|EVERY YEAR, my three brothers and I have our own summer and winter Olympics. At Christmas we have a pull-up contest (an exercise in pain and debilitation left over from our years as gymnasts), a Ping-Pong championship (an activity that requires technique and concentration as opposed to brute strength), and a chess tournament (to dilute the 30-weight testosterone). In summer, come hell or high water—accident, bankruptcy, children, divorce, name your picayune excuse—we do an adventure together. It's our opportunity to be back together as brothers, not to mention a chance to revert to our natural state: drinking, cursing, striving, farting, chiding, deriding, spitting, bragging, barfing.
The winter competitions, held as they are in the presence of our spouses, our parents, our two sisters, various children, and other civilized humans sharing holiday cheer, never de- volve into sex jokes and debauchery. Not so the summer adventure.
An anthropologist might categorize our ritualized behavior as a primitive form of male bonding. A leery feminist, in accordance with good taste, would characterize it as ridiculous machismo. Whatever. There's one thing we know: Before we became responsible adults, before we were husbands and fathers, we were brothers. Before all the women who came before our wives or our exes, we were brothers. Before we became what we are, way back when we were chicken-legged prairie boys being knocked around by the Wyoming wind, we were brothers.
Which is not to say that we turned out anything alike. Christopher, the youngest, is single and a documentary filmmaker in San Francisco. He wears a ponytail and an earring and listens to bands with names like Giraffe Entrails. Dan is married and the goateed father of two baby girls; he works as an estimator in the construction business. He lives in Colorado Springs and commutes on a BMW Paris-Dakar motorcycle. Steve—blond, tan, and divorced, with an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old—owns his own headhunting firm in Denver, loves country music, and may be the best two-stepper in the city. I live in Wyoming and work in the basement of an old house full of young females—wife, two daughters, and a chocolate Lab—in a book-lined scriptorium.
Still, we grew up cheek to ruddy cheek and share the same blood and the same last name. Steve and I, "the big brothers," slept in one bedroom; Dan and Chris, "the little brothers," in the other; all of us wrestling and roughhousing, banging against the walls until we were ordered to take it outside, whereupon we would tumble into the snow or the dirt. We rode our bikes through winter, worked on ranches in summer. We had the last outdoor childhood in America, and it branded us. None of us bowl. None of us play cards. None of us golf. We're so barbaric we don't even know who won the World Series or the Super Bowl. We have other vices. Chris is a cliff diver, Dan is a kickboxer, Steve is a cyclist, I climb mountains.
For the past few years our annual misadventure has been a mountain-biking/camping trip to the desert, from which we unavoidably return scraped, bruised, sunburned, badly hungover, and as happy as four boys who've just played hooky. This year time was too tight for all of us, threatening our first cancellation, but we refused to forgo tradition. Steve sent out an e-mail: "What about skydiving? Cheap thrills if you ignore the money." Two weeks later, on the weekend Chris turned 30 and Steve turned 40, we were all, once again, together.