Where was I? Yes, we had camped by the west branch of the Pleasant River. Buckeye had caught up to us early that morning, before we had yet broken camp. He almost walked right, not seeing us, but we called to him, and he came over, much relieved to see us. We had left him in Stratton, and hadn't seen him for almost a week. He'd been chasing us ever since, expecting us to do twelve to fifteen miles a day. Unfortunately, we had decided in his absence to push harder, and had done some twenty mile days in the interim, forcing him to do thirty mile days to catch us.
He took a break to wait for us, and while we packed he regaled us with harrowing tales of his run in with our collective nemesis, notorious tour hiker Loud Mouth. It seemed as though we, or perhaps I, had hurt Loud Mouths's feelings by writing some nasty things about him in a shelter log. Now, you are surely wondering how could that have happened, since I, Major Chafage, and all I travel with, are normally the paragon of grace, civility, and abject humility. Well, some ten days earlier, I had instructed Buckeye to write an open letter in the Piazza Rock Lean-to register, under the guise of Loud Mouth. In the letter, we had attacked south bounders for destroying the integrity of the trail and making a mockery of our endeavors, likening them to those insufferable douche-bags who claim to be through-hikers while skipping massive sections of trail, blue-blazing and slack-packing with abandon, and callously disrespecting other hikers. Of course, we then admitted, as Loud Mouth, to being exactly the sort of douche-bag who claimed to be a through-hiker while skipping massive sections of trail, and strongly encouraged anybody who met us to give us a swift punch in the face.
It is unclear whether Loud Mouth ever saw this letter, but Buckeye informed us that Loud Mouth had ran into a south bounder who, after finding out Loud Mouth's name, said that he heard he should punch Loud Mouth square in the face. Alas, said south bounder didn't actually punch Loud Mouth in the face. That would have been the best, most heroic thing ever accomplished by someone heading in that misguided, godforsaken direction. I am sure said south bounder never made it, anyway, but the story was nonetheless encouraging.
My sister and I then set off, leaving Fredo to fill Buckeye in on our own week's adventures, which had included me apparently "stealing" several pounds of candy bars and gorp from a group of unsuspecting day-hikers, brazenly ruining another through-hiker's dinner, and then definitively making up for all of that by writing an all-encompassing mea culpa in the Bald Mountain Lean-to log, the contents of which I shan't go into here. Oh, and Fredo also warned Buckeye about the Georgia Peaches. We assumed we had left them behind the day before, but Buckeye claimed not to have met them, and it was better not to take a chance.
Soon after, my sister and I found ourselves hiking through the Hermitage area, myself in my Teva sandals, my sodden boots flopping annoyingly on my back. The Hermitage is an area of unparalleled beauty indistinguishable from virtually everywhere else on the trail. However, it does have one inviolable rule: absolutely no camping is permitted anywhere, under any circumstances, by anyone, ever. Naturally, we almost immediately stumbled upon the Georgia Peaches, who had camped right in the middle of the trail.
Damn them and their sinuous, seductive charms! I hated them for being so stupid to attempt the wilderness with only six packets of ramen noodles and a half-dozen candy bars between them. Furthermore, they had no tent, no cook pot, and no warm clothing. It was impossible to understand how they kept from starving or freezing to death, or why they hadn't been mauled by rabid beavers. Moreover, nobody could comprehend how they made even made it this far, since they were hardly ever spotted actually walking. Every time someone saw them, they appeared to be taking a break, and were usually half-naked and in the process of giving each other gratuitously sensual massages. A quick laugh, an intoxicating smile, an ingratiating politeness, feigned innocence, and an unconscionable, unforgivable amount of natural beauty and charisma appeared to have taken them a long way. But they weren't getting to me. Yet.
My sister, on the other hand, made the mistake of stopping to talk with them. I stood there, impatient, wanting badly to move on for what seemed like half an hour, because it was. We had left early with the sole purpose of getting a good head start, yet here we were, bogged down with Sodium Chloride and Calypso. Because those were their names, as we found out. They proceeded to ask my sister a series of at first innocent but then increasingly invasive questions.
"You're hiking with your brother? That's so sweet!" said Sodium Chloride, or the other one.
"I know," said my sister, Hot Sauce. "I'm awesome."
I hate everybody, I thought, glaring at them in what I hoped was an unsubtle way.
"Unfortunately, we've had to hike faster than either of us would like, because I have to get off-trail on the twenty third to go down to North Carolina to start work," explained my sister, unnecessarily. "Because I'm an outdoor educator."
"No kidding! I'm an outdoor educator too," exclaimed Calypso, maybe half-believably. "Where do you work?"
"At a company called Adventure Treks. It's a totally awesome company, sort of like Google only way better, and the compensation is highly lucrative. I'd strongly recommend working for them, or, faling that, being me." said my sister, helpfully.
"I was thinking that exact same thing!" cried Calypso. "Can I have your e-mail? Maybe we can meet up later, when we're both back in the South. Because you know we're from Georgia."
"Yes. We know," I said, trying to hurry things up. "Because you call yourself the Georgia Peaches."
The three girls shot me a hurt look, as if to say butt out, but in a really polite, passive-aggressive way.
"So, what's the name of your supervisor at Adventure Treks? Because I'd love to have a name or a reference I can call," Calypso asked, hastily combing her bangs to approximate my sister's appearance. "Also, what's your social security number? And do you have any relevant personal history I should be aware of?"
I want to die, I thought, over and over again. Then I remembered my purpose, the yearning in my heart, the girl I dreamed would be waiting for me at the end, on top of Katahdin... It steeled my resolve, and I tore my sister out of there before the evil cousins had a chance to memorize her vocal inflections.
We were seventy two miles away. Just five more days. I had to make it.