness, Ryan came to me and asked if he and Devan might set up on the edge of my site. Although my site was tiny, there was room to squeeze in two small tents. After a little juggling, the three of us shared the site and enjoyed good conversation all evening and over breakfast the next morning.
One of the many topics we discussed was hiking and fitness. Ryan explained how he had recently lost some weight and was enjoying an improved overall sense of fitness, evidenced by his ability to take on the physically challenging Wonderland Trail. I learned from Ryan the adage that “weight loss occurs in the kitchen; fitness occurs in the gym.” That struck a chord with me and I have quoted Ryan many times. I frequently draw motivational strength from Ryan’s words of wisdom, e.g., when deciding if I should have that second serving or if I should get up and go for a run on a cold and gray day.
After breakfast that morning at Indian Bar, we exchanged email and social media contact information. Then I hit the trail, ahead of Ryan and Devan. I was off to Summerland Camp. A little later, my new friends headed the same way, but they hiked beyond Summerland and finished the WT later that day. So, that was the last time I saw either Ryan or Devan. But thanks to the modern age of Internet, it was not the end of our friendship.
Upon arriving home, I connected on Facebook and Twitter with each of them. For a brief period, I interacted frequently with Ryan and it was clear we shared many values and saw eye-to-eye on most subjects, including good music (Pink Floyd, especially), computers, politics, religion, and rationality, to name a few of the biggies. But after a couple months, for reasons I don’t know, Ryan said he planned to reduce his social media presence. So, while I missed interacting with him, I did not find his absence concerning. Plus, I regularly interacted—and continue to interact—with Devan via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (BTW, Devan is an incredible adventurer who frequently posts wonderful photographs that leave me sometimes a little envious and always a lot grateful.)
From time to time, over the past year, I’ve found myself thinking about Ryan and wondering what he’s been up to. Tonight, I decided to track him down, just to say ‘Hi’. My heart sank a little and I developed a sense of dread when, upon visiting Ryan’s Facebook page, the recent posts were from other friends say how they missed Ryan. I was hoping he’d moved to an exotic land. But before long, I discovered an obituary.
As it turns out, Ryan passed away on December 20, 2012. Just four months after we shared a couple of days and nights, some meals, a backcountry campsite, lots of stories, plenty of laughs, perfect weather, and some spectacular views, all in the wonderful Mt. Rainier backcountry.
So, mixed in with my sense of sadness, I also feel gratitude for having met both Ryan and Devan. It’s unfortunate that Ryan passed away so young, but he will live on in my memory. I wish we had had more time to further develop our friendship.
Although I really hardly knew Ryan, I considered him my friend. I miss him. But when I think of him, I smile.