Sunday, June 26, 2011

Chapter 101: Breaking New Ground

The primary, indisputable appeal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is that it gives you the opportunity to do things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do; to do the things you've always dreamt of doing; and to do all the things you otherwise wouldn't have ever considered, contemplated, or wanted.1 Pooping in the woods, for instance. Or stripping naked in front of other men. Or meeting and befriending people from all over the world, and then gleefully antagonizing them without care or conscience. On this particular day, my thru-hiking experience provided me with the opportunity to watch a World Cup semifinal game between Germany and England with an honest-to-goodness German. And how often does that happen?2

Germany and England have one of the most well-chronicled rivalries in the annals of international soccer. The animosity between the two teams is perhaps unsurpassed in athletic and world history, even eclipsing the fevered levels of antagonism that existed between the two countries in the first half of the 20th Century.3 However, while the games are hotly contested, and their fan-bases equally passionate, the overall competition between Germany and England has been drastically one-sided.4 Almost exactly like World War II, actually, only the complete opposite.

Anyway, my host Chelsea's husband was German, so I ultimately seized the opportunity to stay for the moment to watch with them. Of course, the fact that they were also having other friends over to watch—friends who were said to be bringing chips and salsa and guacamole and soda and lemonade—bore little influence on my decision. Germany ended up winning 4-1, and everyone had a great time. Around noon, with the game over and festivities winding down, Chelsea drove me back to the trail. I thanked her profusely for all her generosity and hospitality, and lamented that we didn't have the chance to talk more, or that she didn't get to ask me any of the presumably many, many questions she had about the trail. She was very understanding, and grateful, however. And so we said goodbye, and I continued on my way.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful. I found some trail magic, a cooler of sodas and beers left by the side of the trail near a water source. I think it was from the same guy who I'd seen giving out trail magic the day before. I had a Heineken, because why not? And then I continued to drag my sorry ass through the muggy New York countryside, constantly assaulted by deer flies, mosquitoes, and bedraggled day-hikers until I reached the RPH shelter.

Sonic caught back up with me. He had spent the previous night in Fort Montgomery, New York with Kashmir, so they could watch the United States play Ghana. The United States lost, but it was a well played game, and Sonic had enjoyed it. I wondered where all this newfound interest in soccer was coming from, and if it had spread to the rest of America or was just endemic to people on the trail. Weird. Whatever.

Two days till home.

1. Okay, that's not strictly true. It's also about interacting with "the wild, scenic, pastoral, cultural and natural elements" of Appalachia, "unfettered and unimpeded by competing sights or sounds and in as direct and intimate a manner as possible." (Appalachian Trailways News, July/August 1997). The trail is also supposed to offer hikers' the opportunity to observe, contemplate, and explore the natural world; give them a sense of remoteness and detachment from civilization; and provide them with the chance to experience solitude, freedom, self-reliance, and self discovery. Boring!

2. Since they met in the 1966 finals, Germany and England have played each other in the World Cup once every ten years, on average. But when you consider that the World Cup only takes place every four years—and that there have only been eleven World Cups in the intervening years, and that Germany has played England in roughly half of them—you might come to the completely defensible conclusion that they play each other rather frequently. Which... So... Shut up! And as for seeing a match with a German audience... I guess that depends of how many German people you know. Back to text!

3. This is my obligatory World War II joke. See also: every article in every magazine, newspaper, or tabloid ever written about the Germany-England soccer rivalry. Or, watch this episode of Top Gear, which has absolutely nothing to do with soccer, but is still very illuminating and indicative of the general state of English-German relations. The English just love bringing up WWII when they're dealing with Germans. Probably because they don't have anything else to brag about.

4. Since they met in the aforementioned 1966 World Cup finals—in which England emerged victorious—Germany has won 13 out of 19 matches overall, with one ending in a draw.

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