Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chapter 135: Serendipity

Journal entry, as I lay in my tent at the Little Swift River Pond Campsite, listening to the rain:
Aug 9,

Veggie got off the trail yesterday because of an infected bug bite. This morning, Fredo was having stomach cramps and feeling nauseous. My health remains decent, despite what I fear may be bone spurs developing on my heels. It used to be my feet that hurt, but now it's mostly my knees. And my feet.

I see in "lean-to" registries that my old crew was here around three weeks ago. They made it from Hanover to here in two days less time than it took me. I worry, however, seeing them sign a day apart. I hope they stay together. They're all most likely done by now, if they're not summating today. Merf was only two days behind them last I saw, meaning she's still well on track to finish on time. I'm happy for them, and somewhat proud, too. But I also feel a twinge of melancholy, sad that I couldn't be there with them, to congratulate them. To share in the sadness and joy they must feel, now that they're done.

In many ways, this trip feels like school. At first it's intimidating and scary, but always structured around routines and deadlines; then it's so much fun that everything goes by too quickly, and is over before you want it. And right now, I'm suffering from the equivalent of senioritis, just wanting to be finished without doing any more work. Hopefully (maybe) Tricia can light a fire under my ass, get me motivated to do those 13 mile days we have to do to finish on time. I'm not really worried, though.

Lemonade. Chocolate milk. Birch Beer. Bananas. Yogurt. Ice cream. Pizza. An end to the drudgery.
Fredo never arrived that night. Troublesome. Moreover, we failed to see any moose. Plus it rained, so we were unable to take any of the free canoes out on the lake. Worst campsite ever? Not quite. The privy was nice.

The next morning, Buckeye and I raced off towards ME4, to hitch into Rangeley. We'd heard ominous things about the terrain betwixt the lake and the road, but didn't find anything worse than a couple of waist-deep mud bogs.

Whatever.

Reaching the road, we encountered our first stroke of luck. A familiar looking woman emerged from the woods in front of us, headed towards her car. She asked if we needed a ride. Yes?

"I was thru-hiking with my husband, but I had to get off the trail because of an injury," she explained as we drove towards town, her voice pained. "He's a backcountry guide, plus he's crazy, so he kept going. I've just been doing a couple of sections here and there to keep him company."

"You look awfully familiar," I said. "You wouldn't happen to be Elaine from Maine, would you?"

That shocked her into slence.

"I'm Major Chafage!" I explained. We had met way back when. "The last time I saw you was in Hot Springs, North Carolina. With Nature!"

"Of course! Major Chafage!" Elaine nodded, remembering me now.

"I told you I was legendary," I added to Buckeye.

He rolled his eyes.

Elaine and I chatted amiably, catching up. We reminisced about the time Jason, Bandito and I serenaded (tortured?) her with an off-key rendition of "Sweet Caroline." And that time her husband, Jim, had so magnanimously treated my blisters. By then we were arriving in Rangeley, and she was dropping us off by the public library. I thanked her again, and we said our goodbyes for the final time. The lesson, as always: being friendly pays off.

We had Thai food for lunch. We ate at a restaurant apparently made famous by its chef, who had somehow assisted with freeing hostages during the Iranian Revolution. Sounds like a (bad) movie, right? Except it actually happened. There were pictures of the man shaking hands with a bemused President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush all over the walls. Very surreal. Very funny. (The suits! The glasses! The unabashed ugliness! Eh, it was the 80's. Maybe you had to be there…) Anyway, we did our best to ignore the decor. I introduced Buckeye to the wonders of the Thai Iced Tea. His first sip, his eyes lit up. A convert for life.

And then came our second stroke of luck. While we were eating, I spied Fredo walking past the restaurant window! I quickly excused myself from Buckeye and raced outside to chase him down. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. But he was pleased. He explained to me how he had gotten violently ill the previous morning, and had puked all over the shelter.

"I got really ill yesterday morning," Fredo explained tentatively, considerate of the fact that I was still eating lunch. "As soon as you guys left, I puked all over the shelter. It was bad."

It sounded bad.

"So I hitched out from the next road," he continued, "Spent last night at the hostel."

"And now you're going to yellow blaze to keep pace with us, right?" I asked, crossing my fingers.

"Oh," Fredo hesitated. "I mean, when you put it like that--"

"Great!" I didn't let him finish. I could have hugged him.

After lunch, we spent a few hours at the library, checking our e-mail and otherwise finding out what was going on with the world. At some point I received a call from Bandito, who had, in fact, just summited Katahdin. He told me all about it, of course, and filled me in on all the shenanigans I had missed with P-Nut and Caveman and whomever. But then he had to go, because he was already on the road, headed home. And I had to go, too, because I still had 220 miles to go before the end. I envied him. But I think he may have envied me, too…

Buckeye and I agreed to meet up with Fredo before we left, and then went out for dinner. (You may have noticed that our lives in town revolved around food. There's a reason for that.) We had pizza, and then decided it would be a good idea to share a pitcher of beer. Big mistake. By the time Fredo arrived, we were both extremely drunk. Or at least slightly tipsy.

And then our third stroke of luck! We managed to hitch a ride out with Malt Lickher and Ruthless—don't ask, it's that trail name thing again—a lovely couple from Hamden, Connecticut out on vacation. My hometown! We cheerfully reminisced about Modern Apizza and BAR. (If you're ever in the area, go there and try the mashed potato pizza. Trust me.) Anyway, good times.

Before dropping us at the trailhead, Malt Lickher and Ruthless shuttled us to a nearby grocery. We emerged with a substantially better haul than Andover had yielded. Fredo even bought a Joose, which is to the formerly unadulterated Four Loko what primordial sludge is to humanity: one led to the other, it's just not imminently clear how. Or why.

What compelled Fredo to try the Joose? Good question. Especially since he'd spent the previous day vomiting all over himself. And everything else. But I digress. He had a few sips, and it made his stomach hurt. I had a few sips, and my stomach hurt. Then again, I was already, uh, slightly tipsy.

Chapter 134: Left Behind

Aug 8,
Haven't written in here in a few. Familiar theme.

I have the feeling that Veggie likes and wants to continue to hike with me and Fredo, but she's not sold on Buckeye. Fredo, for his part, seems reticent to grow too attached to any of us, and continually threatens to ditch us before the end. I'm comfortable with all three, and just wish Buckeye could be a little less crude (yes, I am saying that) if only for Veggie's sake. Once again, as in high school and with the Nature train, I find I am solely responsible for pulling everyone together. (No, I'm not full of myself at all.) I feel bad for Buckeye, though, because he's had so little time to make friends out here, and the ones he's made have either left the trail or fallen behind. I'm just saying, I want everyone to get along and to stay together as long as possible.

Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, it was. Although I didn't know it at the time, my last trail family was dying. A side-trip into Andover, Maine would be our last hurrah.

The town itself was actually kind of depressing. Consisting of little more than a general store, a diner, and a cemetery, Andover had a decidedly backwoods atmosphere. The locals talked funny, glared suspiciously at us interloping outsiders, and proudly wore mullets and greasy overalls. They even had specially marked parking spaces just for ATVs. Except for the conspicuous lack of audible gunfire, we might as well have been back in Georgia.

All right, that's not entirely fair. The town also lacked any perceptible undercurrent of barely suppressed, virulent racism. Probably because there weren't any minorities around for the locals to hate on or oppress. (Besides us hikers, but we're not exactly a race.) Also, no secessionists.

Fredo, Veggie, Buckeye and myself resupplied at the general store as best we could. Which was difficult. Or, for Veggie, damn near impossible. Although they did have lots of generic macaroni and cheese… Let's just say their selection left something to be desired.

Afterwards, we sat outside drinking soda and eating pizza for lunch. And not because we wanted to, either. None of us had showered in three days. I doubt they would have allowed us to sit inside. Anyway, the food was terrible.

Truly, it was the worst resupply on the trail. Just a miserable, miserable place.

But at least the proprietors of the local hiker hostel were friendly. And happy enough to drive us back and forth from the trail. We hiked out mid-afternoon, and made it another six miles to the Hall Mountain Lean-to before dark.

The next day, Veggie would succumb to a spider bite. On the small of her back, the bite made it excruciatingly, prohibitively painful for her to carry her pack. In retrospect, we should have offered to divy up her stuff between us, to maybe help her keep going. But maybe we would never have been so selfless, especially when our burdens were already so great. After enduring a sleepless night—spent tossing and turning in pain, unable to ever get comfortable—Veggie gave in, and called the Pine Ellis Lodge to arrange a shuttle back into town.

I don't know why, but I guess I thought she would catch up with us. It never occurred to me that we might never see her again. Our plans weren't too ambitious. We weren't supposed to go any ridiculous distances. I truly thought she'd catch up. But she never did.

Now, you might think that we wouldn't be so self-aware as to realize the significance of her parting at that time. Or that—so close to our final destination—we wouldn't so much care. That the melancholy we felt, I felt, was more to do with what came after, with facing the unknown. But it was more than just the trail that we were leaving behind.

----

The morning after Veggie left, Fredo awoke feeling nauseous. At first, I thought it was just indigestion from the awful generic macaroni he'd bought in Andover, but that it would shortly pass. Then I thought he might've just been making light of the appalling south-bounders then monopolizing the shelter. But he vehemently assured me he wasn't joking, and begged Buckeye and myself to continue on without him.

Buckeye and I stopped at Long Pond later, hoping Fredo would catch up. There was a picnic table and fire pit set up on the beach. Seemed like as good a place as any. Buckeye quickly availed himself of the opportunity to go swimming, taking along a giant inflatable duck he'd brought expressly for that purpose. As he splashed around like an overgrown six-year old, I was quietly thankful that I had awful eyesight—and that I'd already eaten—or else I might've been put off my lunch. Then he put his clothes back on, thank God, and came ashore.

