Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chapter 125: The Gospel of the Garlic Knot

Imagine a pizza.

Its crust: sumptuous braids of golden garlic knots, drizzled with olive oil, enough garlic to kill a small clan of vampires, and a metric ton of parmesan cheese.

The pie itself? Just sliced tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil, again drizzled in obscene amounts of garlic and even more parmesan cheese.

Sound good?

Then you have to go to Ramunto's Brick n' Brew in Hanover, New Hampshire, and order the Garlic Knot Pizza. It's even better than I've described, and you won't regret it. Tell them Major Chafage sent you.

The above spiel is more or less the same as the one I'd been giving since Georgia or North Carolina, to anyone who would listen. And I meant it. Someone told me I was doing such a good job evangelizing for the place, they should, at the very least, give me free pizza. I kind of liked that idea. I spoke to my sister, a Dartmouth alum, about it, and she offered to send the proprietors of Ramunto's a letter to that effect, telling them how I was spreading the word, and how cool it would be if they gave me a free pizza when I arrived.

And she did.

And so, when Veggie and I walked into Ramunto's for lunch, we found a sign proclaiming, "Welcome, M.C.! We have a Garlic Knot Pizza waiting for you!"


The staff quickly recognized me as M.C., and the day manager—so overjoyed to make my acquaintance—even offered to buy Veggie and myself a round of drinks while we ate our lunch.

Which is to say, we were drunk when we left. I hadn't had a drop of alcohol in nearly three weeks at that point. My tolerance had gone down, understandably. Also, Veggie hadn't eaten anything for lunch. She's vegan, after all. She gave her slice of free pizza—all thru-hiker's get one—to me, and that was that.

When we returned to the frat house, we found Buckeye and Sativa James had just arrived. Buckeye was in a celebratory mood and suggested we go find a bar. Sativa James, meanwhile, was getting stoned and making ready to troll the town for loose women.

We left Sativa James to his debauchery, and went in search of a bar. Looking for a bar at two o'clock in the afternoon makes perfect sense when you're already drunk, by the way. Long story short, we utterly failed to find any adequate drinking establishment. I suspected that Hanover was more of a "buy a twelve pack and get hammered in your basement" kind of town.

So that's exactly what we did.

The three of us strolled down to the Dartmouth Co-Op and bought a six pack pack each. I got some tasteful Woodchuck Cider, made in nearby Middlebury, Vermont. Veggie and I convinced Buckeye to get Long Trail Double Bag, a strong, dark amber ale that's 7.2% alcohol. Veggie got some vegan, soy frozen yogurt for dinner, and another six pack of something or other. Details are a bit hazy.

By the time we got back to the frat house, and after doing our laundry, everyone was feeling hungry again, so we headed back to Ramunto's. This time Sativa James came with us, although I would later wish he hadn't. I gleefully collected my free pizza—that I actually had to pay for half of—and another round of free beers for myself and my friends. It was a party!

I ended up taking half of the pizza back to the frat/hostel with me. I figured I'd eat it for breakfast in the morning. It wouldn't last the night.

Buckeye, Veggie, and myself started drinking and playing pool in the frat's basement. Sativa James snuck back out to seduce some waitress he met. I felt a surge of pity for the poor girl, and for every other local who crossed his path, but also a certain glimmer of relief that he was no longer around.

Some of the frat brothers—and sisters, it was a co-ed frat—eventually came down to play beer pong and chat up some dance team they'd sequestered. We chatted with them amiably, and made three startling discoveries. One, this was, or had been, a dry frat. Two, they proudly proclaimed themselves to be the "marching band frat." And three, the three of us were, by far, the coolest people in the room. Also, the drunkest.

After Sativa James (surprisingly) returned with his queasily young conquest, details start to get hazy. My box of leftovers grew ever smaller. My cider all got drunken.

Then Buckeye passed out on the pool table. I got annoyed with everyone and decided, "To Hell with them, I'm going to bed!" And promptly lay down on a bench. Only to be woken up not terribly long after by the sounds of Veggie dry heaving into a recycling bucket.

Good times!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chapter 124: A Field Guide to Annoying

The bro: the aggressively macho, juvenile male who never graduated from wearing sports jerseys and cargo shorts, crew cuts, and Oakley's, and can never shut up about that awesome he got hammered once, even though that happens with startling regularity. Weaknesses include Lite beers, receding hairlines, and Derek Jeter.

