"Late," I said, amused. "You sound disappointed."
"No!" Jason protested. "Not at all. And I'm totally not going to ditch you immediately for that group of rowdy, edgier guys who are more my age, who I just met."
That was exactly the way Jason always spoke, incidentally. I followed his gaze to a group of guys lounging casually beside the shelter. They looked like the Rat Pack, with their laconic demeanors, rakish smiles and cavalier facial scruff. I shook my head.
"Look, I understand," I said. "I wouldn't want to hike with me either. And especially not Bandito."
"Hey!" Bandito interjected, sitting right there. "I'm right here!"
"Oh, sorry," I shrugged. "I'm a horrible person."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," begged Jason, clearly feeling guilty. "You're--"
And he trailed off. But I knew what he meant. Jason got up to collect his belongings and fell into a conversation with a tall, pretty girl standing nearby. I couldn't blame him.
"I just hope you don't find any cool people your age to hike with," I said to Bandito mournfully. "Then you'll ditch me too, and I'll be totally alone."
"I wouldn't ditch you," professed Bandito truthfully. "I mean, you are horribly conceited and selfish. But who could be cooler or more interesting than you?"
Bandito also frequently talked this way.
"Good point," I conceded. We would find out in a couple of days.
I was already in a bad mood when we arrived at the Derrick Knob Shelter for lunch. Jason had been following the pretty girl around all morning, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves and each other's company. My heart turned black and shriveled like an overripe raisin.
At least we had caught up with Merf, who was now without her previous hiking companions. I took little solace in her company, however. At every turn some new horror arose to antagonize and aggravate me. There were day hikers and college students everywhere.
For some odd reason, I felt inspired to actually write something in a shelter log. As far as I can remember, this was the first time I would do so on the trail.
He stalked the woods at night, searching for new victims. And then he fell upon hem. Four college friends enjoying a hike on their vacation. This Spring Break would be their last.I wound find out later that the college students then occupying the shelter thought I was extremely weird and maybe even a little bit sinister. Freeman told me he had to reassure them that I was, in fact, just joking around. Little did he know...
for pervasive brutal bloody violence,
drug use, and a scene of some sensuality
I hiked with Merf that afternoon as we travelled towards the Double Spring Gap Shelter. My mind still clouded by jealousy and hatred, I had trouble concentrating on where I was or what I was doing. Which is just a fancy way of saying that I can't remember exactly what we spoke about. Our conversations did have a somewhat calming affect on me, however. Merf was always upbeat, and her infectious cheer made it almost impossible for anyone around her to stay down for too long.
We hiked over 5,607' Silers Bald, across a narrow ridge connecting two peaks with sheer drops on either side, through the cool shade of an ancient pine grove, where years of fallen needles made the ground as soft and supple as a visco-elastic polyurethane foam mattress, and finally past a grazing herd of white-tailed deer before arriving at the shelter. Unperturbed by our a presence, a wild turkey strutted about like he owned the place. Sadly, I soon found myself preferring his company to other people's.
There were a lot of other hikers there. Too many. I had never been in closer proximity with so many people in my life, or at least since that freak tornado had forced half my hometown to stay overnight in the high school gymnasium. I greatly looked forward to getting out of the Smokies and into a less-crowded area of the trail.
I tried ignoring everybody, and wrote in the shelter log.
Third night on the trail. Man, these 60 mile days really wipe you out. When am I going to get to that Wasili-Yi Center everyone keeps talking about? I tried Googling it on my Panasonic Toughbook™only to find I don't have wi-fi service up here. What's up with that? I might just toss the Toughbook over a cliff in the morning, along with my espresso machine. Haven't been getting much use out of it, and the damn thing weighs a ton."Pink blazing" refers to when one hiker physically and romantically pursues another hiker. By that evening, I had unequivocally determined that Jason was pink blazing the tall, pretty girl. I knew this because he told me, more or less. And he more or less told me because I flat out asked him.
"Are you pink blazing that tall, pretty girl?" I asked. He grinned and nodded. Or maybe an insect flew near his head, and he flinched. Either way, that was all the proof I needed.
I finally got around to meeting the tall, pretty girl later that night. Her name was Kate, and she was striking and intelligent and, apparently, completely bonkers. She had somehow convinced another, older woman—whose name was Nature—to hike up Clingman's Dome with her in the dark. She already had another innocent young man, Gumbo, ensnared in her manipulative web of madness, eager to go along with her on whatever foolhardy adventure she dreamed up next. I marveled at her audacity and ambition, at her athleticism, at her soulful, piercing azure eyes. Wait, no I didn't. I'm sure her eyes aren't even blue. What am I saying? Anyway, it was easy to see why Jason liked her.
Seemingly every one else at the shelter, including a now-clothed Brian and his charming wife Alyson, wanted to wake up as early as possible in order to hike up Clingman's Dome in time to see the sunrise. Kate, Nature and Gumbo were simply being proactive by hiking there that night instead. I disdainfully dismissed both ideas. The only thing I wanted was a good night's sleep.