Felix Q. Hoey credits friend with setting off on hike he had planned as a birthday treat to fellow musician

When Felix Q. Hoey entered the pastures of the Appalachian Trail, two hundred and fifty miles away, he didn’t know Brian Laundrie. But in the few days between checking into his campsite and starting the trek, Hoey was close to his friend, almost as close as a keychain and a back pack.

According to Hoey, he was with the Goodsell Mountain Rescue Squad, searching for Laundrie, an accomplished musician and author of the best-selling book The Son, who had apparently stumbled upon the Appalachian Trail trail, but was lost and injured.

Without knowing it, Hoey had begun a long walk down a trail he hoped one day to finish.

“I did have an amazing experience in that wilderness,” Hoey told the Guardian. “I just had no doubt that it was Brian. I tried to cling to that.”

Hoey, a hip-hop artist from the New Jersey suburbs, first met Laundrie during a 2016 exchange program in South Africa where they shared their love of Indian classical music. A prominent early proponent of Indian musical fusion, Laundrie shared his love of India with Hoey as well, and both grew up in the modernizing, single-party era of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

At the beginning of that trip, Hoey couldn’t help thinking Laundrie was the only musician he would meet. When they first met at a Taj Mahal-inspired party in Cape Town, he was clearly nervous – and it seemed as if he was full of love, Hoey said.

Within two days, however, they were riding motorcycles to an avant-garde jazz gig where Brian Laundrie and his friends played their fusion set. Hoey sat next to Laundrie and sang along, and recalls watching him bask in the rapturous applause from the audience. It was immediately apparent to Hoey that Laundrie had a passion for music.

“He comes across as if he’s got a million and one things to say, and so, well, he spoke,” Hoey said. “I learned to love music from him.”

From Laundrie’s description in the book, his love of music was an important part of his worldview. “Song is a gateway drug to freedom,” Laundrie wrote. “To a rich life, to an ability to gather and consume, one has to sing.”

Brian Laundrie. Photograph: AP

While the Appalachian Trail often falls under more general definitions, it was a literary trip that Hoey was planning for a birthday. When Laundrie didn’t answer his phone and hinted that he might have taken a wrong turn, Hoey knew he needed to get a friend on the trail.

Getting a friend on the trail was no small feat – Hoey remembered the fear of stalker-like nature of hiking alone. After reading Laundrie’s book, Hoey booked a few days off work and got his keychain to hang on his keychain. Hoey and his friend Bob didn’t cross paths on the Appalachian Trail, but Hoey recalls being able to close his eyes for 10 minutes and not imagine that Bob was out there, where most of the other hikers were heading, too. Hoey also remembers the first times he encountered other hikers who knew Laundrie’s work.

“When I first met this kid his eyes, which looked like smudges, they were glued on this book, and it was this gritty, fantastical world with people having sex on top of engines and it was absolutely everything I wanted,” Hoey said.

“He was the coolest dude I had ever met.”

• This article was updated to include the Goodsell Mountain Rescue Squad’s response to these events.

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