P-Nut ditched us immediately afterwards, to hitch back to the trail on his own. He said something vaguely justifiable about it being "easier for one person to get a ride than three." He was probably right. Besides, I could hardly begrudge him his ambitions, particularly since my own would be calling me away from the trail in just a few short days.
Caveman and I wandered around Luray for a while, searching in vain for a place to eat breakfast. The trouble was, most of the restaurants in town weren't yet open. We eventually gave up, and started trying to find a ride back to the trail.
There are many strategies involved in hitchhiking, all of which have disadvantages. If you try to be funny or show a little skin, most motorists will probably think you're a crazy rapist or serial killer, and so will avoid you like the plague. On the other hand, if you don't do anything out of the ordinary to distinguish yourself, most motorists will just think you're lazy, and also a serial rapist or murderer. And – unfortunately for everybody involved – a surprisingly high number of those who do pull over to pick up hitchhikers are also rapists and murderers. It's just a bad scene.
We ended up getting a ride back to the trail from the unlikeliest person. A section hiker, as a matter of fact. Driving a classic Mercedes-Benz. An E-Class sedan from the early 70s with 280,000 miles on it. Not exactly the type of car we'd expect to pick us up. Precisely the opposite.
The day passed in a sullen haze. Maybe we were hungover from the previous day's excitement, or maybe we were just missed our friends. However, any melancholia we were feeling was quickly abated by the sudden reappearance of Bandito, Hobbes, Nature, and the entire crew of smelly, burping, farting, snoring section hikers.
We had just settled in at Gravel Spring Hut to watch the rain when Nature arrived.
"Nature!" I waved. "Hi!"
"M.C.!" she cried, "I've been looking for you!"
Although I was overjoyed to see her, I somehow failed to get out of my sleeping bag to welcome her in.
"I brought you something from Trail Days," she said. "A treat!"
I was so taken aback, I forgot to ask her how Trail Days actually had been. "What is it?"
"A brownie," she said, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "A special brownie."
"Oh," I said, confused. Then, getting it, "Oh!"
"I thought we'd share it before Bandito got here," she said.
"Good idea!" I nodded. "I love these things."
I do. Brownies are awesome.
"Caveman?" Nature proffered a piece to him.
"I can't," he demurred, amused. "I promised my wife I wouldn't do that without her."
Poor Caveman. Whipped. Nature and I shrugged, then scarfed down the brownie.
Hobbes arrived too late to partake, but was very jealous.
"It was delicious," I told him. "I'm telling you this not to engender envy and resentment, but so you can live vicariously through me."
"Yeah, right," he scoffed, as though he found the mere suggestion offensive.
Caveman had hiked out some cans of Budweiser from town. Come to think of it, so had I. In fact, we may have had a can or two for lunch. We had more then. It was completely necessary.
The shelter was filling up with the obnoxious, farting, burping groaning section hikers with whom we'd been stuck for the past three days. Then Bandito arrived, and slid in next to me. I was extremely intoxicated by this time.
"Are you okay?" he asked me.
"Why? Am I looking at you funny? I'm sorry!" I blurted. "I mean, I'm a little drunk. Caveman had beer and he gave me some and it's all his fault."
"You're acting funny."
"I am not."
I looked over at Nature and giggled. She giggled. Poor Nature, the only woman in the shelter. The obnoxious section hikers – who were all men in case you couldn't tell – were being particularly hard on her. Not that they were bullying her, or teasing her, or even trying to talk to her much. Although they may have been. I just don't think she had the patience for them in the same way Redwing and Lil Dipper apparently had. We were very glad to be, well, whatever it was that we were.
I looked over at Caveman and Hobbes across the shelter and laughed. It was like we were privy to a joke that nobody else understood. They just shook their heads and rolled their eyes.
Bandito filled me in on all that I had missed. How he'd spent the whole day in Waynesboro reading Harry Potter. How something else and this and that. I wanted to listen to him, honest, but I found myself increasingly absorbed by the dancing yellow and blue lights in a rain puddle just outside the shelter.
People were coming and going in the night, their headlamps flashing. The wind and the rain dimpled the puddle's surface, making the reflected lights dance and twinkle, as though to a seductive melody only I could hear. I felt a tingling sensation through my arms and fingertips, down my back, to my toes. I suddenly had the urge to urinate, but found it nearly impossible to stand up straight. So I fell over.
"You're really acting weird," said Bandito, worried.
I smiled at him. "I'm fine."
He was my long lost, incredibly innocent little brother. I had to protect him from the harsh realities of the world, and myself, at least until he was mature enough to handle the— at least until he was older. But who knows how long that would take? Years, probably! And I didn't have that much time, or the patience. It wasn't worth fretting over.
And then I was peeing, and it was glorious.
"I don't believe you," said Hobbes, when I returned and explained to him what was going on. "You're really feeling all that?"
"Uh, yeah," I said, with a self-satisfied smirk.
"I hate you," said Hobbes.
"I'll write about it," I said. "Maybe then you'll believe me?"
"No. That's a stupid idea. Don't do that!"
But I did. In the shelter log. Not that I have any memory of it:
I sit here in my sleeping bag, surrounded by bothersome beasts grunting and farting and furrowing their way unwanted into my consciousness. I ignore them, but stay completely absorbed by the dancing blue and orange lights in the rain puddle before me. And then probably something alliterative, poetic, and deep, describing what I already said above. The point of all this being: don't do drugs."Yeah, that makes you sound like you're really high," said Hobbes, reading what I wrote.
PS. Thanks for the brownie, Nature!
"Drunk, Bandito! He meant drunk! I'm drunk! I had too much Budweiser! Never drink, Bandito. Alcohol is a poison that should never be consumed by anyone."
"Hey, I don't plan on it. Not until I turn one hundred."
"... Okay, Bandito."
"M.C.?" Nature grinned up at me. "This was the perfect night to do this."
I knew what she meant.
I never slept better.
Oh, and the secret to special brownies? The recipe, duh! Here it is:
Major Chafage's Special Brownies
3/4 cup butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
2. Put the butter in a pan. Put the pan on the stove. Light the burner you have the pan on. Melt that butter. Mix in the unsweetened chocolate. Stir that concoction until it's all melted and mixed together.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and 2/3 cup water until smooth. Add the butter/unsweetened chocolate mix and whisk. Add the eggs and vanilla, and continue to whisk until combined. Add the sugar, mixing until fully incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and salt until just combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate chips.
4. Pour that delicious batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle with fleur de sel, then give yourself a smug pat on the back like the pretentious jerk that you are, because not only do you know what fleur de sel is, you own some, and you know how to use it. Which means you're either a professional chef, a self-important jerk, or you read the New York Times. Which probably means you're a self-important jerk. But try not to get too hung up about that.
5. Bake until firm, or about 15 to 30 minutes. Let that pan cool before cutting into squares. Then try not to eat them all at once.
Yield: Murder by Chocolate