Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chapter 47: The Parting of the Ways

We sat in The Barn restaurant, enjoying a last lunch of greasy sandwiches and soda.

At the head of the table sat Hobbes and Nature, my surrogate mother and father. Mysterious, wise, and unassailably cool, I tried so hard to live up to their example.

Besides them sat Spark and Caboose, the perfect couple, their striking je ne sais quois matched only by their tenderness of heart and generosity of spirit. Never fighting to get what they wanted, they gave everything to each other, willingly selflessly. They had walked away from lives of wealth and comfort, and left behind their friends and family, to travel the world together.

Next to me sat Bandito, the brother I never had. Apart from my friend Sean, who I grew up with, who's also like my brother, but that's different. Loyal, eternally optimistic, considerate, beautifully uncorrupted and happy, Bandito was always laughing, always teasing, always asking questions, always eager to learn about the world, and always by my side. We had already been through so much.

Then there were Lil Dipper and Redwing, sisters in every sense of the word except for literally. Preternaturally mature, intelligent, and witty, I had to constantly remind myself how young they really were. It is a testament to them, or perhaps the power of their adorable, intoxicating accents, that I was always shocked by the rare flash of impertinence or lapse in judgement that served as the only reminders of their true innocence and youth. Like me, they had the bad habit of falling down a lot. If it had been in my power, I would have saved them from themselves. I ached every time they hurt.

P-Nut sat across from me, the Mary Magdalene of this tableau, his soft, kind eyes radiating a boundless capacity for forgiveness, tolerance, and love. No ego, no shame, he brought everyone together.

Alphabet, burning with an intense clarity of purpose, ambition and imagination, was at once inspiring, awesome, and terrifying. There was some far-off melancholia in her eyes that worried me. Like me, she seemed to carry her pain near the surface, even if it was only visible in the most fleeting of moments. I wondered if I would ever figure out what it was.

Caveman, my partner in crime. Always there with a discouraging word, always ready to deflate my ego, always with a mischievous grin and a 24 oz. can of Coors Light.

If only we could have stayed that way forever.

After the meal, I went outside and called Megan to apprise her of my situation.

"I've gone 538.8 miles!" I bragged.

"... So?"

"So? That's awesome!" I couldn't comprehend her lack of enthusiasm. "I'm in someplace called Groseclose. Whatever that is. We just at lunch at the Barn Restaurant!"

"And that means what to me?"

"Well, since you put it that way," I frowned inwardly, thinking. "It means I'm only like 480 miles from Harpers Ferry? Which is the halfway point of the trail?"

"Okay," she said, still sounding distant, disinterested.

"Look, I need you to be as excited about all this as I am," I leveled, "Or else, why am I out here?"

"You never said that," said Megan, "And I think you're misrepresenting my side of the conversation."

"No!" I screamed, "You don't get to break the fourth wall. This is my narrative, got it?!"

"Whatever. Look, I'm sorry, okay? I'm just dealing with a lot of crap at work," she said. "And at class. And at home."

"Yeah, yeah," I grumbled, resentful. "I get all that. You should be out here with me. Then you wouldn't have to deal with any of that. You'd be free!"

"When was the last time you showered?"

"Like a week ago."


"No, it was two days ago. At a church hostel."

"Right," she sighed. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be asking me about Baltimore, and Memorial Day?"

"I was getting around to it!" I snapped, "So are you going to Baltimore for Memorial Day?"

"Yes," she said, finally engaged. "Are you going to make it up here?"

It was Friday, April 30th. And Memorial Day is always on May 25th, right? So that meant I had about twenty four days to make it the next 480 miles. Which meant I had to average twenty miles a day. Which was a lot, but wasn't impossible. Unfortunately, it would probably require me ditch my friends.

"Don't ditch your friends," Megan urged, "Not for me."

What? But I would do anything for her. What friends? I didn't even like any of them! This was preposterous! Megan, who-- I-- What?

"That's ridiculous!" I spat, "I want to see you, I need to see you--"

"Well, just so you know, if you don't make it up here in time, you probably won't see me at all," Megan warned.