And we waited. A terrible thought occurred to me. Was Fredo's nausea just a ruse to get away from us? Could he have lived up to his name and betrayed us? With Veggie gone, what else was to keep him with the group?

Filled with dread and nagging doubts, we grudgingly packed up and headed off towards the Little Swift River Pond Campsite. People had told us we'd definitely see moose there. How about that I wasn't about to hold my breath.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chapter 133: Mahoosuc Notch

Mahoosuc Notch is often cited as the most difficult mile on the entire Appalachian Trail. It's not. The most difficult mile on the trail is really mile 679 in Central Virginia.1 Mahoosuc Notch, on the other hand, is actually kind of fun. Sure it's time consuming, but it's never not enjoyable.

Veggie, Buckeye, Fredo and I kept a decidedly leisurely pace, stopping every few yards to take pictures; laugh at the precarious positions we'd gotten ourselves into; bash our knees into boulders; and sob like lost, pathetic little girls.2 Where else on the trail do you have to shimmy underneath giant boulders, through spaces so tight you have to take your backpack off and drag it behind you? Is there year-round ice? Are there crevices you could slip into and die, your body never to be found? Nowhere! It's magical.

And over too soon. The worst part is, when you're done, there's no summit, no rewarding viewpoint or lookout. It just sort of peters out.

And then we passed the Speck Pond Shelter, where I had stayed ten years earlier on my AMC backpacking trip. The lake, normally leech infested, wasn't much of an attraction. We stopped at the shelter only long enough to check the logbook and chat with some fellow north-bounders whom I strongly suspected were fakers.

One of them casually mentioned that they had started in May, as if we were supposed to be impressed by that sort of thing. Morons. Yeah, they were just breezing through. One of them was from Pennsylvania. I asked him how he liked Lehigh Gap. He didn't seem to know what I was talking about. I quietly wrote him off.

Climbing Old Speck was much hairier than I remembered. Sheer granite slabs with very little in the way of handholds. I wondered how I had managed to climb up it in the dark. And with a handheld flashlight. Then again, everything is less scary when you're sixteen. Except girls.

Sadly, we decided as a group not to take the loop to the summit. Not only had we abjectly failed to make it up there in time to watch the sunrise—or sunset, for that matter—now we wouldn't even be going. It was disheartening, but we'd fallen behind schedule, and were already having too much fun tripping on bog boards and falling up to our knees in mud.

Descending to Grafton Notch, we encountered a flood of day hikers headed in the opposite direction. None of them looked particularly pleased to see us barreling down the mountain toward them, falling all over ourselves and screaming in panic. It was kind of steep. Whatever.

Reaching the gap, we found a cooler of trail magic. Some assorted, vaguely generic snacks, and some Emergen-C packets. Did I want 1,667% of my daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C? Don't mind if I do!

And then there was a Forest Ranger sitting in his pickup truck in the parking lot, giving out juice boxes, soda, and cookies to any thru-hikers who walked past. Double score.

Feeling fat and contented, we hiked on. But we didn't make it far, only another 2.3 miles to the Baldpate Lean-to. (Like I said, fat and contented) Finding the shelter blissfully south-bounder free, we monopolized the space, made a roaring campfire, and relaxed.

But these are only the things we did. No simple account of the day's events can capture the feeling of being out there in the world. The camaraderie we felt, as a group, as adventurers, as frontiersmen, as pioneers. The joy we found in each other's company, the solace from the grind.

We only had 264.5 miles left. If only I had done more to savor it at the time.

1. The less said about that, the better. It was steep, and I cried.

2. Or maybe that was only me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chapter 132: Where We Fall Short, Again

When I was sixteen, I went on an eleven day backpacking and sea kayaking trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club. It was awesome, one of the formative experiences of my life. I made a lot of new friends; pushed myself physically and emotionally; learned how to be self-sufficient; and overcame my then-undiscovered fear of pooping in the woods. While on the trip, I told people that I wanted to become a writer, and for the first time nobody laughed, scoffed, groaned, or patiently pointed out my absolutely mediocre grades in English class. (Career average: B-) Moreover, when I came home afterwards—and started my senior year of high school—something had changed. I could suddenly tell stories that didn't involve playing computer games, eating pizza, or having my heart broken by the girl across the street. I had wisdom. People started looking up to me. I realized that, hey, maybe I was a great guy after all, and that life was worth living.

And I've lived with that ethos ever since.

On August 6, 2010—the 138th day of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike—my companions and I were approaching the New Hampshire-Maine border, Mahoosuc Notch, and Old Speck Mountain; exactly the same territory I covered on my AMC trip.

Naturally, I incessantly urged the others—Veggie, Fredo, and Buckeye—to camp atop Old Speck, if only to be able to watch the sunrise from the observation deck at the summit. Ten years earlier, we had camped at the northern end of the Notch, then climbed up Old Speck in the dark. I fondly remembered scrambling up the Mahoosuc Arm at three in the morning, racing ahead of the group to find an adequate viewpoint before dawn. And I'd found one just in time, right as the sun peeked above the horizon. And as an early-morning mist rose from the valley, the surrounding mountaintops had all seemed like tiny green islands lost amongst a roiling sea of white.

It was beautiful.

And I badly wanted to recreate that experience, to share it with my friends.

Unfortunately, after taking a (too) lengthy break at the border—to take some celebratory pictures—we watched in horror as the sky darkened ominously, and then it started to rain. Or drizzle slightly. It was enough to dampen our moods, exacerbate our latent (and growing) laziness, and encourage us just to stay at the next shelter.

Which is exactly what we did. We pulled in to the Full Goose Shelter, whipped out our sleeping bags, and settled in for the afternoon (and night). We'd be going no further that day. Why punish ourselves by going through the Mahoosuc Notch when it was all wet and slipper, at the end of a long day, right before a really tough climb? Better to do all those things in the morning, when the weather would be better, when we had fresh legs under us. Our sunrise would have to wait.

I was still in a bad mood from the night before when I pulled out my journal.
Aug 6
Tried to do the dry-out-wet-clothes-by-sticking-them-in-my-sleeping-bag thing last night, but all it did was make my sleeping experience damp and awful smelling... I have a reputation on the trail for being angry/hating everybody, but how can I help it when all these people piss me off?
It was no use. I gave up, and handed my journal to Veggie. To let her have the last (and hopefully more upbeat) word.
Dear MC,
The first few times I met you, I did not understand your ridiculously sarcastic, blatant, unrelenting humor. But now, after walking with you and hearing exclamatory curse slurs every time you hit your knees, fall up to your waist in mud, bend a trekking pole, or get stabbed by a protruding pine branch, I now laugh.

Or maybe I couldn't take it seriously, with the hat, goatee, and the bandana which makes you look like you should be in an old western movie.

Maybe in Brokeback Mountain, just maybe.

Anyway, the slow pace we have all been going has allowed all of us to relive the 90's due to a) VH1, b) the woods having good accoustics and c) your outrageous and lack-of-shame singing "skills."

So now I am amused. Even more so because we're all huddled into our sleeping bags just like the beginning.
-Veggie

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chapter 131: General Chafage

After our slackpacking adventure—twenty plus miles over Wildcat, Carter Dome, and Mt. Moriah in only eleven hours!—Veggie, Buckeye, Fredo and I spent a day lazing around the White Birches campground, swimming in the pool, drinking copious amounts of beer, and watching VH1 countdown the top 100 pop songs of the 1990's. Awesome.

The next morning, we got some trail magic and a ride to the trailhead from one of Buckeye's friends, then hiked out singing the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way." (No. 3 on the countdown.) Again. Because of course we did.

We weren't feeling particularly ambitious that day, however, and so only went an easy 11.8 miles to the Gentian Pond Shelter. Katahdin—and the end of the trail, and all that other unpleasantness involved with our inevitable return to "real life"—loomed just 286.1 miles away, after all. We fully intended to savor every single step. Besides, I figured I had roughly twenty days to finish, which dictated a relatively relaxed pace of only fourteen miles a day. I wasn't in a hurry. And I constantly lobbied my friends to be lazy stay with me.

Unfortunately—and as usual—events conspired to put me in a particularly nasty mood upon our arrival at Gentian Pond. Maybe it was because we'd run into Sativa James and Loud Mouth in town the day before. (They had yellow blazed again, and seemed hell-bent on catching up with us. Why? I felt like I had made it perfectly clear, in my typically passive-agressive way, that I hated their guts and wanted them to die. Was it just to torture me?) Or maybe it was because there was an ornery south-bounder already occupying the shelter.

Feeling thusly apocalyptic, I wrote two registry entries, one at night:
Nice trail magic back at the water source! I know I was just in town for 3 days drinking Magic Hat and chilling by the pool, but I really needed some soda today to help me keep going. Plus I know there's nobody behind me and fuck SOBOs, so I took seven!! And if you come along tomorrow and there aren't any, that means I finished them. Ha ha!! Fuck you.

-Major Chafage

PS. It was Dr. Pepper, Mug Root Beer, and Orange Crush. HA HA HA HA HA!!!
(All of which was purely fiction and meant as a joke.)

And the other the next morning, after I had courageously endured the south-bounder's rather peculiar early-morning rituals:
Dear SOBOs,
I love you, but you're never going to make it. Not because you're bad hikers, or you have the wrong equipment, but because you're all so infuriatingly annoying, waking up at 4 AM to fuck your water bottles (that's what it sounded like), talking in normal voices when people are sleeping, smoking in the shelter, blasting death metal on your iPod, and just generally acting like discourteous dick-holes, some tired NOBO at the end of his rope is going to murder you. Just a fair warning. I want you to be safe!

