Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chapter 56: Am I On Track for 380 Chapters Yet?

The continental breakfast—named after the continent of America—may be the United States' greatest and most lasting contribution to world cuisine. The undeniable pleasures of eating such hearty and traditional American favorites as croissants and brioche with rich, creamy butter and a sweet jam or chocolate spread are so universal that they have been subverted and stealthily co-opted by places such as France and other silly Mediterranean countries, who now claim it as their own. Pathetic and really, truly pointless historical quibbling about its origins aside, there can be no debate that the best continental breakfasts anywhere on the planet are now served, almost exclusively, in the myriad national hotel chains operating across the United States.

The particular hotel we were staying in started breakfast at seven. I was there at 6:50, and kept eating until Bandito and his parents were ready to take us back to the trail. Remember this seemingly trivial fact, because it will become relevant again in exactly seven sentences.

I have to single out Bandito's parents for praise once again. I was always and continue to be amazed and awestruck at the quite literal lengths they would go for their son. They treated me like family, and while I can never hope to repay their kindness or hospitality, I can only hope that my profuse and ongoing expressions of gratitude, however feeble they might be, will in some way suffice.

It was nearly eleven by the time the time they dropped us off at the trailhead. We said our tearful goodbyes, they wished us luck, and we went our separate ways. Bandito took the lead, and after hiking for no more than two minutes I had to stop. My bowels were about to explode.

I looked around. There was a very steep, seemingly dangerous slope to my left. To my right, an almost impenetrable thicket of vegetation. My options seemed to be rather limited.

Compounding my problems, the section of trail we were on seemed to be very well trafficked. We were approaching McAfee's Knob, which has been described by some to be "the most photographed place on the Appalachian Trail." And it may have been a weekend. Needless to say, there were a lot of day hikers about.

"Bandito," I shouted, "Wait!"

I wanted him to keep a look out, to warn me if anyone was approaching while I was doing my business. Not that I'm sure that would have done any good. I may have not been thinking that clearly. I was desperate. But Bandito continued on, not hearing me.

There was nothing for it. I ripped off my pack and crashed into the woods on my left. I found what I thought was a spot of some seclusion, gouged a hole in the ground, and squatted.

Somehow, I had chosen a spot just above another path. If anyone, say a father and his two young kids, had been hiking down to the road at that moment, I would have been right at their eye level. So it's a good thing that definitely didn't happen. Because that would have been really embarrassing.

What is proper etiquette for such a situation? Do you smile and wave? Do you jokingly say "Nothing to see here! Just a thru-hiker pooping in the woods! Move along!"? Or do you mind your own business and just hope the situation resolves itself organically?

Well, it's a good thing this absolutely didn't happen, because I have no idea what the answers are to any of those questions. But for future reference, for all of you, my dear readers? Making a joke about it is probably a bad idea.

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