The Traveling Circus—comprised of ringleader Ringleader, her best friend Lightning, and her younger brother Monkey—was making a movie. A documentary, in fact, about the "social aspect" of the Appalachian Trail, in which they hoped to prove that not all thru-hikers were uncouth, unkempt, unclean Neanderthals woefully unfit for civilized society. The Circus had assumed the pretext that none of them would even be there hiking the trail if it weren't for that "social aspect," for that unseen, unheralded but largely upstanding community of charming, intelligent, outgoing, like-minded hikers.
Being a filmmaker myself, and one with close ties to the documentary filmmaking world—one of my best friend's former roommates is dating the son of an acclaimed and Oscar-nominated documentarian, after all—I could see where they were coming from, and appreciate the particular and unique challenges they were up against. However, I could not escape the conclusion that, if it had been my project—and, indeed, this is how I always approach and criticize other people's ideas, being an incredibly narrow-minded person—I would have done things completely differently. For example, I wouldn't have formed an impressively close-knit and impenetrable clique with an intimidatingly clever name; or slackpacked my way across entire states; or locked myself into finishing the trail on a certain, arbitrary date; or done anything else, for that matter, that might have distanced or differentiated me from that community, from those people and that culture, that I claimed to be so interested in and reliant upon.
Still, while there seemed something inherently paradoxical and ultimately self-defeating in their premise, I grudgingly came to appreciate certain details of their production. Unlike Bulldog, the blind man whose own Appalachian Trail thru-hike was being documented by a camera crew from National Geographic, the Traveling Circus had been thrust into the unenviable position of self-funding their film. However, they had cleverly and impressively overcome the shortfalls in their budget by securing product placement considerations from Mountain House Freeze Dried Foods®, REI©, Cornell University—which proud alumnus Monkey referenced in dialog an astounding and seemingly unnecessary 247 times in the brief few days I spent with them—LifeStyle Condoms™, and Axe Body Spray deodorant. Their tenacity and resourcefulness was certainly commendable, if also vaguely amusing.
Equally impressive was their catering service. As almost anybody who's been on set can attest, the best part of being involved in film production isn't the money, the fame, the adulation of millions of fans, or the opportunity to create meaningful works of art that can subversively pass as simple entertainments while simultaneously provoking thought and perhaps fundamentally altering the audience's outlook on the world. No, the best part is craft services: the elaborate all-you-can-eat spreads of usually multi-ethnic food that it is normally incumbent upon the producer to provide the crew, usually or ideally at the expense of one of the film's promotional partners. That morning, in Port Clinton, Pennsylvania, I awoke to the smell of freshly-brewed coffee and a fabulous picnic of bananas, orange juice, yogurt, cereal, and bagels, courtesy of one of Monkey's friends and classmates from Cornell. Did I mention Monkey went to Cornell? Well, he did. Fantastic university, by the way. My mother went there, too. To Cornell. Ithaca. Wonderful town. Cornell.
Although I greatly enjoyed these fringe benefits of being an extra—or perhaps I was merely being a leech and taking advantage of their largesse—I was slightly put off that they never asked me to contribute anything on-camera. I am Major Chafage, after all. A legend amongst legends. And, honestly, I would have expected the Traveling Circus to recognize me as something of a kindred spirit; not only did we have that aforementioned filmmaking connection, but we had both spent the majority of our time on the trail alienating and annoying people. Or maybe that was just me. Still, wasn't their documentary supposed to be about the "social aspect" of the trail? Wouldn't it therefore be reasonable to expect them to at least perform a cursory interview with every hiker they met? But I digress. Perhaps I simply didn't fit with their desired aesthetic. Perhaps they deemed me to be too ruggedly disheveled, and feared that I wouldn't match the image they were trying to portray.
Anyway, I certainly didn't resent them for their lack of interest in me. I definitely didn't have unpleasant flashbacks to all those years being shunned by the "beautiful people" in high school. And I absolutely didn't think that they were a bunch of pretentious, tragically misguided blowhards. Who were, at best, inadvertently mocking me and my noble, more philosophical, or even spiritual, intentions. And, at worst, scorning nature, degrading me, belittling my experiences, and ruining my hike. No, I loved the Circus. I thought they were lovely people.
"Would you be out here, if it weren't for the 'social aspect?'" I asked my friend Merf later, as we sat atop Pulpit Rock eating an early lunch.
Merf scoffed, disapproving of my tone.
"Would you?" I asked Dietrich, Merf's friend from home. I had recently dubbed him Blitz due to his unflagging energy. Merf and I were running him ragged, but he was holding up admirably.
"Because I know I wouldn't," I lied. "I fucking hate nature."
And once we had finished giggling, we packed up and headed off towards the Eckville Shelter.