Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chapter 3: Major Chafage

I didn't make it far before I had my first face-plant. I had been following a couple of older guys, possibly in their forties or fifties, and we were all trying to figure out where we were supposed to go. The trail was almost completely buried in snow, and was constantly being crisscrossed by the intensely undesirable and presumably awful Benton MacKaye trail. Being some of the first to venture forth after a fresh snowfall had its disadvantages.

We came to a bridge, possibly over Stover Creek, not even three miles from Springer Mountain, and I stepped on a root. Maybe it was covered in ice, maybe it was just wet, but I went over sideways and landed, more or less, on my head. Embarrassed more than anything, I quickly scrambled to my feet and charged ahead, repeatedly reassuring the others that I was fine. Which I wasn't. I realized right then that I had made a tremendous mistake, that I hated hiking, that I hated nature, hated other people, especially those who were judgmental of the clumsy, and mostly, that I hated myself. I would continue to hate everyone, everything, but especially myself, for the next five months. And beyond. In fact, I still hate myself. But I digress. Literally tens of hundreds of people thru-hike the Appalachian Trail for fun every year. I was convinced I would become the first to have an absolutely horrible time, to be absolutely miserable each and every day.

Still, I made good time, and by four or maybe six or possibly eight o'clock I had made it all the way to Gooch Mountain Shelter, some fifteen miles. The day had passed more or less without incident, except that I had discovered, to my dismay, that my water filter had frozen overnight, compounding my existing problems. Worse, on top of my frozen clothes, frozen water filter, bruised ego and nascent inferiority complex, I also clearly needed a watch of some kind, as I had no idea what time it was.

Luckily, there were literally dozens of other hikers at the Gooch Mountain Shelter, and a few of them were willing to help me out to keep me on my way. One was kind enough to let me borrow his SweetWater® Purifier Solution. A woman there had the same stove as me, and she proceeded to teach me, incorrectly, how to use it. We may or may not have set fire to the picnic table. Okay, we did. But I eventually was able to cook my macaroni and cheese, and so lived to die another day.

The next morning, I got a late start, and found myself hiking near a pair of alumni thru-hikers who had stayed at Hawk Mountain Shelter the night before. They were seemingly amiable young men, Gut Hook and some other guy. Gut Hook had thru-hiked before. Truly, a God among men. He was everything I aspired to be, right down to the ruggedly handsome caveman beard. Gut Hook was taking his friend Something-or-other out for a few weeks to train for a trail run. I asked them how they got their trail names. Gut Hook got his from a fishing accident, and Something-or-other, well, I can't seem to remember where he got his name. I'm sure it was fascinating.

We stopped at Woody Gap for a snack. I was having a terrible pain in my supple inner thigh, and Whatshisname let me borrow an extra stick of Body Glide he happened to be carrying. I can't say for certain whether the Body Glide helped, or if merely taking the Swiss Army knife out of my pocket was what did the trick, but in any case, the chafage was averted... and Major Chafage was born.

Of course I thought Major Chafage was hilarious, a brilliant trail name, and naturally Gut Hook immediately tried to take it away from me.

"Too long," he said. "Most people out here can't remember more than two syllables. You should be Captain Chafe."

I thought Captain Chafe was an awful name, and the insinuation insulting. How dare he try to demote me! I correctly pegged Gut Hook and his friend as haters. They were just jealous of my creativity and youthful elan. I mentally prepared to leave them in my dust, and to never see them again. Yet they were my only friends. I would miss them terribly.

At least for a couple of hours.

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