Love forever,
Major Chafage
Good stuff! Three weeks left on the trail, and I was having so much fun... I wished it would never end.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chapter 130: A Slackpacking Jones

August 5,

The Whites are over. Hut hopping was fun and fruitful, although the experience was somewhat diminished by the preponderance of obnoxious south-bounders, the Worst People in the World®. SOBOs are arrogant, they eat too much, and they're ugly.

I slackpacked for the first (and probably last) time the other day. I take back nothing I've ever said about slackpackers.

And I wouldn't have done it except for being stricken with a severe case of the lazies.
Shocked? Outraged? Don't believe me? Let me explain.

Twizzler and I never really got along. Maybe it was because he was younger, faster, and stronger than I was, and I resented him for it. Or, maybe it was because he complained constantly about how the trail was too easy, and how the mountains were so much better in his native Israel. Which was—needless to say—deeply annoying, and deflating.

But at least he had a sense of humor. Buckeye used to make fun of him for prefacing everything he said with, "In Israel..." And for asking "But do they have bagels there?" whenever we proposed going anywhere. And Twizzler laughed, which made everything easier.

Still, the day we came down off of Madison, Twizzler had sprinted ahead of us in his typically brazen, boulder-jumping fashion. I felt terrible about ditching him, but I simply lacked the patience, and energy, to keep up. Plus the skies were darkening ominously, and it seemed almost certain that it would, well, drizzle. None of my other companions—Veggie, Fredo, and Buckeye—seemed exactly enthusiastic about climbing over Wildcat in the rain. So we didn't. We gave up, and hitched a ride into Gorham, New Hampshire, to stay at the White Birches campground.

Apparently discouraged by our sudden and unannounced disappearance, however, Twizzler decided to end his hike prematurely the very next day. At the very same time we were slackpacking to catch up with him, he was hitching a ride back to Manchester Center, Vermont, where he could catch a bus back to Boston. So he left. And we never saw him again.

Anyway, that's how we lost Twizzler and ended up slackpacking.

It wasn't because we were lazy and were looking forward to a day spent zeroing at the White Birches, drinking beer, watching VH1, and going swimming in the in-ground pool. It was because of our fierce sense of loyalty. Of companionship. We slackpacked because we never leave a man or woman behind. I mean, did we zero, and do all of those other things I mentioned? Yes, but that's incidental.

Oh, and none of the Whites were as much unadulterated fun as South Kinsman, although Wildcat came close.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chapter 129: An Excess of Effluvia

I deftly slipped into my merino wool base layer and took a seat outside the Madison Spring Hut. We had to wait until the AMC's paying customers had finished their dinner before going in.

Wonderful. All we could do was wait, shivering occasionally in a cool gust of wind, watching the clouds billow overhead in the encroaching darkness.

Buckeye, Twizzler and I had enjoyed once-a-year weather earlier that morning atop Mount Washington. Winds were a blistering four miles an hour; visibility was so terrible we could barely see the Atlantic Ocean gleaming on the horizon, some seventy miles away. Naturally, we spent as little time at the summit as possible, stopping only long enough to pose for the obligatory photos, check out the museum, have a snack, and take a two hour nap.

After lunch, we said goodbye to our fellow NOBO's Mimi, Fred, Lou, Creepy and Nobody for the final time—some of whom we had only met the day before—and began the long, arduous trek to the Madison Spring Hut. Seven and a half miles. All above tree line. It was torture.

Mostly because I needed to take a shit. Now, you might be wondering, why hadn't I gone to the bathroom at the summit? And that would be a good question. The best answer to which is, "Shut the fuck up."

Digging the second highest cathole on the trail was awkward. Doubly awkward, actually, considering the fragile state of the surrounding alpine vegetation and the general preponderance of nearby day hikers. Fortunately, I found a relatively secluded spot between two boulders and, well, made do.

We made it to the Madison Spring Hut in the early afternoon; We were, by design, the very first thru-hikers to arrive. Securing work-for-stay was thus ridiculously easy, and our chores summarily dispatched. But then began the long, tedious waiting game for dinner.

And then Guillermo, One Pace, and Creamcicle waltzed in from the North, a trio of ridiculously bearded south-bounders bursting with unearned confidence and strained machismo. Their conversation reeked of barely-restrained condescension and empty braggadocio. They had just finished Maine, and done the Mahoosuc Notch, and clearly expected us to prostrate ourselves at the feet of their magnificence. Bullshit.

Serendipitously, help soon presented itself in the form of a skinny north-bounder, his oddly familiar face framed by a halo of preposterously curly hair.

"Shorts?"

"Major Chafage!" cried Shorts, his eyes lighting up.

"I thought that was you! Mimi told me you were just about a day behind."

"I feel like I've been a day or two behind you for over a month, man! I've been chasing you for hundreds of miles!"

This wasn't creepy at all in context, by the way. It was actually sort of flattering. I mean, of course it was. I was dying to know what sort of chaos and discord I was leaving in my wake. And Shorts dutifully filled me in.

"Remember how you wrote something in a shelter log about finding a six pack of beer in the crook of a tree and then pouring it out?"

Yes. "Yes," I nodded.

"That really pissed off a lot of people!" Shorts laughed.

And so it went. I don't know why, but I never asked him about his hike, or the various things he'd seen and experienced. The people he'd met. The friends he'd made, and lost. And it's not because I'm a raging egomaniac. Well, not completely because of that. I hope.

I would see Shorts only once or twice after that night. Once again, our paths diverged. He had a schedule to keep, and pink-blazing love birds to keep up with. Meanwhile, with the late but welcome arrivals of Fredo and Veggie, my final trail family was complete...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chapter 128: Lake of the Clouds

Journal entry, August 1st:
Unfinished business: My bout of near terminal-laziness at the Eliza Brook Shelter paid off. Veggie didn't catch up to me, like I thought she might, but Buckeye and Twizzler did. Glad to have their company.

South Kinsman was awesome. Most fun I've had since Albert Mountain in North Carolina. Just one long rock scramble, forcing you to put your feet in creative positions to get the proper leverage and all sorts of other weird stuff. I was so happy, I was even nice to the southbounders.

Stayed in a hostel called Chet's Place in Lincoln on the 28th.
I went out for $1 pizza slices and unlimited salad bar with Buckeye and a random SOBO girl that night. My body wasn't used to so much roughage. Leafy green vegetables. I had a giant leafy green shit the next morning.

Speaking of giant leafy green shits, Sativa James yellow blazed around the Kinsmans and caught up with us in Lincoln. He brought an even more insufferable friend with him, Loud Mouth.

Loud Mouth wore a kilt and the perpetual smirk of a pederast on the loose at Disney World. I remember our first conversation well. I wish I didn't. Loud Mouth had accosted me while I was waiting in line at the post office.

"What's your trail name?" he had asked.

"Major Chafage."

"What?" He didn't seem to get it. "Major what? Chafe?"

"Chafage."

Still nothing.

"I think your trail name should be Keebler Elf," he asserted confidently. "Can I call you Keebler?"

"No," I sighed, wishing he would go away.

"How'd you get that name, anyway?"

"I gave it to myself."

"That's stupid. Trail names have to be given! You can't name yourself. I think your trail name should be Keebler."

"No. It's Major Chafage, or M.C. for short. It's been that way for eighteen hundred miles. I think I've earned the right to be called what I want."

"Whatever. People who name themselves are douchebags."

Touché.

Needless to say, I really hated Loud Mouth.
On the 29th, I hiked over Lafayette and stayed at the Galehead Hut with Buckeye and Twizzler.
I had to wash every window in the place for my work-for-stay. Which was okay. The Hut itself was very cool. It was quiet, not at all crowded, relaxing. We played Trivial Pursuit that night with an apparently brain-dead SOBO. I don't think he got a single question right.

Also, Mt. Garfield totally kicked my ass. Hard. It was all steep, rocky ups and downs. Nothing made sense. At some point the trail inexplicably turned into a waterfall. I may have cried.
On the 30th of July, we hit the Ethan Pond Campsite, which was full of camp groups and one cotton-clad, super-annoying overnighter. Then, last, er, yesterday, we (myself, Buckeye and Twizzler) hiked the Presidentials up to the Lake of the Clouds.

Yesterday, I a) stepped in mud up to my mid-shin, b) broke a boot lace, c) fell over, d) fell over again, this time ripping a gaping hole in my pans and bloodying my knee
Which happened right in front of Buckeye and some day hikers. Buckeye didn't bother to stop to see if I was all right. No, he laughed and then took pictures, because that's what good friends are for. And the day hikers? They callously ignored my plight. None of them even offered me a bandaid, let alone Gatorade or soda. Bastards.
and e) something I may be forgetting. Oh yeah, I ate too much food, then "dumpster dived" for some juice some paying guests had left half-drunk on a table, only to find out too late that they had some vile alcohol in them. Spent the next... a long time afterwards just lying there in agony. Working for stay here was easy, though.
And the view of the sunset. Amazing. Breathtaking. Utterly [enter the superlative of your choice here]. Words don't do it justice.
The hiking? Meh. I can't say I find it very invigorating, what with the difficult terrain, the abundance of annoying day hikers, and my damning propensity for self-destruction. The views are nice, but not better than they were from Moosilauke or South Kinsman or Garfield, far less trafficked summits.

I keep wanting to write down my thoughts about a story idea I have, not to mention my frequent daydreams about Katahdin, Megan, and what-happens-after. That last part is both exciting, dreadful, and annoying. So are the daily reminders of how close we, I, am/are from finishing.