In retrospect, she was probably just trying to remove herself as a source of temptation. She didn't want to be responsible for me leaving my trail family. I couldn't hear that though. All I heard was an ultimatum. Get here quick. I felt oddly flushed, and light headed.

"Did you just say that if I don't make it to Harpers Ferry by the 24th, I won't get to see you at all?" I asked.


"Because it sounded like you just said 'Make it to Harpers Ferry by the 24th or else you won't see me at all.'"

"I didn't say that," Megan calmly reassured me, "But if you don't make it to Harpers Ferry by the 24th, you probably won't see me at all."

I could hardly speak. My throat went dry. I wanted to cry, but no tears came. I wanted to scream, but I was still on the phone and there were people nearby and they were on the phone, and it would've been really rude.

"Okay," I croaked, defeated. "See you then."

"I miss you!" I added.

"Don't forget, you chose to be out there," said Megan cooly. "Now if you don't mind, I have a Marxist revolution to plot, and an army of ninja cyborgs to train, I need to take a shower, and my dad wants to go to Panera."

"That's awesome and all, but why is the last thing you tell me always about food?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The last time I called you, you were in the grocery store, and you asked me where the orange juice was, and I started crying because I wanted orange juice!"

"That didn't happen."

It did.

"Anyway," she continued, exasperated, "I thought you just ate?"

"Yeah, but I'm probably going to be hungry again in about twenty minutes, and by then you'll be at Panera Bread, and then I'll be thinking about you eating a half sandwich and--"

"Actually I get the mac and cheese. Yeah, they make macaroni and cheese at Panera now. It's on the kid's menu, but it's really good. I think it has a Vermont cheddar cheese sauce?"

"I hate you."

And I hung up. And wanted to die.

I took a seat on a bench in between Caveman and Lil Dipper, devastated. I shared with them the bad news. They were disappointed, but conciliatory.

"Twenty miles a day isn't bad," said Lil Dipper. "Besides, I think P-Nut wants to spend Memorial Day in D.C. with his gay uncles."

"Really?" I asked, surprised. I didn't know P-Nut had gay uncles, or any relatives in Washington for that matter. And if he needed to keep the same pace I did, maybe it was possible that we'd all stick together.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Caboose and Spark were at that moment fussing over an injured Zoom, who had hurt her paw somehow and was limping noticeably. They were distraught, and had decided to get her off trail to stay with a friend of their family. Unfortunately, they too were going off trail for at least the next few days until they could make sure she was alright. Despite their best efforts to catch up, we would never see each other again.

Alphabet returned from a gas station convenience store across the street with a six pack of Yuengling. She was going home for a week, and had bought the beer as a gift for her dad. Apparently they didn't sell Yuengling near her, and it was her father's favorite.

"I didn't know you were going home," I said, trying to hide my disappointment.

"Yeah," she said, lighting up. "Paul Vidal is picking me up in a few minutes!"

I think she said something about how she had just talked to him on the phone, and he was running late after getting lost somewhere stupid, but I had tuned her out. Still, it was impossible for me to begrudge her happiness. She offered to share a beer with me while we waited. I poured it into my water bottle. Huge mistake. My Klean Kanteen smelled awful for the next three days.

After finishing my beer, I urged the others to hike on before Paul Vidal arrived. I didn't want to meet him. I didn't want to be tempted to punch him in the face, or worse, actually find out he was a great guy and end up liking him. Nothing could be worse. Actually, a lot of things could be worse, and they were, but I just didn't want to think about it. Enough had already gone wrong.

As soon as we crossed the road, I felt suddenly nauseous, and nervous, as though I had left something vital behind, but I couldn't remember what, and that I'd never be able to get back.

"So this is it," I said to Bandito. "It's all been in vain. Our fellowship has failed."

"Not," he said, putting a hand on my shoulder, "If we hold true to each other."

And we walked off into the sunset. Or to a campsite near Reed Creek in the aptly named Crawfish Valley.


  1. Hey man, I know I havent commented on this yet but I just wanted to let you know that I love sitting down and reliving the trail every once and while (usually when in the library when Im trying to study, much like right now). ha. keep up the good work. its great writing!