Our hike into Daleville—or was it Troutville? Or maybe Troutdale?—was indescribably fascinating. We passed a rock entirely covered in graffiti... Do I technically need a third sentence for this to comprise a paragraph?
Our lunch options in Daletroutville were rather limited. Right next to the trail sat a Pizza Hut and a Rancho Viejo, a Mexican restaurant that Bandito and I had gone to just two days earlier with his parents. Our meal there lingered unpleasantly in my memory if not in my gut. I naturally gravitated towards the Pizza Hut along with everyone else.
Pizza Hut is quite possibly the best pizza chain on the planet Earth. Of all the pizzerias that serve heinously unhealthy, generally tasteless pies that would make any native Italian scream in terror and quite possibly soil themselves—Domino's, Papa John's, Apache Pizza, or Uno's Chicago Grill, for example—Pizza Hut is definitely up there. Certainly amongst the top five. Way better than Pizza Plus.
In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't just get a large Veggie Lover's® for $10, or a stuffed crust version of the same for $11. Instead, I got their Monday special: two medium, one topping Pizza Mias for $10. A Pizza Mia is apparently just like their normal pizza except with a thinner crust and sweeter sauce. Or something. I'll be damned if I could tell the difference. Anyway, my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. Also, the large root beer was probably a mistake.
I ate fifteen slices of pizza before it caught up with me. At over 200 calories a slice, that's abut 3,000 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat, 135 grams of protein, and 1,100 grams of gastrointestinal trauma. I tried giving the last slice away. Yes, there was only one slice left. Each pizza is eight slices. Did I mention I ate fifteen? Anyway, there were no takers. Not even Alphabet wanted one. She'd lost her appetite for some reason. And it wasn't from watching me eat, although, believe me, I would have understood. I wanted to die.
I also wanted to finish what I had started. Everyone else wanted me to finish too, but more out of some sick sadistic sense of schadenfreude than anything positive. I finally put my head down on the table and groaned like a stuck mule for a few minutes, then covered the last piece with a napkin so I didn't have to look at it anymore. I think the others found this amusing. I wished they had never caught up with me.
After we left, I was in no shape to hike on. Redwing and Lil Dipper were getting a motel room for the night, but staying with them wasn't an option. Nature and Saint were also getting a motel room, to wait for Nature's friend Bronco to pick them up in the morning to take them to Trail Days in Damascus. However, staying with them wasn't really a plausible option either. I compromised by collapsing on their floor like a dead fish and writhing around in agony for a couple hours while everyone else went to the outfitter and resupplied.
P-Nut was the first to leave, hiking out before the rest of us. We told him to wait for us at the first shelter out of town, but we knew it was unlikely that we'd see him again that day. P-Nut was and always would be too ambitious for his own good. Caveman, Bandito and myself eventually set off some two hours later, right after securing Redwing and Lil Dipper's assurances that they would catch up with us in the morning.
Tragically, and much to my and our disappointment, Alphabet would not be hiking on with us at all. I suppose we should have seen her departure coming. She had been in an weird, distracted mood the entire day. It seemed like the only time she had smiled was when she was showing me cute pictures of herself and her boyfriend, the annoying debonair and dashing Paul Vidal. Otherwise, she had been oddly listless and morose, almost inconsolable.
None of us really knew what was wrong, nor had we the courage to ask her. It wasn't beyond the scope of our imagination, however. She had just spent a week at home, with her family and the annoying debonair and dashing Paul Vidal. She was homesick.
"It musta been hard, seein' her family for that long, spendin' so much time Paul Vidal, and then havin' to come back out here and rough it with us?" Caveman speculated, sympathetic. "I mean, you kinda smell there, buddy. Have you showered recently?"
Our conversation continued later on at the Fullhardt Knob Shelter over shots of Southern Comfort.
"I wonder if he gave her an ultimatum," mused Caveman.
"I bet he did. His picture made him look like the kind of jerk who would do that," I said, remembering his nauseatingly handsome face.
Caveman muttered some indistinct profanity.
"He was probably jealous that she was off having the time of her life without him," I theorized, "And was all like, 'You're never gonna make it, you're just making a fool of yourself, and if you don't quit the trail and abandon all those awesome people you've met and spend the rest of my life with me forever, you're going to die miserable and alone."
"And probably soon, murder-raped by a hillbilly bear,'" I added, not projecting at all. "What a jerk."
"Paul Vidal," said Caveman, shaking his head.
"What a jerk," I repeated.
"Do you think maybe she just wasn't havin' a good time?" asked Caveman.
"What do you mean?" I said, a note of panic in my voice. "Like she realized that what we're doing is ultimately stupid and meaningless, a Quixotic pursuit, just another way to stave off the inevitability of adulthood and responsibility?"
We sat in silence for a moment, pondering. Then looked to each other. We shook our heads.
"What a callous, emotionally abusive jerk," said Caveman.
"God I hate him," I added, downing my fifth shot.
Yes, it was far easier to blame Paul Vidal, whom neither of us had met, than face our own insecurities. Paul Vidal would become a crucial scapegoat for us in the days, weeks, and months to come. He would eventually be responsible for everything that's wrong with the world: religious fundamentalists, south-bounders, global warming, the music of Ke$ha, etc.
It was thunder-storming. I was not drunk. Only one of the previous statements is true. I went to bed harboring the vague hope that a tree would fall on my tent during the night. Then I would have a reason to quit, and to crawl back to my own Paul Vidal.