I miss Bandito, Caveman and the girls. Bandito would pick me up after I'd fallen. Caveman would, no, he'd just laugh about it, too. The girls would commiserate. But they would all pull for me, because we're all striving for the same goal in the end, and we can all appreciate the effort, pain, whatever it took to get us this far. Maybe I just miss my friends.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter 127: Tree Line

Well, I didn't get murder raped, but some local riffraff did come up to my campsite to drink beer and play their banjo. So that was terrifying. Once they noticed my tent, however, they simply—and politely—left.

How sad.

I spent the 26th of July hiking over Moosilauke or however you spell it. It wasn't hard at all, just long. That sounded dirty.

After breezing past the Jeffers Brook Shelter, I walked by a crashed Toyota Prius, its hood crumpled into the trunk of a tree. Oddly, nobody was inside or sitting around nearby, crying, waiting for a tow truck to come. It was as if the driver had deemed it just a particularly poor parking job and decided to go on with their day.

Puzzled, but not particularly alarmed—why should I care if the owner didn't? And it's not like there was blood seeping from the trunk or anything. But I digress—I continued on. And immediately got lost. The trail followed a road uphill for about half a mile, but thanks to a conspicuous lack of adequate signage, all I had to go on was faith. Thankfully, I was distracted by the sudden arrival of several moose, who watched me tentatively from a nearby meadow. Otherwise I might have been more disturbed by my seeming aimless wanderings.

But then I found the trail again, and the moose, the Prius, and the vagaries of the Dartmouth Outing Club were soon forgotten.

Four miles later, I'd climbed 3,500 feet, and was above tree line for the first time. I wasn't disappointed.

With fifty mile an hour winds at the top, I almost had to walk sideways. The surrounding grass rolled in the wind, reminding me strongly—and unexpectedly—of the Irish seaside. After the exertion of the climb had worn off, I actually found myself getting quite cold, so I put on my thermals and ducked into the broken foundations of the old summit house to get warm. There, I met and talked to Maddy, the caretaker of the D.O.C. Ravine Lodge, for a while. She was amused to hear my stories of pizza and drunkenness, and was of course thrilled to meet a trail legend such as Major Chafage. Eventually her fawning obsequiousness became too much even for me, and I politely excused myself and moved on. Such is the nature of my celebrity.

Hiking down the Beaver Brook trail later was more fun than difficult. I'd been warned about its steepness, and inherent danger. I simply stowed my trekking poles and treated the whole thing as one big rock scramble.

While I stayed at the Beaver Brook shelter with Popeye, Smokestack and others that night, the following morning I was faced with an almost immediate choice. At Kinsman Notch, I could A) hitch into Lincoln to collect a mail drop containing my heavy sleeping bag, resupply, etc., then come back and try to make it to the Eliza Brook Shelter; B) Continue hiking over the Kinsmans to Franconia Notch, then hitch into Lincoln and do all the above stuff only to stay at a hostel in town, or C) none of the above. Stupidly, I went with C.

I got the Eliza Brook Shelter at around 2:30 PM. I thought I could make it to the Kinsman Pond Campsite by 4 or 4:30, and the Lonesome Lake Hut by 6 PM. Unfortunately, I could not guarantee myself getting work for stay at either of those facilities, and getting into town around 8 didn't sound so good either. So I stayed. Relaxing? Yeah, for the most part. But then I was running out of food, and now had to do a couple or several 15 mile days in order to stay on schedule... Oh no! Whatever would I do???

Chapter 126: Catching Up

Journal entry, July 25th:
Didn't realize it'd been almost a week since I wrote in here. I guess that's what staying at the Long Trail Inn, drinking beers and such, and then having shitty weather/good company during a dash to Hanover will do to you.

So, what's happened during the past week?

A nice guy bought us hikers a round of beers at the Inn. My tent got soaked overnight. I caught up with Veggie. I ran uphill through a precipitous (wait, what the fuck does that mean?), I mean, oncoming thunderstorm with 60 mph winds and quarter-sized hail. I got pissed off by some arrogant SOBOs/section hikers who took up all the room in the shelter while bragging about the six miles they'd done that day out of Hannover. Found a Star Wars novel in the shelter and read it cover to cover.

Got into Hanover early, went to Ramunto's twice, got two free slices, 6 free beers (2 for myself, 4 for my companions), and half a free garlic knot pizza. Was horrified by Sativa James's drunken antics. Disappointed I didn't get drunk like Veggie and Buckeye. Stayed at a frat house. (Self professed "marching band" frat.)

Saw my parents. They were on their way home from Toronto. Had Indian or Thai food. Stayed in a Comfort Inn. Mommy bought me groceries at the Dartmouth Co-Op the next morning.

Did 16 miles out of Hanover. Took a crap at the Velvet Rocks Shelter. Nice privy. Ate lunch at the Moose Mountain Shelter. Saw Veggie and Smokestack there. I spent last night at the Trapper John Shelter.

Now I'm sitting here writing this on top of Smarts Mountain
Smokestack and Co. arrived at the Firewarden's Cabin atop Smarts Mountain just then, interrupting my session. It was hard to write with other people around, chatting. Not that I begrudged them their presence. Except for that I did. God, how I could hate people. Especially those with "friends."

My group of friends had recently evaporated. I had said a temporary goodbye to Popeye, Buckeye and Veggie when I'd seen them last in Hanover, before I'd left to stay the night with my parents in nearby White River Junction. Although I'd seen Veggie the next day, and earlier that morning, she had vowed she wasn't going as far as even I was planning. And I wasn't planning much. I had promised myself—and others, quite vociferously—that I wouldn't ever do a twenty mile day again. For the rest of the entire trip.

I was there to enjoy myself. And that was it. From there on out.

But you know what they say about the "best laid plans of mice and men."

Journal entry, evening of July 25th:
Fuck everything and everybody. Fell 3 miles short of my goal today thanks to some prime stupidity. Tent got soaked in the rain last night thanks to me not setting it up properly. (Mistake #1) I got to the top of what I thought was a 2,900 footer (it wasn't. Mistake #2) and took my tent out to dry since the sun came out for the first time in 2 weeks. "Securing" the tent to my pack's compression straps, I continued on up and then down the mountain, not being too careful to see whether my cargo was still secure. (Mistake #3) ≈1.5 to 2 miles down the mountain I stopped to get water, only then realizing I'd dropped my tent somewhere.

I ditched my pack and ran back up the hill (steep! but no pack was awesome), passing 2 NOBO's (Bumper and Breeze) who'd seem the tent but hadn't packed it out. Thanks. So I literally had to run back to the summit! to retrieve it. So much for not doing anymore 20 mile days. So now I'm camped within earshot of a road, and will probably be murder raped by a hillbilly bear. From New Hampshire. During the night.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chapter 125: The Gospel of the Garlic Knot

Imagine a pizza.

Its crust: sumptuous braids of golden garlic knots, drizzled with olive oil, enough garlic to kill a small clan of vampires, and a metric ton of parmesan cheese.

The pie itself? Just sliced tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil, again drizzled in obscene amounts of garlic and even more parmesan cheese.

Sound good?

Then you have to go to Ramunto's Brick n' Brew in Hanover, New Hampshire, and order the Garlic Knot Pizza. It's even better than I've described, and you won't regret it. Tell them Major Chafage sent you.

The above spiel is more or less the same as the one I'd been giving since Georgia or North Carolina, to anyone who would listen. And I meant it. Someone told me I was doing such a good job evangelizing for the place, they should, at the very least, give me free pizza. I kind of liked that idea. I spoke to my sister, a Dartmouth alum, about it, and she offered to send the proprietors of Ramunto's a letter to that effect, telling them how I was spreading the word, and how cool it would be if they gave me a free pizza when I arrived.

And she did.

And so, when Veggie and I walked into Ramunto's for lunch, we found a sign proclaiming, "Welcome, M.C.! We have a Garlic Knot Pizza waiting for you!"

Awesome.

The staff quickly recognized me as M.C., and the day manager—so overjoyed to make my acquaintance—even offered to buy Veggie and myself a round of drinks while we ate our lunch.

Which is to say, we were drunk when we left. I hadn't had a drop of alcohol in nearly three weeks at that point. My tolerance had gone down, understandably. Also, Veggie hadn't eaten anything for lunch. She's vegan, after all. She gave her slice of free pizza—all thru-hiker's get one—to me, and that was that.

When we returned to the frat house, we found Buckeye and Sativa James had just arrived. Buckeye was in a celebratory mood and suggested we go find a bar. Sativa James, meanwhile, was getting stoned and making ready to troll the town for loose women.

We left Sativa James to his debauchery, and went in search of a bar. Looking for a bar at two o'clock in the afternoon makes perfect sense when you're already drunk, by the way. Long story short, we utterly failed to find any adequate drinking establishment. I suspected that Hanover was more of a "buy a twelve pack and get hammered in your basement" kind of town.

So that's exactly what we did.

The three of us strolled down to the Dartmouth Co-Op and bought a six pack pack each. I got some tasteful Woodchuck Cider, made in nearby Middlebury, Vermont. Veggie and I convinced Buckeye to get Long Trail Double Bag, a strong, dark amber ale that's 7.2% alcohol. Veggie got some vegan, soy frozen yogurt for dinner, and another six pack of something or other. Details are a bit hazy.

By the time we got back to the frat house, and after doing our laundry, everyone was feeling hungry again, so we headed back to Ramunto's. This time Sativa James came with us, although I would later wish he hadn't. I gleefully collected my free pizza—that I actually had to pay for half of—and another round of free beers for myself and my friends. It was a party!

I ended up taking half of the pizza back to the frat/hostel with me. I figured I'd eat it for breakfast in the morning. It wouldn't last the night.

Buckeye, Veggie, and myself started drinking and playing pool in the frat's basement. Sativa James snuck back out to seduce some waitress he met. I felt a surge of pity for the poor girl, and for every other local who crossed his path, but also a certain glimmer of relief that he was no longer around.

