A friend and I were hiking along a Duluth trail the other day, talking all the way. This is typical of what my friends and I do. We never gather over coffee. We rarely go out just to have a beer. Most of the time, we move and we talk. We walk and talk. We bike and talk. We paddle and talk. We ski and talk.

We value the moving. It's just who we are and, in many cases we first came to know each other through an activity that involved movement. The moving seems to stimulate good thinking and good conversation. While we believe in burning of calories and maintaining some level of conditioning, I realize that what I value equally - or perhaps even more - are the conversations we have as we move along. It's hard to beat a healthy exchange of observations and feelings among friends who share decades of history.

To be sure, a lot of folks have the same kind of conversations over a glass of wine or a good dinner. We've had the same kind of discussions around campfires and at hunting camps, too. But those occasions come around a lot less often than our regular rambles in the woods closer to home.

Here is the heart of what often happens in these moving conversations with friends: We come away once more realizing that we all have much in common. Our hopes, our fears, our personal dilemmas - they are not unique. Our issues with partners in marriage or in life - quite common. Our concerns and joys over our kids - we are not alone. Our worries over careers or health? Join the club.

I didn't see this coming - this deep gratitude for these longtime friendships. Originally, most of us came together through common activities. We skied together or trained for marathons together. We made hunting trips and fishing trips and wilderness canoe trips together.

And over the years, those friendships deepened. We continue to take part in most of the activities that brought us together, but our bonds grew beyond our pastimes. We have pulled each other through tough times and scary times.

Not surprisingly, we have developed a deep sense of trust in each other. We can unveil our deepest insecurities. We can share our most painful regrets. We know, in doing so, we will not be judged.

Above all, we value the honesty in these relationships. None of us would simply tell another what he wants to hear. We can count on a careful reading of any situation we share and a candid response. Sometimes, all we need is someone to listen.

All of these friendships work two ways. Each of us knows when it's our time to be the advocate, the consoler, the sounding board. Each of us knows others will be ready when we need them.

Of course, my longest-running friendship in life happens to be with the woman I married. That relationship began in high school biology class. Even then, movement was a catalyst to conversation. Every day in high school, over the lunch hour, we would walk to school lunch three blocks away at the grade school, chatting along the way.

Maybe I was in training and just didn't know it.


Sam Cook is a freelance columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCook.