Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chapter 70: Pee-nut and the Two Bears

Registry entry, Hightop Hut Shelter:
pee-nut | pē - nət | informal
someone who such a nut for pee that they will lie down on the trail below someone else who is pissing in order to drink it
: P-Nut is definitely not a pee-nut.
Of course, P-Nut did nothing to deserve such ridicule. Except drink his own urine. But that had been almost a week ago. His behavior in the interim had been nothing if not sensible and mature.


"I really want to see a bear today, man," said P-Nut the next morning. "I'm going to see a bear today. I know it. It's going to happen."

Caveman and I exchanged wary glances.

"Well, I really hope you don't," said Caveman. "Because you'll probably try to ride it like the ponies back in the Grayson Highlands, or punch it in the nose, just to see if you can—"

"Hey! That's a good idea!" enthused P-Nut.

"—and then you'll get mauled and eaten," finished Caveman.

But P-Nut would not be deterred. He was now on a quest to find a bear, get as close to it as possible, and then punch it in the nose and run away. This was it. P-Nut's hubris would finally catch up with him. He was going to die.

P-Nut, Caveman, and I hiked out with Redwing and Lil Dipper that morning. We hadn't gone far – two or three miles at most – when it happened. No, not the bear. That would come later. We were descending a moderately steep downhill when Redwing suddenly tripped and fell smack on her face.

Caveman and I felt horrible. Having face-planted a few times myself, I knew the humiliation was almost as bad as the pain. I didn't know whether to rush to her side or pretend like it didn't happen.

"She'll be okay," assured P-Nut.

"But she's crying!"

And she was. Her knee had taken the brunt of the fall, and looked fairly mangled and bloody. Lil Dipper at least was hovering over her, trying to comfort and reassure her like a true friend would.

"Yeah, but they're always crying," said P-Nut. "They cry every day."

The tacit implication was either "I'm an incredible jerk and don't want them slowing me down," or "I respect Redwing, and want to give her some privacy, so she can at least retain her dignity." Even the optimist – and wanting to give P-Nut the benefit of the doubt – I chose to believe the latter. The three of us hiked on a little ways to a road crossing, then sat down to wait for the girls.

At least the weather had improved that day. It wasn't foggy or rainy for once, and sitting around lazily in a parking lot had its own meager charms. There was no traffic, no farting, burping section hikers nearby to disturb us. We had the warmth of the sun, the wide blue expanse of the sky, and a chorus of cheerful birdsong to keep us company.

Lil Dipper and Redwing arrived some five minutes later. Redwing was limping noticeably, but seemed to be in a much better mood. They were grateful for the excuse to take a break, and sat down with us.

"So where were we headed today?" asked Redwing.

"Well, I think the idea was to go to the Rockspring Hut, " I said, flipping through my guidebook. "That's 23.9 miles."

"Yeah, I don't know if we're going to be able to make it," said Lil Dipper uneasily. "What with Redwing's knee—"

"—and Dipper's shin splints," added Redwing.

Again, my stomach turned over. I had no idea they were struggling this much. And I had experience with shin splints. Maybe I would've been able to help! But I just didn't know.

"You should lean with your back against a tree," I advised Lil Dipper. "And lift your toes. That'll stretch out your shin muscle things. Whatever they're called."

"Really? Will that help?" asked Lil Dipper.

"Yeah, and take lots of ibuprofen."

"Or Excedrin®," offered Caveman, popping a couple pills into his mouth and – crunch – chewing them down. "What? They've got aspirin, tylenol, and as much caffeine as a cup of coffee."

Ever impatient, P-Nut left before the rest of us. Slightly more conscientious, Caveman and I decided to hike with Redwing and Lil Dipper, to make sure they made it and that they were all right. We took a lot of breaks. 

We passed one of the handful of for-rent cabins that dotted the park. We had heard or read somewhere that they cost upwards of $80 a night, and that you had to call ahead for reservations. To us, this was a mildly insulting joke. If nobody else was using them, why couldn't we? And why did we have to pay for the privilege? However, this particular cabin – the Pocosin – was currently occupied by a quiet bunch of solitude-seeking retirees. Caveman wanted to beg for soda.

"No, man, it'll be easy!" he assured me. "Watch this."

He took a dollar bill out of his wallet and crumpled it up, then actually bent down and rubbed dirt on it.

"What are you doing?" I asked, curious.

"Oldest trick in the book, M.C.," said Caveman. "You take a single, get it all crumpled and dirty so it looks old, and when people see it, they'll think it's your last dollar."

