We soon happened upon a sign, weathered and stoic, belatedly advising all comers that attempting the “wilderness” with anything less than ten days of supplies was egregiously foolhardy and would surely result in our inevitably gruesome deaths. We were already at least five minutes from the road. We had come too far to turn back.
For a brief moment, I warmly remembered all the haters, mostly in the South, who had so often predicted my premature demise. There had been those who repeatedly warned us that if we didn't buy their $200 rain gear, for example, we were gonna die. Or that if we attempted the Smokies with thermals that were even 20% cotton, we were gonna die. And that if we continued to hike naked, even for just one more day, under that blistering sun, we were definitely gonna get eaten by dragons and die. Rest assured, dear reader, we were well inured to these idle threats by now, and we were not about let this latest proclamation deter us. Besides, we had at least two and a half days of food. How bad could it be?
Very bad, as it turned out, though not on the first day, the proceedings of which, besides the spotting of the aforementioned sign, were not particularly memorable. Yes, it was on our second day out that the trouble really started, our lives irrevocably changed, and our hike forever ruined.
It was on the second day that we met them. The Georgia Peaches. I had fallen behind that morning, as I frequently did, taking long breaks to sob quietly into the underbrush. Cresting yet another of the innumerable boulder-strewn, granite slabbed ridges that merrily dot the New Hampshire and Maine sections of the trail, I spotted them. Their long, languid bodies lying lackadaisically across the trail, luxuriating in the sun and the attentions of one of my weak-minded male companions.
I knew immediately that he was in trouble, his three-mile-an-hour pace shot, the contents of his pack strewn about the ground, his food bag open. Curiously, the Peaches seemed not to be carrying any food or equipment themselves, and were so clean and cheerful in appearance and demeanor that I began to suspect that they hadn't hiked there at all, but had simply popped out of the ground that morning at that very spot, emerging from the deepest depths of Hell. They were sirens or succubi, and were clearly intent on devouring my friend alive, leeching his life's spirit, or at the very least mooching his food. And they were good at what they did. But my attentions were elsewhere, my mind preoccupied with dreams of Katahdin, with secret plans of fantastic design and foolish ambition. I alone was immune to their charms. It was up to me to rescue my friend. And so I did, by promptly leaving him, and then mercilessly making fun of him later for being such a tool.
That night we found a sweet stealth site by the west branch of the Pleasant River. We camped there with the frequently-naked Austrian, Materhorn. Or maybe he was Swiss. Yes, Materhorn, the same man whose dinner I had accidentally destroyed not two nights earlier. I feared for my safety that night, and was frequently woken by nightmares in which I was repeatedly and viciously attacked by a very angry, very naked European wielding a terrifying pot of cold macaroni.
The next morning I awoke, unfortunately still alive, for little did I know what new terrors this day would bring. Setting off early with my sister, I decided to ford the Pleasant River without removing my boots. Ten seconds later, as I made a mad dash splashing through shin-high water, I realized I had probably made a mistake. Two minutes later, my soggy boots stored uselessly on the outside of my pack, we set off again up the mountain...
TO BE CONTINUED...