Some of the frat brothers—and sisters, it was a co-ed frat—eventually came down to play beer pong and chat up some dance team they'd sequestered. We chatted with them amiably, and made three startling discoveries. One, this was, or had been, a dry frat. Two, they proudly proclaimed themselves to be the "marching band frat." And three, the three of us were, by far, the coolest people in the room. Also, the drunkest.

After Sativa James (surprisingly) returned with his queasily young conquest, details start to get hazy. My box of leftovers grew ever smaller. My cider all got drunken.

Then Buckeye passed out on the pool table. I got annoyed with everyone and decided, "To Hell with them, I'm going to bed!" And promptly lay down on a bench. Only to be woken up not terribly long after by the sounds of Veggie dry heaving into a recycling bucket.

Good times!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chapter 124: A Field Guide to Annoying

The bro: the aggressively macho, juvenile male who never graduated from wearing sports jerseys and cargo shorts, crew cuts, and Oakley's, and can never shut up about that awesome he got hammered once, even though that happens with startling regularity. Weaknesses include Lite beers, receding hairlines, and Derek Jeter.

The douche: similar to the above, except he disguises his inherent bro-ness with pink polo shirts, Ray Ban's, and pointedly casual flip-flops. Weaknesses include wine spritzers, shopping, and underage women. Kidding! And frequent repetitive stress injuries in the wrist and elbow. From playing tennis. Kidding again! From masturbation.

The hipster douche: Look down. Look up. Is it wearing orange sneakers, wooden clogs, or rubber galoshes? A doofy, anachronistic hat? Now take in the whole picture, if you can stomach it. Is it wearing too-tight jeans, a purple leotard, and/or a rumpled t-shirt from the seventies? Congrats, you've found yourself a hipster. Weaknesses include cheap German lagers brewed inexplicably in Wisconsin, irony, and the ever amorphous "authentic," whatever that is.

The cynic: He could be anyone. He could be sitting right next to you. He could be one of your best friends, or most-trusted colleagues. Identifying characteristics include apathy, sarcasm, and an inexplicably bitterness towards everyone and everything. Weaknesses include anything anyone puts in front of him, and a general lack of self-esteem. Pity this man.

Lawyers: a subsect of the "douche," only better dressed. Do not confuse any perceived friendliness as genuine interest and engage them in conversation. You will be billed for your kindness, and will later regret your naiveté. Weaknesses of the lawyer include a near-debilitating level of smugness which opens them up to sudden attacks. Also, the exposed area of the neck just below their jaw. Their armor is weakest there.

Politicians: These are lawyers just wrapped in a protective layer of bureaucracy. Weaknesses: Fire. Dismemberment. Sunlight. No, wait, that's vampires. I meant to say "hookers" and "shady real-estate deals." And fire.

Al QaedaSort of a combination of all the above. Aggressive and violence prone like the bro, fiercely dogmatic like the hipster, full of irrepressible hatred like the cynic. Can be identified by the prominence of box cutters, dynamite, and automatic weapons amongst their personal effects. And by a pronounced affection for pornography. Weaknesses include ammonium nitrate, latent feelings of empathy (but don't count on it), and falafel. Who doesn't like falafel?

The southbounder: The absolute worst of all. So evil, evil resents the association. Weaknesses include a false sense of superiority, the phrase "You're never going to make it," and mortality.

----

Veggie and I ran up the hill in the rain. I had caught up with her earlier, at the Thistle Hill Shelter, when I'd sought cover during an earlier afternoon squall. It had blown over quickly, a pale prelude of things to come.

Now, the branches above me creaked and cracked in a mere sixty mile-per-hour breeze. The sky was a malevolent black, green, or purple, frequently illuminated by skittering strands of lightning. Leaves twirled and rustled around my feet, whipped and twisted into eddies by the furious wind. It was, quite frankly, terrifying.

We'd heard a weather report earlier, when we'd stopped in at a deli in West Hartford, VT. A severe thunderstorm warning was in effect. We were to expect hail stones the size of golf balls, and maybe even a tornado. Fortunately, I knew we were far ahead of the trailing group of fellow NOBO's I'd left behind at the Wintturi Shelter. Hypothetically, if we hurried, we coule make it to the ironically named Happy Hill Shelter before the storm hit, and have the whole place to ourselves. At least, that was the plan.

Through diminutive in stature, Veggie was actually an incredibly accomplished hiker. I'm no speed demon myself, but I was continually impressed by her ability to keep up. Or, okay, fine: I may have actually been lagging behind. That is, until the innocuous forks of lightning overhead started morphing into menacing steak knives, and threatened to come down on my head.

There are few motivating factors quite like the fear of imminent death. That, and an urgent desire to change out of my now-soiled underwear. I passed Veggie like she was standing still, her eyes turned fearfully upward as her hair stuck out for some reason in random directions. Whatever.

Luckily, we were only about a mile from the shelter. Despite never having run better than an eight minute mile in any of our fitness tests in high school—and despite carrying a 40 lb. backpack—I think I reached the shelter in three minutes flat. Take that, Roger Bannister.

Laughing maniacally, I triumphantly ran up under the shelter eaves just as the sky opened up.

"Take that nature!" I shouted, shaking my fists at the sky. "Is that the best you got? I freakin' turned you around and made you my--"

At which point I happened to turn to see eight sets of eyeballs bulging at me from the depths of the shelter. Gaping mouths. The slightest hint of drool. The vague feeling of vacuous stupidity. The quiet echoes of several broken conversations dispersing, drifting off into the atmosphere.

Southbounders.

They begrudgingly made room for me in the dankest, darkest corner, near a window where errant raindrops could splatter in. Thanks a lot. I quietly stewed in a growing homicidal rage until Veggie arrived to diffuse the situation.

"Oh, you'll definitely find trail magic on your way into town tomorrow," someone was telling me.

"Is that so?" I asked absentmindedly, skeptical.

"Oh, yeah!" another agreed. "In front of every house on the way in."

"Lemonade."

"Iced tea."

"Fresh fruit."

"Cookies."

"Hundred-dollar bills."

"The streets are practically paved with them!"

"Sounds like a hard hike," I observed dryly.

"No, easiest four miles ever," someone scoffed.

What? "What?" I asked, incredulous. "You came from Hanover?"

"Yeah," came all. They looked to each other, nodded thoughtfully.

Veggie gripped my arm, restraining me. I looked down. My hands were balled into fists.

"Yeah," someone repeated. "We've been here since noon!"

"Didn't want to get rained on, after all."

"That'd just be stupid."

And then I turned and walked back out into the hail and rain, hoping to get struck by lightning. Or maybe I just read a Star Wars novel I found until crying myself to sleep. Whatever.

Chapter 123: Murder by Sex

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/
Noun: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity."
When I arrived at the Wintturi Shelter, I was alone. Bereft. Friendless.

Lots of people were there, of course. But I wasn't exactly close to any of them. I wouldn't have counted any of them as a "trail buddy." At least not yet.

Making things worse, except for Popeye—who was older and wiser and thus slightly more independent—most of my peers had already formed up into cliques. Buckeye was palling around with Twizzler and Sativa James. Then there were Smokestack and his entire crew. Plus Cubby and Dilly Dally. Tonto and the Lone Stranger. Silent J and Shaggy 2 Awesome. I didn't care for some of them, to be honest. But still, I was lonely and wished I had something to ingratiate myself upon the group.

Which is when I found a novel tucked in the corner of the shelter, obviously left to be used as kindling. It wasn't a Bible or even a copy of Dianetics, one or both of which I may have burned on the trail before in my attempts to stay warm. Or for fun. Rather, it was a romance novel. And a bad one, at that.

As the denizens of the shelter crowded around the campfire, I opened the book to a random page and read aloud:
stepped into the room. The door was unlocked. Why was the door unlocked? he thought, suddenly alarmed.

Jamileh had her back turned. Her bare shoulders heaved with repressed sobs. An odd shudder sparked down Jack's spine. Something was off. Something bothered him, but he couldn't quite place it. Which bothered him. He knew he should know what it was that was bothering him, which in turn bothered him even more. His head spun.

"Why was the door unlocked?" he shouted at Jamileh, grabbing her arm and whipping her around.

Suddenly they were very close. Jamileh had almost lost her grip on her towel, and tugged it up around her heaving busoms. Which heaved, closer and closer to Jack's chest. Jack realized what had been bothering him.

"You left the door open," he growled. "On purpose."

"I don't know what you're talking about," spat Jamileh, literally spitting in Jack's face. "Imperialist American pig. How do I know you didn't kill my husband?"

Jack shoved her back against the wall, hard, and grabbed her towel, ripping it away. She froze, gaping, but made no move to cover the alluring olive curves of her abruptly naked body. Jack's sniper eyes roved all over her glistening, shivering sensualness as though searching a crowded marketplace for insurgents. He stepped toward her.

And she slapped him, hard, across the face.

The contact of their skin was like a spark in a room full of gunpowder.

And all at once, he was upon her, his mouth devouring hers, his tongue exploring the every crevice of hers. Straining, searching, yearning, learning.
"This is gross," I added, scanning ahead on the page with what I hoped was evident disgust. I had a rapt audience though, and they begged me to continue. Who am I to deny them?
glared at him furiously, always maintaining eye contact, as she slowly, seductively pulled off his pants.

And then he was inside her, and they were doing it.
"This guy is clearly a virgin," I observed, breaking off the narrative again. "The author. Virgin. 'And then his penis was doing that thing penises do when they're inside vaginas?' I mean, come on! Who writes stuff like that!"

