It’s not too often you meet someone that’ll change your life forever. Sure, chaos theory would state that everyone and everything we come in contact with will change our lives, but this was clearly different. "Different" is often "scary," but in this instance, it turned out to be anything but. Funky Brett was an exception, because he was the coolest "different" I’d ever experienced.
I’d gotten a wild hair, a rarity for someone of my upbringing. The order of the suburbs almost conditions someone to expect and strive for order. Impulses are controlled in favor cool, calm calculation. People who relied on whims and the vagueness of "fate" to direct their lives scared the living hell out of someone like me. How was one to know to trust fate? How was one to know to trust the undefined universality of feeling? You can trust plans, trust preparation, trust yourself. The other stuff seemed way too out-there to be trusted.
And then I met Funky Brett. I’d decided to dust off my old hiking pack, grab some food and use an extended holiday weekend to explore the NorCal wilderness, bucking a long trip home to see family. I was seeking some kind of balance, a reconnection with my soul because I knew I desperately needed it. So, I geared up and headed out in a rare act of boldness. About four-and-a-half miles up the canyon trail, I stopped at an overlook where you could still see the ocean in the distance by looking back down the ridges I’d just hiked.
“Isn’t she beautiful, man?” I heard from behind me as I was taking in the scenery and noticing the pungent smell of real, fresh, pure air, not that generic city garbage I was usually forced to breathe.
Startled, I swung around, nearly letting my pack take me over in an partnership with gravity to pull me 850-feet to the bottom of the ravine. Brett grabbed my arm,“Whoa there! Easy. Easy.”
“Oh, yeah, thanks. Guess I almost lost it all right there. I didn’t see you behind me,” I said to the strange man in a tattered orange, yellow and black wool sweater, his gotee more that of the beard variety, his long, dirty blonde hair pulled back. I made eye contact as I thanked him and had never seen eyes that green.
“No problem, hate to see you go for spill right here! Kinda place you only do it once. You new up here? Those boots are pretty clean, man,” he said, pointing at my feet.
“It’s my first time up here. I haven’t really camped in a long time. These are my roommate’s hiking boots. He never uses them so I borrowed them. They don’t fit real well, but I read that you’re supposed to wear hiking boots,” I replied.
Brett pointed to his sandaled feet, covered in dirt and callouses. “Lotta things you’re supposed to do. Too damn many if you ask me. Where you laying your head tonight?”
“Laying my head? I, uh -“
“Making camp? Settin’ up shop? You know, living?” he clarified.
“Oh, I think I’ll make it up to Salt Creek before the end of daylight. My trail guide recommended that campground,” I said, trying to come across as confident and not sound like a total rookie to the woods, which, in retrospect, I probably failed miserably at.
“Bullshit. You’ll sleep at Barlow with us. We got room for one more,” Brett said with a kind of stunning certainty. He clearly wasn’t expecting to be told ‘no.’
“Barlow? Where’s that? It’s not on my trail guide. How far? These blisters are killing my feet,” I stammered.
Brett grabbed a pair of extra-thick wool socks from his nearby pack, tossed 'em to me and told me to instal them for extra padding in my roomie’s too-big-for-me hiking boots. As soon as I’d laced up, he said, “Let’s go, we got a long hike ahead.” He put his head down and immediately started to pull away from me. I had to nearly jog to keep up. After about 45 minutes of me trying my damnedest to keep up with a man at least 20 years older than me, we stopped off at another vista to rehydrate and take in the bare peaks we were drawing nearer to as we climbed steadily upwards.
After a long silence where I was just trying to catch my breath, Brett interrupted the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and said, “You know why I love nature? Because there are no rules out here, man. Nothing. It’s all just life. Unencumbered life. No order. Just life jutting out in every direction imaginable. People are part of life, we just prefer to pretend we’re not, I suppose. It’s us who’s missing out.”
“Um, I guess you might be right about that,” I replied, dumbfounded at the truth and beauty that had just been exposed to me.
“Might? Hell man, it’s definitely true of most people. But not us! Look at what we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with,” Brett said, motioning to the incredible view before us. “You good? Let’s hit it, this trail’s not gonna hike itself.” Before I could respond, Funky Brett was back on the path, hustling upward and onward.
The rest of the way, I just listened to his thoughts on society, nature, wilderness, life, love, death and true beauty. I said little and just took it in. We passed Salt Creek Campground as the light was fading, put on our headlamps and kept moving. Another hour up the trail, he stopped suddenly, pushed some brush aside and revealed what looked like a deer trail. “This way to Barlow,” he motioned. We manuevered a steep ascent of unimproved trail, my legs begging me to stop but my heart not wanting to lose Brett, especially in the dark for fear of being truly lost.
About 400-feet below laid a flat clearing between some 500-year old cedars the size of skyscrapers. There were two tents already set up and a small campfire crackling in the dark. We hit the clearing and I dropped my pack immediately, dying to get the 50-pounds off of my back. Three other campers were around the campfire and greeted us with hugs. I was so sweaty I couldn’t imagine someone wanting to come in contact with me, but they all gave me big, warm embraces, something I never did with strangers.
“This here is Crooked Steve, this is Eric and his old lady Apple,” he said motioning clockwise around the fire. “I’m Funky Brett. Well, Brett technically, but these guys call me Funk most of the time.”
We exchanged pleasantries, Funky Brett and I set up camp, then we settled in with the others. Eric made the short trip to the creek and returned with five ice-cold bottles of beer just pulled out of the creek. “Just a little something Crooked and I put together. Hope you like it,” he said. Just old enough to legally drink, a beer sounded incredible after the day we’d put in on the trail. I cracked the lid and couldn’t believe the taste that hit my lips.
Elder Brett: Saison-Brett Golden Ale
Exponential Series collaboration between Epic Brewing and Crooked Stave Brewery
- Appearance: a pale yellow/orange with a light, fluffy head that disappated quickly (3.5)
- Smell: sweet and tart scents from the wine casks, almost like an grape/apple/pear combination mixed with the funk of the brett yeast (4.5)
- Taste: foreshadowed well from the smell, it's a combination of sweetness, tartness, oak and funky brett yeast. An amazing mash-up of unique characteristics (4.5)
- Mouthfeel: crisp, light-bodied and finishes with a nice touch of funk (4)
- Overall: a really unique brew, totally tasty, benefits from oak aging and brett yeast, yet keeps characteristics consistent with most farmhouse ales (4.25)
We told stories all night, gazed at the stars and stayed warm around the campfire as the temperature started to plummet. The perspectives offered by my new friends couldn’t have been any different than those I’d grown up accustomed to. But they made so much sense that by the end of the night, and two more beers, I couldn’t believe I’d boughten into everything I had been told all along. As I turned in to my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag, I couldn’t sleep. I had a million questions, questions I’d never asked before. Everything seemed different, but exciting. It was like there was a whole other world out there for me that I’d never tasted. It was unique, it was strange,it was unpredictable, but it was so intriguing that I had to know more.
Eric and Apple headed out of camp the next morning to find some old settler’s ruins that were rumored to be up some unnamed creek. Crooked Steve, Funky Brett and I hiked another four miles to some secluded hot springs for the most pleasant soak of my life. Sitting there, surrounded by the wilderness as the river rushed by, listening to the wind talk through the ancient cedars, I felt a moment of calm clarity that I’d never known. Right then and there, I knew my life would never be the same, and truth be told, it hasn’t. Instead, it’s been more beautiful than I could ever have imagined, all thanks to Funky Brett.