As soon as I arrived, I signed the register and restocked on their exorbitantly priced energy bars. I hadn't really been eating much, so I fortunately didn't yet need a full resupply. I inquired about securing a bunk in the hostel and found out there was only one left. I knew Bandito was still behind me, but asides from him I didn't know anyone else who would be arriving that day.
"Should I wait for Bandito, to see if he wants the room?" I said aloud, to no one in particular. "Because I could always pitch my tent in their backyard..."
It was an honest moral dilemma, the greatest I had yet faced on the trail, and might possibly have been the most important decision I would make in my entire life. I mulled it over for about three tenths of a second before reaching for my wallet. Half a second later I was on my way to claim my bunk, chuckling gleefully to myself and imagining a good night's sleep, warmth, and a heaping plate of delicious, delicious ziti.
I found the hostel to be a chaotic, horrifying mess. I expected there to be a lot of people there, but I didn't expect the bunk room itself to be about as big as, and to so strangely resemble, a steerage cabin on the Titanic. Third-class passengers on the Titanic probably would have been more stylishly dressed than this particular group of hikers, however, and most likely would have smelled better too, at least before they all drowned. Also, the role of Kate Winslet was now played by a stocky red-headed woman in her fifties named Miss Janet, while the role of Leonardo DiCaprio was played by nobody.
While priding myself on my ability to drive an already dubious metaphor into the ground, I claimed my bunk and surveyed the room. There was a gregarious, slightly out-of-shape miniature pants enthusiast named Trooper, a rather stuffy environmental engineer on leave from the army whose trail name was Shorts, a German couple who were then known simply as the German couple, an overambitious amateur photojournalist named Buckaroo, and a spunky, impossibly young kid taking a semester off from middle school or something named Radar. I liked them all immediately.
Everyone was super-impressed that I had made it there in only two days. Some of them had been on the trail for almost a week already. Not to mention any names. Trooper. In fact, the only person who wasn't impressed with my pace was Miss Janet, who sternly dressed me down in front of everybody for risking life and limb by hiking so fast. Trying to explain to her about the irresistible appeal of baked ziti didn't seem to help matters. She told me that if I continued to hike fifteen miles a day, I was going to injure myself and die. I believed her.
Some of the others cajoled me into taking a shower, which I was at first reluctant to do since I knew I would only get dirty again the following day. But maybe I needed it, even if my natural man-funk is milder than most. Not to brag or anything. Finally, dinner was served, and it was everything I had hoped for and more. I may not have been the only one to get up for seconds and thirds, but I certainly was the first. Even Bandito arrived to join the party. He was camped out back, for free, and yet was still entitled to dinner. This bummed me out, somehow.
I understood why later that night. The bunk room sounded and smelled like the gorilla cage at the zoo on burrito night. It was awful. I wrapped my fleece around my head to try to block out the noise, but I would've had a better chance of sleeping through the attack on Pearl Harbor. I eventually moved into the common room, where I tried to fall asleep on the couch with little to no success. It was much quieter, but it wasn't exactly comfortable.
The next morning, I was understandably a little on-edge. At least I had the adrenaline of doing one of the Center's famous shakedowns to carry me through the day.