It was blistering hot, like a million degrees. Or maybe it was 77° with gentle north-westerly winds and 85% relative humidity. Whatever. Sweat poured down my back. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and tried not to think about my empty water bottle.
As I neared VA826, I started hearing voices. And not because I was suffering from sunstroke and slowly going crazy. A small crowd of day hikers was coming down the trail towards me.
"Excuse me," I said, trying to sound as pathetic as possible. "Do you know how far the next water source is?"
A stocky older man in army fatigues looked to his companions, frowning thoughtfully. "What would you say, a couple miles?"
No. It was at the next shelter, just over a mile away.
"At least," said one of his companions. "Like an hour?"
"Yeah, I'd say about an hour's walk," said the fatigued man.
Wrong again. I knew it wouldn't take more than twenty or thirty minutes.
"Thanks," I said, disappointed, and made to leave.
"Are you out of water?" asked one of the others, pulling me back.
I nodded grimly. "I ran out like an hour ago."
It'd really been more like ten minutes.
The day hikers nodded solemnly. I put on a good show, grimacing resignedly, hoping they'd empathize with my plight. They shared some looks, and quickly came to a tacit consensus.
"We might have an extra bottle of water somewhere," said a teenager girl, searching through her grandfather's backpack. "You're welcome to have it."
"Do you want some Gatorade?" asked the fatigued man.
"Really?" I squeaked, suddenly ignoring the teenager and her filthy, tasteless bottled water. "Yeah!"
The man in fatigues nodded, and waved me over. He unscrewed the cap from his Camelback, and poured a little blue Gatorade into my canteen. Delicious, delicious blue Gatorade.
"Should be enough to get you where you're going, at least," said the man, recapping his Camelback.
He'd given me about three or four ounces. I was less than thrilled, but wasn't going to complain about it.
"Thank you so much," I professed, regretting not taking the girl up on her offer. "I really appreciate it."
I waited until I had hiked a ways off before taking a sip. It was gone in a couple of seconds. Still, I wasn't dehydrated. And I'd ran out of water before. I knew I was going to be okay.
Still, I arrived at The Priest Shelter in a sour mood. My pathetic yogi-ing attempt had not been my proudest moment. No, my proudest moment was probably when I told my girlfriend "We should do this again sometime, you know, the next time they have a dance," on our first date, and she hadn't broken up with me on the spot. That was a lot to live up to. Acting pathetic enough to successfully scrounge up a couple ounces of Gatorade was close, but not quite.
Aikido Jō – an Aikido expert who used a Jō as a walking stick – was holding court at the shelter. I was mildly disinterested in his boastful demonstrations, but Bandito, of course, was enraptured. Ignoring them, I went to fill up in the languid swamp that was the shelter's water supply.
Where I found a bottle of Powerade. Someone had left it there to keep it cool. I felt like it was my birthday. Until I heard a shrill voice threatening me with severe bodily harm if I touched it. Aikido-Jō was kind of a humorless jerk.
Rehydrated, at least, I hiked on.
Despite having met over a month earlier, and camping together almost every day since, Redwing, Lil Dipper and I had spent a shockingly small amount of time actually hiking together. Perhaps I was wary of intruding on their friendship, or maybe I was just too ashamed or cowardly to admit I might prefer their company to that of the universal boys' club that seemed to surround us now that Nature and Alphabet were gone. It wasn't "cool" to hike with the girls. It was "cool" to hike with P-Nut and Hobbes – if you could keep up with them – and talk about "manly" things like sports cars, illegal drugs, and the Backstreet Boys. And I have always aspired to be "cool." Probably because I'm massively insecure and suffer from a rampant and debilitating inferiority complex. But I digress.
That afternoon, I discovered the distinct and numerous pleasures of hiking with Redwing and Lil Dipper as we came down off The Priest. They didn't seem to vehemently object to my presence, and so we fell into an easy and enjoyable conversation about pop culture and movies. Specifically, the ten best movies of the 2000's. Which would be, in no particular order: Gladiator, Moulin Rouge!, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shrek 2, Casino Royale, Brokeback Mountain, Inglorious Basterds, and 2 Fast 2 Furious. I think. And we went on from there, ranking our favorite cinematic romances, our favorite Leonardo DiCaprio performances, and so on and so forth.
We were debating the best examples of Post-War German Expressionism when we arrived at the Tye River, where seemingly a thousand other people were enjoying what appeared to be a raucous beach party. Buoyed by the excitement in the atmosphere, we crossed the river and found a pleasant enough campsite near the water's edge. Where we settled in to wait for P-Nut.
Somehow, I let myself be talked into stripping down to my Under Armor and taking a bath in the river. The water was freezing, but was actually quite soothing once you got used to it. Bandito, Redwing, Lil Dipper and I frolicked about for a little while, until we got bored or the surprisingly strong current threatened to pull our undergarments off and expose our hideous shrinkage. Then we scampered ashore, toweled off, and threw our dirty clothes back on. Still, I felt clean. It was wonderful.
P-Nut arrived, flushed, sometime before dinner.
"You'll never guess what happened to me," he said, unusually animated.
Oh, no. We all knew this couldn't end well.
"So I decided to take a nap after lunch on top of Main Top Mountain," he said. "And when I woke up, I was nearly out of water. Or, well, I was out of water."
My worst fears confirmed, I could only sigh, shake my head and let him continue.
"So what'd you do?" prodded Redwing.
"Well, I've seen Bear Grylls do it on Man Vs. Wild, so I decided to drink my own urine."
And there it was.
"P-Nut!" gasped Lil Dipper.
"No!" cried Bandito in disbelief.
"You were like five miles away from water!" protested Redwing, aghast. "Why didn't you just hike on? You could have made it!"
"No, it's okay!" reassured P-Nut. "Anyway, you'd think drinking your own piss would be awful. And, actually, I've heard that it tastes better if it's your own?"
I don't know why this was a question.
"But no, it's awful. It was like the worst thing I ever tasted," P-Nut laughed.
Not even 24 hours after nearly being struck by lightning. One would've thought that after so close a near-death experience, he'd value his own life more. Apparently not.
"Yeah," he went on. "It's really, really bad."
At least he had a sense of humor about it.
"I can't believe you," Redwing was saying. She couldn't let this go. "You were five miles away from water!"
"He'd been talking about doing this before, though," Lil Dipper pointed out.
"What, drinking his own urine?" gaped Redwing.
It was true. I remembered him mentioning it before. He must have wanted to do it, and was just looking for an excuse.
"I think he must have wanted to do it," I said. "And was just looking for an excuse."
P-Nut shrugged, sheepish.
Somehow, the rest of the night passed without anything horrible happening.
P-Nut heard that a man had put up a sign promising hikers hot dogs and beer, and went off to find it. He came back a little later with a Gatorade. He said he couldn't find the guy giving out trail magic, but apparently had found his empty campsite, where a cooler was filled with drinks. But why hadn't he brought back Gatorades for the rest of us? P-Nut was not a team player. Bandito was, however, and darted off to retrive refreshments for the rest of us. Which we thoroughly enjoyed. And were only 50% certain weren't stolen from someone's personal supply. But we didn't tell Bandito that.
It had been a long, momentous, exhilarating, and hilariously tragicomic day. Wiped out, we all turned in, one by one. I lay awake for some time, listening to the rush of the river, the quiet murmur of Redwing and Lil Dipper talking in the tent next to mine, and the soft crackle of our dying camp fire.
My only worry was where I would dig a cathole in the morning.