The douche: similar to the above, except he disguises his inherent bro-ness with pink polo shirts, Ray Ban's, and pointedly casual flip-flops. Weaknesses include wine spritzers, shopping, and underage women. Kidding! And frequent repetitive stress injuries in the wrist and elbow. From playing tennis. Kidding again! From masturbation.

The hipster douche: Look down. Look up. Is it wearing orange sneakers, wooden clogs, or rubber galoshes? A doofy, anachronistic hat? Now take in the whole picture, if you can stomach it. Is it wearing too-tight jeans, a purple leotard, and/or a rumpled t-shirt from the seventies? Congrats, you've found yourself a hipster. Weaknesses include cheap German lagers brewed inexplicably in Wisconsin, irony, and the ever amorphous "authentic," whatever that is.

The cynic: He could be anyone. He could be sitting right next to you. He could be one of your best friends, or most-trusted colleagues. Identifying characteristics include apathy, sarcasm, and an inexplicably bitterness towards everyone and everything. Weaknesses include anything anyone puts in front of him, and a general lack of self-esteem. Pity this man.

Lawyers: a subsect of the "douche," only better dressed. Do not confuse any perceived friendliness as genuine interest and engage them in conversation. You will be billed for your kindness, and will later regret your naiveté. Weaknesses of the lawyer include a near-debilitating level of smugness which opens them up to sudden attacks. Also, the exposed area of the neck just below their jaw. Their armor is weakest there.

Politicians: These are lawyers just wrapped in a protective layer of bureaucracy. Weaknesses: Fire. Dismemberment. Sunlight. No, wait, that's vampires. I meant to say "hookers" and "shady real-estate deals." And fire.

Al QaedaSort of a combination of all the above. Aggressive and violence prone like the bro, fiercely dogmatic like the hipster, full of irrepressible hatred like the cynic. Can be identified by the prominence of box cutters, dynamite, and automatic weapons amongst their personal effects. And by a pronounced affection for pornography. Weaknesses include ammonium nitrate, latent feelings of empathy (but don't count on it), and falafel. Who doesn't like falafel?

The southbounder: The absolute worst of all. So evil, evil resents the association. Weaknesses include a false sense of superiority, the phrase "You're never going to make it," and mortality.


Veggie and I ran up the hill in the rain. I had caught up with her earlier, at the Thistle Hill Shelter, when I'd sought cover during an earlier afternoon squall. It had blown over quickly, a pale prelude of things to come.

Now, the branches above me creaked and cracked in a mere sixty mile-per-hour breeze. The sky was a malevolent black, green, or purple, frequently illuminated by skittering strands of lightning. Leaves twirled and rustled around my feet, whipped and twisted into eddies by the furious wind. It was, quite frankly, terrifying.

We'd heard a weather report earlier, when we'd stopped in at a deli in West Hartford, VT. A severe thunderstorm warning was in effect. We were to expect hail stones the size of golf balls, and maybe even a tornado. Fortunately, I knew we were far ahead of the trailing group of fellow NOBO's I'd left behind at the Wintturi Shelter. Hypothetically, if we hurried, we coule make it to the ironically named Happy Hill Shelter before the storm hit, and have the whole place to ourselves. At least, that was the plan.

Through diminutive in stature, Veggie was actually an incredibly accomplished hiker. I'm no speed demon myself, but I was continually impressed by her ability to keep up. Or, okay, fine: I may have actually been lagging behind. That is, until the innocuous forks of lightning overhead started morphing into menacing steak knives, and threatened to come down on my head.

There are few motivating factors quite like the fear of imminent death. That, and an urgent desire to change out of my now-soiled underwear. I passed Veggie like she was standing still, her eyes turned fearfully upward as her hair stuck out for some reason in random directions. Whatever.

Luckily, we were only about a mile from the shelter. Despite never having run better than an eight minute mile in any of our fitness tests in high school—and despite carrying a 40 lb. backpack—I think I reached the shelter in three minutes flat. Take that, Roger Bannister.

Laughing maniacally, I triumphantly ran up under the shelter eaves just as the sky opened up.

"Take that nature!" I shouted, shaking my fists at the sky. "Is that the best you got? I freakin' turned you around and made you my--"

At which point I happened to turn to see eight sets of eyeballs bulging at me from the depths of the shelter. Gaping mouths. The slightest hint of drool. The vague feeling of vacuous stupidity. The quiet echoes of several broken conversations dispersing, drifting off into the atmosphere.


