Bandito, Caleb and I rose with the sun, while everyone else, despite prolific snoring, was soundly still asleep. Like ninjas, we ate our breakfast silently, because I imagine that's just how ninjas eat. The weather had improved drastically overnight. It would be a brilliant, cloudless day. We collected our things as fast as we could and quickly got underway.
We'd heard rumors of a rogue bear in the area, who routinely terrified hikers into dropping their food. The bear was said to often attack brazenly during the day, filling us with a certain unease. In one particularly grizzly affair, a man had discovered the broken remains of his backpack hanging from the branch of a tree. We tried not to succumb to the hysteria, but the constant threat of danger somewhat dampened our mood.
We arrived at the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter safely, however, and found everyone there still alive. And, to my surprise and delight, whom did we meet? Braids had not gone her twenty miles as planned; the rain had held her to five.
"Oh, hi!" I said waving, barely concealing my glee.
She grunted a greeting, and I could be wrong, but she didn't seem happy to see me.
"So, what happened?" I asked. "I thought you were going to do twenty miles yesterday."
She made some excuse about the rain, or blisters, or her backpack filling up with water. It was a little unclear. I nodded smugly.
"You really should have stayed," I chided. "There were about thirty of us there, so we were quite warm, and the snoring was practically symphonic." I sighed wistfully, reminiscing.
"Sounds amazing," she said dryly. "Your skills as a salesman are unparalleled. I am filled with regret and sadness. Please forgive me, Major Chafage, for ever leaving you."
Actually, she may not have said any of that. I doubt she would have been so openly snide and sarcastic.
"What's your plan today?" I continued, still amused. "Forty miles?"
"No," she said, and this really happened, "I think I'll just head to the Standing Bear Farm, or maybe camp a little ways beyond it."
"What a coincidence!" I cried. "We were also planning to maybe stop at one of those two places!"
For some reason, she seemed rather flustered, and left. I think she had a crush on me. Or that she hated me. It was hard to tell.
Bandito was waiting, impatient. "Are you finally ready to go, M.C.?"
"What's that supposed to mean," I said. "I've been ready since we got here. Are you guys ready?"
"Yes," he said, annoyed. "We've been waiting for you. For like half an hour."
"How dare you," I said, indignant. "It's been five minutes, tops. Well? Come on, let's go!"
It was another fifteen miles to Davenport Gap, mostly downhill. Bandito stopped us occasionally to take pictures, but otherwise we kept moving. There were a couple of spots where we were afforded spectacular views, where we could see the entire mountain range rising behind us and actually look down on the clouds. The trail was markedly less trafficked here, increasingly so as we continued north. We saw almost no one, except for another group of north bound thru-hikers, whom we played leap frog with continuously throughout the day. Oh, and Braids.
She was on her cell phone when we caught up. Perhaps sensing that I would interrupt her conversation anyway, she told whomever she was talking to that she'd them call back and hung up. In truth I wasn't intending to bother her that much, since we were trying to maintain a brisk pace. We only spoke for a moment, and even then only to speculate about our chances of finding trail magic at the road. We somehow agreed that whomever arrived first, if there was trail magic, would save some for the other. It seemed like a good plan at the time, and we continued merrily on our way.
It was a terrible plan. When Bandito, Caleb and I arrived at Davenport Gap there actually was trail magic there. A couple of geezers in a minivan were handing out junk food and soda. Our timing couldn't have been better, as they were about to pack up and leave. They gave us the dregs of what they had left before driving off. I managed to snag a couple sodas, and was duly proud of myself. Bandito and I sat with Caleb as he waited for his ride. I drank one of my sodas, planning to save the other for Braids. But it looked so delicious, and she wasn't there. And the trail magic people were gone. What she didn't know couldn't hurt her. I popped it open and put it to my lips, ready to savor that crisp, golden nectar.
"Hey, Braids!" said Bandito. I choked, and almost blew soda out my nose.
"Hello," said Braids cheerfully, just arriving.
I was busted. I panicked. I looked around for a place to hide. There wasn't any. We were in the middle of the woods. What was I thinking?
"So I met these two nice women on the trail back there," Braids was saying. "They gave me an orange. Did you meet them?"
"No!" said Bandito, with a curious air.
"Well, I saved you half," she cooed. "M.C.?"
"I'm not here," I said, not looking her in the eye.
"Oh, we got trail magic too," said Bandito unhelpfully. "They gave us crackers and sodas."
"I don't know what he's talking about," I lied.
Braids stared at me in disbelief.
"I mean, I was saving you this soda," I continued, "but then I spilled it on my tongue. I mean, Bandito made me do it. I mean, I'm sorry!"
Orange Slice, but I honestly didn't think of it. Okay, I did think of it, I just figured it would've been distasteful and unsanitary. Or maybe I was just being a selfish jerk. Either way, I felt terrible about it.
Braids was very understanding, however, almost like she expected me to betray her. I have no idea why she would have thought that. I apologized profusely, but that didn't make a difference. I even offered not to take the rest of her orange, but that didn't go over well.
"Let me make it up to you," I begged.
"No! You blew it," said Braids, amused. "Besides, what would you do?"
"Oh. Probably nothing," I said truthfully, "But isn't it the thought that counts?"
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Braids left, shaking her head, probably planning my imminent death. Or maybe she wasn't really that upset. It was only a can of soda after all. It wasn't that big of a deal. But it was, at least to me, and it haunts me to this day.