Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chapter 27: Party People

Eventually Caleb's ride came, or Bandito and I got sick of waiting. I forget which. But we said our goodbyes and then continued on to Standing Bear Farm.

The Thru-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has the following to say about Standing Bear Farm:
Standing Bear Farm is a restored backwoods homestead with a hiker bunkhouse full of drunks, a cabin that nobody's allowed into, and tent sites located exclusively next to the astonishingly aromatic privy, each available on a first-come first served basis. $15 per tent, $15 for the bunkhouse. Includes cold shower. If you're the sort who'd be willing to pay $2 for a Snickers bar, the camp store is good for short term resupply. For everyone else, it's mediocre at best. Also, frozen Meat Lovers pizzas are available for a 300% markup. Open year-round.
The Thru-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is astonishingly accurate, and oddly reflects my own experience.

Bandito and I were of course very excited to arrive. But there were an awful lot of drunk people about, the Party Group, as they would become known, and that was slightly worrying. And then we couldn't find the proprietor. We wandered around for a bit, until we caught the attention of a gruff looking fat man sitting in front of a dilapidated trailer.

"You hikers?" said the man. "Lookin' fer a bunk?"

"Yes, sir," said Bandito.

"We're all outta bunks," said the man.

I blinked.

"Y'all could tent, tho, if ya want," said the man. "It's $15 per tent."

Bandito looked to me. What did I want to do?

"But ya know, if y'all shared a tent, it'd only be..." The man trailed off, thinking, "It'd only be like six bucks per person. Whadya say? Y'all wanna share a tent? Well? Do ya?"

"I think we might just grab a bite to eat," I said, defensively, "Maybe use the bathroom--"

"Oh, we don't have a bathroom," interjected the man, guffawing. "We do have a privy. It's up there by that stream y'all crossed when you walked in back there."

"Right," I said, even more unnerved. "And is there any place we can get water?"

"Sure," said the man, "Use the tap if ya like. Ya don't have ta bother to treat it neither. We done have it tested. Cleanest water in the state."

"It's well water?" asked Bandito.

"Nah, don't be silly," said the man, "It comes from that stream y'all crossed when you walked in back there."

The one by the privy. Right. Great.

"Bandito, I need use the privy," I said, adding "Maybe you should get water first?"

"Ooh, good idea," said Bandito.

And he went to fill our canteens. I made the long trek to the privy, dodging and crawling over the obnoxious, omnipresent drunks.

"Hey, look," said someone, "It's a guy who's hiking who needs to go poopy."

Everybody laughed stupidly. My cheeks burned.

The privy door had a moon-shaped window cut into it. And no lock. And was too far away to hold shut. And there was no toilet paper.

"Hey, let's go watch that hiker guy poop," said a voice outside, to much general amusement.

"No, let's rip the door open and then point at him and laugh," said another, giggling.

I could see them moving around outside. My intestines tightened in fear. Exactly what I didn't want.

"I got a better idea," said some insufferable jerk. "Let's tip the privy over!"

Everybody laughed. Even the people playing croquet outside stopped to watch. They had found a newer, funner game, and that was taunting me.

Something thudded against the wall next to me. They had started throwing rocks. It was a good thing I was already in the privy, or I might have soiled my pants.

I was flushed and sweaty when I returned to Bandito, who had somehow found Braids amongst the crowd.

"Hey, you," she said. "You look terrible!"

"Thanks," I said. "I almost died."

I explained what happened, but received no sympathy from them. For some reason, they found my suffering amusing. Come to think of it, so did most of my friends on the trail. I could never understand that.

Bandito and I left Braids to look through the camp store. We'd heard about the frozen pizzas, and I wanted one. I would not be getting one. They only had Meat Lovers pizzas left. The rest of their food was overpriced, over-processed garbage. There was literally nothing there I could eat.

I returned to Braids in a sour mood, bemoaning my lot in life. Nobody catered to or cared about vegetarians, especially on the trail. Luckily for me, another hiker overheard me from the kitchen. It was Nature, the older woman who I'd met back in the Smokies, and she was apparently a vegetarian too. She felt bad that she had bought the only cheese pizza left on the entire property, and kindly offered to share half of it with me. I was bowled over, and eagerly agreed.

Braids was disgusted by this turn of events. Bandito was merely jealous. He hemmed and hawed and then finally bought a pizza for himself. Big mistake. Ten minutes later, while we were packing up to leave, he started complaining of a bitter stomach ache.

I thanked Nature for the pizza, and hoped we might see her later on the trail. She was staying at the hostel for the night, but said she'd try to catch up with us in the morning. I think maybe she liked the idea of hiking with another vegetarian. So did I.

It was already dark by the time we left, and, for once, I was in the lead. We had a thirteen hundred foot climb before we reached our campsite, and I found myself dragging Bandito, at least psychologically if not physically. He whimpered a lot and cried about his mommy. "I want my mommy," he'd say, whimpering. And then I'd lie to him and tell him we only had three more steps to go, then five more, to lure him up the trail.

We might have missed the campsite entirely, except Braids called out to us in the dark. "Over here!" she said, and we followed her voice across a stream to where she'd strung her hammock in a clearing. If there was an official campsite there, we couldn't see it. But it was good enough, with plenty of clear, flat ground, so we made camp and chatted for a while before going to bed.

Braids told us that she was planning to join the Army, to be a veterinarian, working with bomb-sniffing dogs. I told her that I was a freelance adventurer, Nobel prize winning novelist, and underwear model. Bandito told us that he was starting college in the fall, and also that I was a liar. Braids told us that her parents didn't think she could finish the thru-hike, and that she was determined to prove them wrong. She had also already been forced off trail for a week, and was trying to catch up with her friends. I sympathized on both counts. Not that I could relate or could honestly say I knew what she felt like, but it put her seemingly insane quest to make miles into stark perspective.

It all felt so natural, Braids, Bandito and me. We could have continued on like that for weeks, or who knows how long? But as things usually go on the trail, we'd see her again only once or twice after that night. I wish I could say I was used to losing friends by then. But I would never get used to it. It always hurt. But at that time I didn't know, and so I went to sleep, to that familiar dream of Katahdin, Megan, and pizza...

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