"Why? What for?"

"'Cause then when you ask if you can buy a soda, they'll refuse because they don't want to take your last dollar, and then they might just give you one for free!"

"Or they'll say yes, and then you'll be out a dollar," I pointed out.

"But I'll still have a soda," Caveman correctly asserted.

"It'll never work," I said, shaking my head. "Besides, it specifically says 'Do Not Disturb Occupants' or whatever on that sign over there."

And then Caveman called me something like "killjoy" and stuffed the dollar bill into his boot.

"What'd you do that for?" I asked.

"Second oldest trick in the book, M.C."

And we hiked on.

A little later we reached the Lewis Mountain Campground. Redwing and Lil Dipper seemed to be doing better; if they were feeling any pain, they weren't letting it show. We were all joking about yogi-ing for snacks when we passed a man firing up a grill.

"I'm doing it," said Caveman in a fit of inspiration, retrieving the wrinkled dollar bill from his shoe.

He would not be dissuaded. The rest of us could only stand by and watch in appalled horror as Caveman gingerly approached the man, haggled with him cheerfully for a moment, and then returned bearing a proud smile and a Capri-Sun. Of course, I was livid.

"First of all, I cannot believe that worked. Secondly, why didn't you get some for the rest of us?" I cried.

Caveman laughed. Which only annoyed me further. Why were people always amused by my feeble, impotent temper tantrums? Anyway, Caveman seemed to think that since he did all the work, he alone was entitled to the spoils.

"The work?" I squeaked. "But you hardly did anything!"

If I had been thinking straight, I might have taken a better tact. Like pointing out that Caveman could have just shared his Capri-Sun with the rest of us. But I wasn't thinking straight. I couldn't.

"Shut up!" I screamed, preemptively cutting off his nonexistent retort. "This is not about me ridiculing your idea, or saying it would never work, or that I didn't believe in you, or being too lazy or scared or embarrassed to do myself!"

"It's not?" asked Caveman, slurping down his juice.

My blood boiled. 

"No! This is about you not being a team player! If it had been me," I argued, "I would have brought back drinks for everybody! Because I am a—"

But whatever ridiculous thing I was about to say stuck in my throat, because a rather large black bear was standing in the middle of the trail about ten yards away, and was eyeing us warily.

"Oh look," gushed Redwing, pointing to our left.

Maybe a hundred feet away, an adorable black bear cub gazed at us from the crook of a tree. Mama remained where she was, ever vigilant, as if just waiting to see if we meant to harm her baby. Figuring I was safe with the others at my back, I glanced around for P-Nut's corpse. But there was nothing.

Mama eventually got bored with us. We weren't doing anything, just standing there watching her and taking pictures. She finally turned away and moved off towards her cub. My heart was racing.

"You know what would be awesome?" I asked the others. "If we saw a bear, and P-Nut didn't."

We quickly concocted a scheme to freak out P-Nut by marching into the shelter area covered in blood and telling him the British girls had been attacked and murdered by a rampaging bear. Unfortunately, our glaring lack of Karo syrup and red food coloring presented a critical flaw in our plan. We decided instead just to find out if he had seen the bears too, and then tease him mercilessly about it if he hadn't.

But he had. We only caught up to him at Rock Spring Hut, which once again was filled with the familiar obnoxious, farting, snoring, burping section hikers. When I asked him about the bears, P-Nut told us that he, too, had seen the mother and cub. Sadly, he had not tried to ride them around like ponies, or punch them in the face. I was bitterly disappointed. 

It was late afternoon by the time Redwing and Lil Dipper arrived. I'd say we were pleasantly surprised that they had made it that far, considering their injuries, but we weren't particularly surprised. Still, with them and P-Nut cheerfully swapping stories over dinner, it felt like a long-awaited reunion.

By the time the sun was setting, Caveman had serendipitously discovered one of those for-rent cabins just below the shelter with its door unlocked. Or at least that's the official version of events. Anyway, we offered the girls the option of sleeping in the cabin, but they declined, opting instead for open spots in the shelter. P-Nut, Caveman, Roughin' It and myself all cheerfully moved our stuff into the cabin, eager to get away from our loud, smelly, unwanted companions. The cabin was actually kind of dumpy. At least we had beds.

If we had known this would be our last night on the trail together, would we have treated the occasion with more reverence and dignity? It's impossible to say, really. We didn't know. How could we?

No comments:

Post a Comment