Nobody appreciated my commentary. I may have been pelted by rocks. Or pine cones. Or not.
And then they were doing it. The sex. And the sex was awesome, and sexy, as most sex often is. And they did it again and again and again. And he pounded her and she orgasmed a lot.
I paused to write "The author is clearly a virgin" in the margins, since my other attempts at levity had been so violently denied.
And her body flew up and down in the air and she screamed, because that's exactly the sort of thing that happens when I have sex. I mean, when suave, debonair Jack Steele—soldier of fortune, Secret Service agent, and part-time CIA assassin—has sex. And then they were done having sex, and eyed each other with a simmering carnal tension, like they were immediately going to do it again. Because they were.
"It doesn't say that," scoffed Buckeye, interrupting me.

"You don't believe me?" I tossed the book at him. "Read it yourself, find out!"

So he did. And did. And I was right.

And we've been friends ever since.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chapter 122: Nightmares

I'm back in high school. That's bad enough. Worse, there's an orchestra concert.

I have to play in it. I don't want to. It's not that I don't know the music—I don't—it's that I don't want to face these people. My fellow musicians. They're the worst, the ones I really don't ever want to remember. Not because they bullied me or made my life miserable. Because they were my friends. Because they actually knew me. And that's terrifying.

I don't recognize the hall we're playing in, but it doesn't matter. It's not the high school auditorium. Maybe it's the rehearsal space in the Neighborhood Music School, somehow enlarged and distorted to hold more people.

None of my drums are set up. In a panic, I miss my cue. My friend Steve whispers at me, urging me to play. I can feel the heat of Mrs. Lauro's glare without looking up. I am frustrated, ashamed.

I decide it's probably best not to play, since I don't know what I'm doing. I slip off the back of the stage and head to the bathroom. Not that I need to go. It just offers solace. Solitude. Quiet.

Except Jeanette is inside, making elaborate mix drinks in a blender. That's weird. I haven't seen her in years. What is she doing here? In the men's bathroom?

Hey, Nette. How's it going?

But that's all I ask her. We make small talk, maybe, as she makes me a drink. Probably a health code violation. If this were a bar. It's not. I chug it down. Sweet release. I'm getting drunk now!

I slip out of the bathroom, not getting caught up in the rapidly escalating party atmosphere that's developing inside. I think maybe someone showed up with an iPod, or a DJ came with a disco ball. It was getting out of hand, in any case.

I can feel the eyes of my friends on me. I've let them down. I've embarrassed them. And now I'm drunk, making my behavior even more inexplicable. I'm sure I'll get a dressing down, later. I don't care. I don't seek out their faces. My cheeks burn. I step outside.

My parents are there. With my aunt? Don't know what she's doing there. But they don't seem too concerned with me screwing up. Maybe I forget to tell them. My dad can't stop talking about some professional act that's playing after us. Or actually, they might be playing at the bar next door. There's a bar next door? I thought that place was a music store.

And then my parents—and aunt—decide that they'd rather see the professionals than see me play. That's fine. I understand. I'm still a little hurt, even though I have no idea what I'm doing. They tell me to meet them there afterwards.

Yeah, right. I doubt it. I'm going to die or wake up before that happens.

Anyway, I can't believe how cavalier they were about missing my concert. But then again, I didn't know any of the music, my tympani weren't tuned, and I think I might have made a ruckus in one of the practice rooms with a crash cymbal, and ruined something. Mrs. Lauro is definitely going to ask to talk to me afterwards. She's angry.

And then, walking in, I catch Libby's eye. I didn't want to. I've been avoiding her this entire time.

She's so upset. And hurt. And betrayed. I can see it. She doesn't understand a) why I'm screwing up, b) why I was getting drunk with Nette in the bathroom, or c) why I was steadfastly ignoring her, and treating her like garbage.

I don't see how any of that is really my problem, though. I absolutely don't care. In fact, I burn with embarrassment and bitterness and hatred. And disappointment. Mainly because my tympani were out of tune, and I didn't know the songs, and my parents were ass holes and walked out on me. Everything else though? Complete apathy.

Is this real? Am I going to be stuck in this nightmare forever? Back in high school?

No.

I wake up. And I'm back on the trail, pounding the crap out of my knees, starving. Something smells inexplicably of urine. I can't place it. My (new) backpack is ripped. My feet feel like they've been dipped in molten glass. And for some reason I've decided to hike twenty miles again, again, to the Wintturi Shelter. The glorious pain of it all.

I'm awake. I'm alive. Thank God.

Chapter 121: Moldy White Blazing

At 4,235 feet, Killington Peak was the tallest mountain I'd climbed since Stratton Mountain some four days earlier. Or, well, it would have been, if I had actually gone to the summit. Unfortunately, the Appalachian Trail only climbs as far as the Cooper Lodge, a derelict shelter for wayward skiers that teeters precariously at 3,850 feet.

The Killington Peak Trail beckoned nearby, promising a short 0.2 mile stroll up the roughly 400 vertical feet to the summit. However, I am neither certifiably insane nor particularly masochistic. I ate lunch in the dusty lodge, and pointedly ignored the detour.

----

According to The Thru-Hiker's Handbook, a "blue blazer" is a "long distance hiker who substitutes a section of blue-blazed trail for a white-blazed section between two points on the Trail." Got that? I normally considered blue-blazing acceptable only as a way to avoid doubling back or in case of inclement weather. However, there are always exceptions.

An alumni thru-hiker named Blue Jay had told me once about the Sherburne Pass Trail, which diverged from the Appalachian Trail just north of Killington and went straight down to the Inn at the Long Trail, bypassing some three miles of pointless switchbacks. Apparently it was the original route of the A.T. The trail had been rerouted sometime in the not-so-recent past to avoid cutting through private property. I had been on the fence about possibly taking it, but was willing to let him try to convince me.

"It's the original path of the A.T., and it's so much better!" Blue Jay had sworn.

"So it's not really like blue-blazing?" I had asked, intrigued. Because I really did want to go to the Inn. I'd been there once as a child, and had some fond memories. Plus they have free camping in a lot across the street. And beer.

"No," Blue Jay had insisted, "It's like... Old white blazing!"

"So they're not blue blazes," I had mused, "They're just moldy white blazes."

"Exactly!"

So I wasn't blue-blazing when I took the Sherburne Pass Trail down to the Inn. Or, at least, that's what I kept telling myself. I was just moldy white blazing.

The Inn was just as I remembered it, sort of. Popeye was there, which was cool. We'd developed a nice repartee ever since being unwilling roommates at the Green Mountain House in Manchester Center. And Fredo was there, a nice surprise. A man at the bar even bought us thru-hiker's a round of drinks. Of which we had several. It was rather festive inside. The owner was behind the bar, and very chatty. I had a veggie burger. Delicious.

And then the time came for me to step back out into a stinging wind and rain. Slightly buzzed, I trudged across the street to my tent. I lay awake for a while, listening to the sound of the storm, and hoping my tent wouldn't blow over during the night.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chapter 120: Teach Me How to Yogi

On my way towards the Clarendon Shelter, I found myself hiking behind an amiable young man and woman out thru-hiking the Long Trail. They evidently weren't having such a great time of it, however. Using only a small fraction of my considerable wisdom, I quickly gleaned that they had started out with way too much food, and, thus overburdened by superfluous Clif® Bars, were now struggling to maintain even a relatively relaxed pace.

Or maybe I merely overheard them bickering about their unequal pack weights, and generally cursing the capricious juggling act of—and inverse relationship between—mobility and preparedness. And not that I was eavesdropping, but there was one detail of their conversation that particularly piqued my interest. Apparently some family and friends were driving in from Maine to meet them at a road crossing, to bring them a (seemingly unnecessary) resupply. It didn't take an extraordinary leap of logic to extrapolate from this tidbit that there might be an impromptu picnic involved.

And there was.

After reaching the parking lot by VT 103, the two Long Trailers took a seat to await their friends. Feigning exhaustion and hunger, I sat down some ten yards away and found something innocuous to do, just biding my time. Ten minutes later, a minivan pulled in carrying a jovial family of six, several coolers, a giant thermos of Kool Aid, and several boxes of goodies. Jackpot.

Of course, I played it cool at first, doing the polite thing of ignoring them completely. Until I caught someone saying something about "carrying too much weight" and "never make it to Burlington" and "death." At which point I magnanimously butted in to suggest that, maybe, if they carried less food, their packs would be considerably lighter, they could go further, and thus be able to resupply more often. And that the extra weight of added food really was a double edged sword.

Of course, the Long Trailers and their makeshift support team were blown away by this veritable Appalachian Trail thru-hiker sharing his hard-earned knowledge. Then they noticed my own food bag lying limply on the ground, my meager (but sufficient) supplies scattered haphazardly in a calculatedly pathetic display. With a barely suppressed glee, I watched their eyes fill with gratitude and sympathy, before they finally invited me to join their party.

Later, after arriving at the (surprisingly well-maintained) shelter and collecting a trail magic soda from the nearby creek, I wrote the following in the log:
Dear Long Trailers, Section Hikers, and Overnighters,

I've seen and hear you getting a lot of grief from my fellow hru-hikers, both in person and in these here registers. You've been called "ignorant" "morons," you've been accused of waking up at 5:30 AM and banging pots and pans together "like it's fucking Mardi Gras," you may have even had your food bags mistaken for trail magic and/or had someone to threaten to take a shit in your sleeping bag. Well, I'm here to put a stop to all that.

I love you guys.

Truly, I do. When I stumbled across the Vermont border, feeling lazy and lethargic at the end of a measly 14 mile day, all you newbie LTers were there to pick me right up. You made me feel fantastic by being so impressed with my mileage, comparing it to your own 7 mile days. Suddenly, I didn't feel lazy anymore. I mean, not that y'all are. But you remind me of how far I've come since I started. And not only that, but you're generally good-hearted, generous, well-intentioned people.

