Monday, February 21, 2011

Chapter 62: Where We Don't Learn From Our Mistakes

When I was six or seven years old, I had a nightmare in which my entire family was vaporized in a nuclear explosion. We were sitting around our living room talking to my aunt when we heard this giant rumbling noise outside. Naturally, we all ran into the backyard to see what it was, looked up, and saw a comically enormous rocket flying overhead. And then I woke up in a panic. Because I had died.

I sat in my bed, clammy and breathless, and stared at the reassuring glow of the streetlight out my window. I was legitimately spooked. I had to remind myself it was just a dream, and that I would live to see another day. And face the unending horrors of the waking world. Which, for me, meant going to school and being bulled and made fun of all day. Even by my friends, who would make me play the unenviable and villainous role of Krang during our games of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at recess. In retrospect, I might have actually preferred a quick death in a horrifying thermonuclear apocalypse.

Still, running around the playground dodging fists and insults was a nice respite from the constant psychological trauma that was the rest of my youthful existence. At least I wasn't tied to a chair, metaphorically speaking, and if I ran fast enough and for so long, I could sometimes manage to escape my demons and tormentors – plus that annoying kid, Dominic – even if it was only for a little while. They would always catch up, sooner or later, and I would go home, every day, hating everyone, but mostly myself.

Yes, I believe those first fifteen years were the worst time in my life, and that if things had continued in that way, the world might have gotten the best of me. And it didn't. Or maybe it did, but that's another story.


The worst time in P-Nut's life was May 14th, 2010. 

We were headed into Buena Vista that day, mostly to get Subway for lunch, but also to resupply. Hobbes was planning to get a motel room for the night, and had somehow convinced Caveman to go along with him. The two of them spent the morning trying to convince the rest of us it was a good idea.

"I'm going to get a whole case of beer," said Hobbes, an unusual fire in his eyes, "And just sit in the bathtub all night, drinking. Naked."

"Shoot, an' I'm gonna be right there with him," laughed Caveman. "Hope ya don't mind, Hobbes."

"Hell no, Caveman," said Hobbes. "What's wrong with sitting in a bathtub drinking beer with another man, naked? Nothing. It's perfectly natural."

I have to admit, I was tempted. But only for a split second. Caveman was happily married, after all, plus I had already seen Hobbes naked, so that was nothing special, and I knew Megan was waiting for me in Harpers Ferry, and besides, it was just a bad idea. And I didn't have enough money.

Unfortunately for Caveman and Hobbes, P-Nut had grander ambitions than staying in town and drinking beer all night would allow. Lil Dipper and Redwing, meanwhile, just plain weren't interested. Bandito, on the other hand, strongly considered staying, and Caveman and Hobbes actually paid extra to get a room with a third bed just for him, but he would eventually back out at the last minute.

It was late afternoon before we made our way back to the trail. We got a ride in the back of a pickup truck. P-Nut had to shout over the roar of the wind to share with us his grand vision.

"Well, we could stay at the Cow Camp Gap Shelter tonight, but it is 0.6 miles off the trail."

He shook his head almost imperceptibly at this last point, his voice dripping with disdain. He looked up at us from his guidebook pointedly, as if expecting us all to eagerly agree with his tacit condemnation of the idea. I rolled my eyes, and let him continue.

"Or, we could hike another four to eight miles – over a four thousand foot mountain – to Hog Camp Gap or someplace, where I hear there's a really nice campsite. With a swing and everything!"

And there it was. Typical P-Nut. Expecting us all to hike a few extra miles just to avoid the smallest of inconveniences. It was ridiculous! Still, a campsite with a swing did sound enticing. And the rest of us were all comfortable pushing the pace. The rest of us were all willing to go along.

The initial climb from the Long Mountain Wayside up Bald Knob Mountain was ridiculously steep. The trail rose nearly two thousand feet in just less than three miles. That's over 700 vertical feet per mile. The climb out of the N.O.C., which I thought was insane at the time, had "only" involved a climb of 3,300 feet over eight miles, or just over 400 feet per mile. This was a lot steeper, if mercifully shorter.

As Bandito and I neared the summit, we heard the foreboding boom of thunder rolling towards us from behind. The sky darkened ominously. I felt a familiar prickly sensation on the back of my neck.

"Bandito, I have an idea!" I said, quite reasonably.

"What's that, M.C.?"

"How about we go to the Cow Camp Gap Shelter?"

"I thought P-Nut said it was six tenths off the trail!"


"Good point," conceded Bandito, mindful of the green-tinged Cumulonimbus clouds looming over his shoulder.

We increased our pace, and soon caught up with Redwing and Lil Dipper, who weren't at all startled by our sudden and dramatic reappearance.

"We thought that was you," said Redwing.

"We could hear you cursing," explained Lil Dipper.

"What's up?" asked Redwing, noting with some concern my ashen complexion.

"Change of plans!" I croaked, out of breath. "Bandito and I don't want to be electrocuted, so we're heading to the Cow Camp Gap Shelter."

The British girls were very wise, and quickly agreed with us that this was our most prudent course of action.

"We were actually thinking about that ourselves," said Redwing, eyeing the sky behind us.

"If P-Nut has any sense, he'll be there already," I said, as we ran down the trail towards the shelter.

"But P-Nut doesn't have any sense," said one of the others.

This was true, and not very encouraging.

We were a hundred yards from the shelter. Lightning flashed overhead. The instantaneous clap of thunder was deafening, and seemed to go on forever, thankfully drowning out my shrill, girlish screams. We all ran to the shelter and leaped inside, just as the heavens opened up.

We were giddy with excitement and laughter, just happy to have made it there in time. Then we noticed that P-Nut was missing. The only other person at the shelter was an older and rather eccentric British gentleman. We asked him if he'd seen P-Nut. He hadn't.

"I hope he's okay," I said to the murmured agreement of the others. We all sat down to watch the rain.

Minutes passed, that seemed like hours. We forgot about P-Nut, then remembered him again. We were talking about something completely unrelated when Lil Dipper interrupted to voice her concern.

"I hope P-Nut's okay," she repeated, and the rest of us fell silent.

Just at that moment, a pair of trekking poles flew through the air in front of me. And then a young man walked up. He was shirtless, but wearing a see-through emergency poncho. He was soaking wet, completely bedraggled, and had the haunted, hundred-yard stare of someone who'd seen death.

P-Nut stomped into the shelter and threw his pack down without saying a word.

"I just – seriously – almost died," he said a moment later, completely serious.

And we all burst into laughter.

"I'm totally serious," he swore. We believed him. "I thought I could make it over the hill before the storm came. And then lightning hit a tree like thirty feet away from me. I thought I was dead. My legs were shaking so bad, I couldn't walk. I just sat down and waited for the adrenaline to wear off. And then I realize that my trekking poles are made of metal, so they're conductors—"

We all laughed again.

"—and so I threw them away from me, as far as I could. And just sat there, with my back against a rock, for like fifteen minutes."

"And then what?" pried Bandito. We all were dying to know.

"I had to scrounge around for my poles, because I'd almost lost them in the brush, but then I ran straight back here," said P-Nut finally. "Seriously!"

I think he might have been confused or offended by our riotous laughter. But how else could we react? The whole situation was just too perfect. His foolish ambition had finally gotten the better of him.

And it would take less than twenty four hours for it to happen again.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you made it. Good seeing you in the Market today. I'll have to come back and check out your writing.

    malt lickher and ruthless
    met in Rangely, Maine August something