Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week she talks with a group of friends who have been going on monthly hikes for 25 years. They discuss why the hike organizer has absolute authority, how they’ve shown up for one another through tragedies, and why hiking together has bonded them more deeply than other ways of keeping in touch.
Bo Brill, 63, a retired engineer who lives in Annapolis, Maryland
Rodney FOLLIn, 65, a retired local-government employee who lives in Fairfax Station, Virginia
Jim Gillespie, 63, a children’s behavioral-health services manager who lives in Fairfax, Virginia
Will Smith, 53, a budget manager at the National Science Foundation who lives in Linden, Tennessee
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Julie Beck: Give me the prologue of your friendship before your monthly hikes.
Jim Gillespie: Rodney and Bo and I met at the University of Virginia, where we were fraternity brothers. For a decade and a half afterwards we got together, had parties, and followed UVA sports. Rodney and I worked together for a long period of time and got to know each other better through that. Will was my neighbor—we had young children at the same time, and our wives were both stay-at-home moms for a while. This hiking thing came together in 1995. At first it was Bo, Rodney, and I and our fellow friend and fraternity brother, Tom Shaffer. Tom passed away in 1998.