Bandito expressed interest in visiting the top of Siler Bald before we left. Although the nearby summit was said to offer panoramic views so breathtaking as to cause spontaneous and involuntary orgasms, it required going four tenths of a mile out of our way. I would not be going.
The Boy Scouts were in an especially chipper mood that morning, with some boasting of their intentions to do twenty miles. The Scouts apparently needed to hike twenty miles in one day in order to qualify for some hyper-exclusive and prestigious merit badge. For some, obtaining this merit badge was their only reason for even being out there. Sadly, and to their and my eternal disappointment, that day would not be their day.
Bandito, Jason and I came to a tacit, extremely unspoken agreement to meet at the Wayah Bald observation tower for lunch, and so all set out at different times. The morning hike was pleasant enough. I met an older north bounder just after Wayah Gap. He said his name was Dubois, his raspy voice and breakneck pace betraying either a wealth of backwoods experience or a lively cocaine addiction. He was in fantastic shape for a man who looked to be in his early 70's. He might have been the paragon of geriatric fitness except for the ubiquitous cigarette hanging from his mouth.
"What's your name again?" he asked me, apparently under the misapprehension that we'd met before.
"M.C.," I said, figuring Major Chafage would require too much explanation.
"Hemp Seed?" he asked, intrigued. Was he deaf? He was.
"M.C.!" I shouted, frustrated. "M.C., it stands for Major Chafage!"
"Major what?" He didn't seem to understand. I politely excused myself and hurried off before he could ask me if I was holding.
Wayah Bald is a 5,340' joke of a mountain that has continuous road access nearly to the summit. Despite that annoyance, it did have bathrooms and a nice observation tower at the top, which made it a perfect place to relax and eat lunch. I met a couple of the Boy Scouts lounging about. One was even nice enough to give me a bag of dried apples. I couldn't believe my good fortune, but quickly discovered why he was so eager to be rid of them. The flatulence was unbelievable.
Our group slowly gathered and then dispersed there on the summit. Some people would arrive just as others were leaving. Jason took an extended break to bask in the sun with his shirt off. Dubois joined him, seemingly gleeful at the prospects of some shirtless male bonding. It was a little creepy, and I worried for Jason, but ultimately decided not to intervene on his behalf. Courtesy of half a pound of dried apples, I had some severe gastrointestinal distress to worry about, and figured it was best to just move on and leave the company of other people for a while.
The Cold Spring Shelter was a hoot. It was tiny, in disrepair, and nearly overrun with mice. Someone found a desperately sleazy Harlequin Romance novel inside, apparently forgotten by some forlorn hiker. It wasn't long before the book, called The Devil's Punchbowl, was being passed from person to person, with each taking a turn to read a section aloud. Somehow, I ended up being the preferred narrator, and was pressed by the Boy Scouts and a recently arrived Jason to give exuberant readings to some particularly disgraceful and turgid love scenes. Disgusted, we turned the book into kindling shortly thereafter, along with another discarded book about trees or something. The old paperbacks made for splendid fire starters.
Only four of the Boy Scouts were brave enough to occupy the shelter that night, leaving the rest of us to camp up on the ridge-line where we would have a stunning view of the sunrise. I ate my Knorr Pasta Side by the shelter, cleaned out my cook pot, and then hiked up the hill to where we had set up our tents. I found Freeman eating some sort of homemade mexican beans and rice, with a whole, ripe avocado. I felt like crying. I had just finished stuffing my face with instant, tasteless chemicals with a side of carcinogens, and there Freeman was eating a ripe avocado. I didn't even know such things were possible on the trail.
The Boy Scouts made another fire for everybody tenting on the ridge. I enjoyed it, along with the others, until I found out that one of them had used Dino III as firewood. The loss of my second, more-beloved walking stick sent me into a spiraling homicidal rage and depression that would leave me shaking my head in mild disbelief and half-heartedly cursing the Boy Scouts for the next forty miles.
Bandito asked Jason and I if we wanted to go off trail the next night, to stay with some friends of his family. His parents were coming up to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and they were going to get all-you-can-eat pizza for dinner. Did we want to come? Had I learned nothing from my pizza misadventures earlier that day? Of course! I went to bed, and dreamt of the possibilities the new day might bring, and of pizza, and Katahdin...