Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chapter 74: Return of the Present Tense

Gravel crunches underneath my boots as I cross some railroad tracks, heading towards the road at Manassas Gap. My ass still hurts from when I slipped off the end of a bog bridge and landed on my tailbone yesterday afternoon. I wince involuntarily when I think about it. I try not to think about it.

The area I'm walking through is steeped in Civil War history. I occasionally pass the overgrown ruins of a stone redoubt, the crumbling remains of a hastily-built wall even now only partially obscured by the encroaching vegetation. I picture the soldiers crouching behind it in terror, scrambling for cover in a hail or rifle fire. Or maybe lying in wait to ambush the unsuspecting enemy. Or maybe just biding their time during an interminable stalemate for days, weeks, or months of frustration and boredom. Who knows which side used them, or to what ends. And yet, as quickly as they were built – and as useful as they may have been – here they lie, just as soon forgotten. 

But I digress. It's a beautiful day. The sun is out. The air around me is warm and thick. Dust particles dance in the sunbeams filtering down through the canopy. And I'm not even paying attention to the trail in front of me, but letting my mind wander.

And I'm floating up through the trees, above the clouds, above the mountains, and speeding off, far away.

I wonder where you are, who you're with, what you're doing. Whether you're happy. Probably not. I can only imagine your deep and intractable melancholy, and I try not to blame myself. That would be too easy and self-serving. I worry that you don't have anyone you can rely on to pick you up when you're down. And my heart aches. I wish could be there for you in so many ways, but I can't. For one thing, I might as well be on another continent. I'm lost in the woods, surrounded by a green haze and the teeming cacophony of spring. Maybe I'm selfish, too. Maybe I'm enjoying myself too much. Maybe it's a good thing that I'm not around.

And then I'm ripped from my reverie as I walk past a side trail to Dick's Dome Shelter. I giggle. And remember something.

"Highcock Knob? I thought that's what they called wherever I put my tent up for the night," I said derisively. And Caveman and Lil Dipper had laughed. But not Redwing. She was too ladylike. And not Bandito, because he disapproved of all my ribald humor, or just held me to a higher standard.

"Is that the best you can do?" I can hear him saying. "A joke about your– you know, just after all that self-indulgent rambling about some unnamed woman?"

"Shut up, Bandito," I hiss. "You're always breaking into my narrative."

"Only when it's terrible," he avows. "I mean, when it's justified."

"How dare you."

"Who were you writing about, anyway?"

"Shut up."

The rest of the day passes similarly.

I'm taking a break in an open meadow when Caveman arrives. We hike the rest of the day together. My boots get soaked when we're crossing a flooded stream. There's no bridge. It's ridiculous!

I have the temerity to jokingly tell Caveman, "This is how Maine will be, only infinitely worse."

I look forward to buying new boots, and to the hell that will be Maine. But mostly new boots. I hate my boots.

We arrive at the Rod Hollow Shelter. The shelter itself is a dump, but there are some nice tent pads nearby. Wanting to avoid the obnoxious snorers who will inevitably show up, I decide to tent. Right across from a section hiker who will snore incredibly loudly. Hobbes will laugh at me for my blunder.

Hobbes never makes any mistakes. I loathe and envy Hobbes. I am weak and pathetic, a lamentable excuse for a human being.

We eat dinner. I enjoy my first quart of unfiltered water, courtesy of the shelter's pristine spring. The water source is literally a pipe popping out of the ground. There's an older guy there at the shelter – Red Ranger or something – who's thru-hiked before, and he claims the water is safe to drink. And then he treats his with iodine tablets. But if he says it's safe, why wouldn't it be safe? So I drink it straight. And do not end up catching giardia. Although that would have been funny.

Just before nightfall we hear Bandito jubilantly singing "The Star Spangled Banner." He may or may not have finally learned the words. He stumbles up to the shelter, truly ecstatic to see us. Nature's just behind him. Apparently they have done twenty-eight miles to catch up. We congratulate them on their accomplishment, then bond over our mutual complaints about the deplorable trail conditions.

And then we go to sleep.

Tomorrow, we will cross the 1,000 mile mark.  

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