Special shout out to Detour and Dribble for the fantastic trail magic. A big, all caps THANK YOU for sharing your picnic and resupply with me. You guys are awesome. Enjoy the trail!
Love,
Major Chafage

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 117: On to the Green Mountain House

By 9:30 in the morning, I had made it to the summit of Stratton Mountain. At 3,936 feet, Stratton was the tallest peak I'd climbed in nearly two months, since Three Ridges in central Virgina. Not that I could remember such minutia in the moment. If I felt or thought anything at the time, it was gratitude for having come so far so quickly, with most of the day still ahead of me.

I had big plans, after all. Plans that involved somehow getting into Manchester Center, buying copious amounts of lemonade and chocolate milk, eating a lavish dinner at the Manchester Pizza House—once acclaimed by Skiing magazine as the "best pizza in town," which really isn't saying much considering their glaring lack of competition—heading over to the Green Mountain House Hiker Hostel, showering, and then maybe checking my e-mail, just to make sure that my loved ones were still alive and that civilization hadn't collapsed in my absence. And then dropping dead from exhaustion.

I reached the road at around three in the afternoon. Since coming down off of Stratton Mountain, I hadn't really found any part of the day particularly challenging. Unfortunately, that was before I tried to hitchhike into town.

After unintentionally terrifying some young women in a Subaru—who may or may not have sprayed me with Lysol or bear repellent and then called the cops—I decided it might be prudent to walk up the road a bit. I caught a ride soon enough. With someone who was on their way back from visiting a fellow thru-hiker in Maine, no less. It's always people connected to the trail.

Arriving at the hostel after dinner, I found myself in the seemingly unenviable position of having to share the barn with Popeye. Which is normally where people with dogs would have slept, but there was no more room in the main house. No matter, we still had bunks and Popeye wasn't a prolific snorer. We actually might've had a better deal than everybody else.

After a short amount of relatively painless deliberation the next morning, I decided to zero there for the day. I'd heard such good things about the Green Mountain House, and I wanted to take advantage of its vast movie collection and rumored supply of free Ben & Jerry's. I would not be disappointed.

I went into town that morning to resupply, and ran into Fredo and Saint at the Easter Mountain Sports outfitter. Neither of them had intended to stay at the Green Mountain House until I mentioned how awesome it was. Unfortunately, Saint was waiting for a ride to take him off trail for a couple weeks, to go to a wedding back home. So he, at least, would not be coming. Fredo, on the other hand, actually seemed enthusiastic about joining me there, but was then was sorely disappointed to find out there wasn't any room. I lobbied the owner on Fredo's behalf, arguing that he could easily sleep on a couch or tent on the lawn, but there was nothing for it. The proprietor was understandably leery about making an exception, and might have even mumbled something about "neighbors," "fire codes," and "illegal." Whatever. Disappointed, we soon parted ways. I would never see Saint again. It was the last hurrah of the Nature Train. Except not really.

Of course, I would be remiss in my narration if I failed to mention the melange of characters also staying at the House that evening. Pixie was there, a welcome surprise. I never thought I'd see her again, and actually wouldn't after the following day. Oh well. Veggie was there. I didn't recognize her at first, although I should have given the contentious nature of our first encounter in Pennsylvania. Then there was Buckeye, whom I found delightfully profane and generally agreeable, although he looked disarmingly like an Amish farmer someone had mistakenly attacked with a can of red spray paint. Or like a prominent Hamas leader, at least according to Twizzler, an Israeli section hiker who was also staying at the hostel. Last but not least, there was Sativa James, an inveterate womanizer who was shamelessly pretending to be a thru-hiker and always seemed to be either drunk or stoned. All together, a great group from whose company I would never escape.

No matter how hard I tried.

God, I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 119: Stand Alone

July 17,

I was pooping when they found me, the deer flies. From hell. And now they won't leave me alone. How I do hate them in a sadistic, violent way.

Of the dozens I have killed, some I have tortured before finally doing them in, plucking off their wings, wrenching their limbs from their still-quivering bodies, before the coup de grâce: a quick flick of the forefinger that sends their beady little heads hurtling through the air towards parts unknown, while their abdomens remain resolutely clenched, partly squished, between my fingers.

Part of me feels bad for deriving satisfaction (if not outright pleasure) from their pain and ultimate deaths.

Another part of me thinks they can go fuck themselves, and that if I could waterboard them, I would.

It's a messed up world. At least I have the company of some (enormous) dragonflies for lunch.

----

July 17, cont'd

I was taking a shit when they found me. Deer flies. This time the brought backup: mosquitos.

Despite my strategically advantageous catholing position—perched on the edge of yet another moss-covered boulder—this time I was anihilated.

The deer flies ran a perfect interference, distracting me with a series of feints, while the mosquitos went straight for my exposed backside.

Quickly defeated, I fled into the forrest, leaving a trail of blood and feces in my wake...

----

July 18,

Aaarrrghh! Why is it always when I'm pooping!?!

Chapter 118: Is it Fjord or Ford?

The climb out of Manchester Center was absolutely brilliant.

It helped that it was a stunning, cloudless day. From the observation platform atop Bromley Mountain, I felt like I could look around and see all of Creation in front of me. Like I was on top of the world. Even if—at 3,260 feet—I was barely a quarter mile above the valley floor. Hardly a significant accomplishment. Still, with the I had hiked out some Mtn Dew in my water bottle, and thought now was as good a time as any to break it out in celebration.

Here's a physics lesson, for all of you. The air pressure at altitude tends to be much lower than it is at sea-level. Why? Magic, duh. Because the higher you go, the less physical matter—like trees and houses and whatnot—there is around the air, hemming it in, and so it naturally has more room to spread out. Simple, right?

However, that's not the point.

The point is this: the pressure inside my water bottle—which contained a highly carbonated beverage, don't forget—was disproportionately greater than the air pressure outside. Thus, opening it was a little like pulling the pin on a highly comical grenade. If I hadn't been holding onto the lid, it might have taken my eye out. As it was, it merely caused me to punch myself in the chin, hard, while an explosive geyser of Mtn Dew drenched me from head to foot.

Ignoring the raucous, derisive laughter of the throngs of hysterical onlookers—oh, wait. That's right. There was nobody there. Alone with my humiliation, I took the opportunity to write in my journal:
No entry while I was in town. Manchester Pizza, despite its glowing recommendation in my guidebook, sucked. The Green Mountain House was, however, awesome. Two (free) pints of Ben & Jerry's, 3+ meals culled from random hiker box supplies, plus the opportunity to watch "The Fifth Element," "Hellboy II," "Avatar," "Spider Man 2," and "Rumble in the Bronx?" Nice.

Always mixed emotions when getting back on the trail. Excitement, yes. Sadness too for leaving behind that which is comfortable and familiar. A certain amount of dread for the unknown one is about to face, and more sadness still that one's journey is one day closer to completion. Yet more dread at the unknown that awaits us back in "real life," as though living out here isn't real...

An "easy" (presumed, by me) 13 or so more miles awaits me today. Rellishing the opportunity to take it easy, and relax when I want to. Somehow, I'm both worried about eating too much and worried about carrying out too much food. Also worried about rain. Preoccupied with thoughts of Megan, family, home, and food (of course). But mostly Megan. And then of seeing mom and dad in Hanover. But still, mostly Megan.

Had a weird anxiety dream last night about being in an airport, being constantly late, and then rushing for a plane with Tricia and a lot of other hikers. Then the plane, a 747, came in for a landing on the wrong runway, while we all crowded on a narrow, unpaved runway, between rows of low, overhanging trees, all swaying violently in a dangerous, gusty wind. Huh?
Moving on.

Later that afternoon, I was faced with a rather irksome dilemma. I could take a 5.3 mile reroute around where a bridge had apparently been taken out by a flood, or I could risk boulder hopping across the river, which several southbound Long Trailers suggested would lead to my immediate death. Well, I hadn't walked sixteen hundred miles through heartbreak and hardship just to foolishly risk my life doing something incredibly stupid. On the other hand, 5.3 miles is an awful long way, and I am not—nor have I ever been—a coward. Or particularly smart.

So I soldiered on. And—luckily—the raging torrents I was warned about amounted to little more than a pleasing tickle. I may not have even gotten my boots wet.

Who said fording was difficult?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chapter 116: Chafe Harder

Registry entry, Congdon Shelter:
Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue, er, I mean, try to do 20's again. Goddamn rain, making everything all cool and tolerable again...
Popeye—who wasn't the creepy man I saw in the woods at all, but a spirited middle-aged man who was, unsurprisingly, a retired sailor with a pronounced fondness for spinach—and Saint conspired together to convince me to hike to Manchester Center in two days rather than three. Unfortunately, this required me to do 20 miles a day once again, something I had previously sworn off doing forever. But, and as I've repeated ad nauseum, Major Chafage's rule number one of thru-hiking is "Never leave a man or woman behind." So, if I had to hike a little faster in order to stay with friends, so be it.

Okay, or maybe I was tired of being lonely.

I ran into Fredo when I stopped at the Melville Nauheim Shelter for a break. Saint and I gauged his interest in making it into Manchester Center around the same time as we did. He was more enthusiastic than ambivalent, and I asked both of my companions if they wanted me to make reservations for them at the Green Mountain House, a hostel of legendary repute. Stupidly, they both declined. Their loss. I called and made a reservation, and would be glad I did. But more on that later.

Oh, but one more thing about stupidity. Fredo accidentally left his Crocs™ behind at the shelter. And none of us noticed. Oops.

And then it rained. The waterproof lining of my rain pants—the manufacturer of which my lawyers have strongly advised me not to mention, Outdoor Research—had by now nearly completely disintegrated, making travel a wet, messy, uncomfortable affair. When I finally arrived at the Story Spring Shelter later that evening, I was a sodden, bitter, profane, vociferously angry wreck, and in excruciating pain.

Somehow, I had the courage and wherewithal to sign the shelter log:
The Legend Continues... My ass is killing me! Also, my balls.
-Major Chafage
Later, as I lay in my tent thinking over recent developments, I made the mistake of rereading the previous entry in my journal. It wasn't excruciatingly painful, but it also wasn't exactly art, either, that's for sure. I felt the need to atone, so I hurriedly scribbled:
Hating yesterday's entry. Rambling incoherent nonsense. At least it gives an unintentionally accurate picture of my mental state.

Pulling another long day tomorrow. Why? Stupidity. Also, getting in town to spend mad duckets. Does that have two t's or one?

Chapter 115: The Long Trail

I escaped from town without making much more of a fool of myself than I already had. And hiking while riding a caffeine high? Amazing!

I was thrilled to cross the border into Vermont, and to begin the Long Trail. I ended up at the Congdon Shelter, some fourteen miles from where I began the day. It had started to rain just a few hundred yards before the shelter, so I didn't feel particularly bad about my apparently lax accomplishment.

I sat in my tent for a while, just listening to the rain. And endlessly contemplating my plan to do only easy 15 mile days in order to meet my parents in Hanover on the 23rd. Eventually growing bored with such ruminations, I pulled out my trusty journal, which was quickly filling with rambling diatribes against various petty personal injustices:
It feels weird getting into camp at 4 P.M. No, wait, I meant it feels awesome! Duh.

Another 14.1 done. It's raining now, but I'm in my tent. Bathroom this morning hit the spot. Wait, I'm--

I'm thinking about changing my plan, and doing twenties for the next couple days, so as to get to, er, Hanover by the twenty first. Why? So I can go to Ben and Jerry's on the twenty second and get the Vermonster. I figure that could hold me over the entire day. Why am I writing this way? maybe to practice, or maybe it's just because I'm lazy and I don't want to pick the penn off the page. But now I'm even tiring of that. There are a lot of people at the shelter just hiking the Long Trail. Lazy fucks. Why am I so lethargic? Its It's like six thirty. And I only did 14 miles. I think I ate too much food. Maybe that's why.

Haven't seen Mimi, Fred or Lou all day. On the other hand, Saint is here. Together we make up the rear, rear, rear guard, okay, last deserters of the Nature Train.

Section hiker out there is talking about wine and Bailey's in her resupply. She needs to shut the fuck up. She has. Good. I need some fucking Bailey's. I'll get some at the Long Trail Inn, maybe.

Blah Blah blah. Fuck. Only semi-emotional moment to day was when I realized how close to being done I really am. Fuck. Fuck.

Hiking was good the last couple days, probably because I had company. A tree is going to fall on my tent, and I'm gonna die. Should I go outside and be social? Feel wierd. Weird even. Thoughts scattered, unfocussed. Hiking angry this morning, probably because I accidentally started pouring liquid sugar into my water bottle, thinking it was water, at a coffe place in Williamstown. Fuuuuck. I remember meaning to remember to write that down, but I almost forgot. Fuck it. I'm going to bed. It's 7 P.M.

Chapter 114: An Embarrassment of Embarrassments

I awoke to the steady burble of the stream outside my tent; and to an unnerving grumble from somewhere much closer, and far more disturbing.

This was going to be bad.

I was camped behind the Mountain Goat Outfitter in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Mimi, Fred, Lou and I had hitched in the day before. Starved for food and culture, we had decided to treat ourselves to a fancy dinner at Spice Root, a local Indian restaurant. Delicious. A good choice.

Or not.

I needed to take a shit.

What was I to do? I couldn't rightly dig a cathole in someone's backyard. And the Outfitter wasn't open yet, so that was out. Ring a stranger's doorbell? Definitely not. Maybe a restaurant, or coffee shop?

A sharp, stinging pain shot through my intestines as I waddled desperately down the street, with only a half-formed idea of where I was going. I remembered walking past the place the night before, on our way back from dinner, but everything looked so different then, underneath the street lamps, with the sidewalks choked by throngs of annoyingly boisterous coeds galavanting around in their skimpy lacrosse uniforms. Damnit! Why didn't I pay more attention to where I was going?

At last, I turned a corner and spotted the Tunnel City Coffeeshop. It did exist. And it was open. Perfect. I went in.

And was instantly lost, thrown by the sterile corporate sheen of the café's modern decor. All around me, bright florescent lights flashed off of clean steel tables; my ears bombarded by the soft, smokey coo of a suitably austere singer/songwriter. The other customers and employees seemed so tidy, professional, and dignified. No room for a confused, terrified hiker. Running out of time. With trembling hands, I first ordered an espresso, then timidly asked for the bathroom.

It was occupied, of course. I paced back and forth in increased agitation, and threw back my espresso without bothering to savor it—although, it was pretty tasty—all while keeping a scornful watch on the bathroom door. Finally, it opened, and out walked, eh, who cares. I was in.

And then—sweet release!—I'm making like the Space Shuttle, lifting off the toilet seat on an explosive tower of shit.

----

Returning from the catastrophic scene of horror I left in the bathroom, I tried to play it cool. I ordered an everything bagel, with vegetable cream cheese, then smartly sat at a table outside, all the better to avoid people's accusatory glares. And then, much to my surprise, who walked up but Baltimore Jack, whom I hadn't seen since the Walasi-Yi Center, my third day on the trail!

Baltimore Jack was in fine form, as smug and condescending as ever. He quietly reassured me that—although I had miraculously managed not to die, yet—the hardest part of the trail was still ahead of me, and that I'd probably die. Thanks, Baltimore Jack.

Feeling ever more chipper by the moment, I decided to surreptitiously refill my water bottle at the Coffeeshop before hitching out of town. Trying not to draw attention to myself, I nonchalantly sidled up to the bar where they kept their milks, creamers, and organic agave syrups and whatnot, and grabbed the first thing that looked like water. I wasn't too concerned, and just stood there, gazing off in random directions as I poured, willing myself to be invisible.

"Sir?" came a voice to my right. I snapped out of it. It was a middle-aged woman, an employee. "You do know that's sugar water, right?"

"What? Oh!" I shrugged, bewildered, wanting to die. "I love sugar water, it's delicious. Why? Should I pour it back?"

"No, sir," said the woman, grabbing my bottle as I began to do just that. "I can do it, and wash this out for you. The water is just around the corner, here."

She nodded to the actual water jug, which had a lemon floating in it. Because of course it did. I flushed, and shuffled my feet impotently.

I instantly came to the startling revelation that I hated Massachusetts. Terrible state. And Williamstown? Terrible town. Couldn't wait to put it behind me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chapter 113: Adventures in Journaling

I awoke early. Too early. I couldn't risk leaving; I didn't want to disturb the others—Mimi, Fred, and Lou—who had arrived so late the night before. So I grabbed my journal:
July 12th,

Feel like crap this morning. Slept in a church basement last night. Slept decently enough, but kept waking up at random times by the nagging urge to urinate. The bathroom is about 150 feet away. Too far. Woke up first at 5-something, and then at 6:50 for good. Long climb coming today, biggest since central Virginia.

I am not intimidated.

Don't know what I want most right now: some company, for a change? A real bed? A day off? Lemonade? Lemonade? Juice? A respite from the deer flies? All of the above? Just one good night's sleep? My iPod? Feet that aren't in constant pain?

Major Chafage's Rules for Walking the A.T. (Revised):
1) Never leave a man or woman behind.
2) Never pass up trail magic.
3) Always stop to eat the blueberrries.
4) Slackpacking is for the weak and feeble-minded, but should be done as often as possible. (So far: never)
5) Juice. Just juice.
6) Shit, I'm just making stuff up, now.

Greylock awaits, then, Stop & Shop...
That evening, I appended the above with the following:
Greylock was okay. Stop & Shop was better, although I did not find any drink mix packets.
Which reminds me. Damn you, Stop & Shop! Why don't you carry Crystal Light? Are you too good for Kraft Foods? I don't think so!
But, for once, the hiking:

The grades were moderate in the morning. Heading out of town we passed through a couple of meadows, several clouds of midges, and then faced a steep up, up, up. Once landmarks started becoming recognizable, e.g. "several streams cross A.T. numerous times," the hiking became much easier.

I enjoyed a popsicle on Greylock's summit,
That, I bought from the cafeteria/gift shop of the hotel at the summit. Greylock is one of a handful of mountains on the entire A.T.—Mt. Washington and Bear Mountain in New York being two other examples—where cars can drive straight to the top. The hotel there is spectacular, but prohibitively expensive. Sadly, hikers have no chance of doing work for stay.
and a Magic Hat IPA courtesy of some trail magic by Blue Jay, a southie section hiker I met once before in Virginia, and talked to about skirts. Yeah, that's the guy.

After an almost two hour break, I hiked down with Mimi,
Whom, incidentally, I had also met before, apparently way back in the Smoky Mountains, where we had conversed congenially about the benefits of hiking in one's underwear.
Fred and Lou. It was steep. No bugs, though. Went faster with company. Sad, though, because those three are staunchly individualistic. Group hiking with them seems unlikely.
In retrospect, it's possible they just didn't like me.
Am now camped out behind an outfitter in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Beautiful city, by the way. However, I don't know where I'm going to take my morning crap. I just had Indian food, though, so it will be necessary. (As though it isn't necessary every other morning...) Tired now. It's only 9 PM.

Oh, and my 3 newfound companions ditched me while I was in Stop & Shop! Jerks! Although, I mean, I did find them again... But still! Caveman knows I hold a grudge like no other...