They begrudgingly made room for me in the dankest, darkest corner, near a window where errant raindrops could splatter in. Thanks a lot. I quietly stewed in a growing homicidal rage until Veggie arrived to diffuse the situation.

"Oh, you'll definitely find trail magic on your way into town tomorrow," someone was telling me.

"Is that so?" I asked absentmindedly, skeptical.

"Oh, yeah!" another agreed. "In front of every house on the way in."


"Iced tea."

"Fresh fruit."


"Hundred-dollar bills."

"The streets are practically paved with them!"

"Sounds like a hard hike," I observed dryly.

"No, easiest four miles ever," someone scoffed.

What? "What?" I asked, incredulous. "You came from Hanover?"

"Yeah," came all. They looked to each other, nodded thoughtfully.

Veggie gripped my arm, restraining me. I looked down. My hands were balled into fists.

"Yeah," someone repeated. "We've been here since noon!"

"Didn't want to get rained on, after all."

"That'd just be stupid."

And then I turned and walked back out into the hail and rain, hoping to get struck by lightning. Or maybe I just read a Star Wars novel I found until crying myself to sleep. Whatever.

Chapter 123: Murder by Sex

Noun: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity."
When I arrived at the Wintturi Shelter, I was alone. Bereft. Friendless.

Lots of people were there, of course. But I wasn't exactly close to any of them. I wouldn't have counted any of them as a "trail buddy." At least not yet.

Making things worse, except for Popeye—who was older and wiser and thus slightly more independent—most of my peers had already formed up into cliques. Buckeye was palling around with Twizzler and Sativa James. Then there were Smokestack and his entire crew. Plus Cubby and Dilly Dally. Tonto and the Lone Stranger. Silent J and Shaggy 2 Awesome. I didn't care for some of them, to be honest. But still, I was lonely and wished I had something to ingratiate myself upon the group.

Which is when I found a novel tucked in the corner of the shelter, obviously left to be used as kindling. It wasn't a Bible or even a copy of Dianetics, one or both of which I may have burned on the trail before in my attempts to stay warm. Or for fun. Rather, it was a romance novel. And a bad one, at that.

As the denizens of the shelter crowded around the campfire, I opened the book to a random page and read aloud:
stepped into the room. The door was unlocked. Why was the door unlocked? he thought, suddenly alarmed.

Jamileh had her back turned. Her bare shoulders heaved with repressed sobs. An odd shudder sparked down Jack's spine. Something was off. Something bothered him, but he couldn't quite place it. Which bothered him. He knew he should know what it was that was bothering him, which in turn bothered him even more. His head spun.

"Why was the door unlocked?" he shouted at Jamileh, grabbing her arm and whipping her around.

Suddenly they were very close. Jamileh had almost lost her grip on her towel, and tugged it up around her heaving busoms. Which heaved, closer and closer to Jack's chest. Jack realized what had been bothering him.

"You left the door open," he growled. "On purpose."

"I don't know what you're talking about," spat Jamileh, literally spitting in Jack's face. "Imperialist American pig. How do I know you didn't kill my husband?"

Jack shoved her back against the wall, hard, and grabbed her towel, ripping it away. She froze, gaping, but made no move to cover the alluring olive curves of her abruptly naked body. Jack's sniper eyes roved all over her glistening, shivering sensualness as though searching a crowded marketplace for insurgents. He stepped toward her.

And she slapped him, hard, across the face.

The contact of their skin was like a spark in a room full of gunpowder.

And all at once, he was upon her, his mouth devouring hers, his tongue exploring the every crevice of hers. Straining, searching, yearning, learning.
"This is gross," I added, scanning ahead on the page with what I hoped was evident disgust. I had a rapt audience though, and they begged me to continue. Who am I to deny them?
glared at him furiously, always maintaining eye contact, as she slowly, seductively pulled off his pants.

And then he was inside her, and they were doing it.
"This guy is clearly a virgin," I observed, breaking off the narrative again. "The author. Virgin. 'And then his penis was doing that thing penises do when they're inside vaginas?' I mean, come on! Who writes stuff like that!"

Nobody appreciated my commentary. I may have been pelted by rocks. Or pine cones. Or not.
And then they were doing it. The sex. And the sex was awesome, and sexy, as most sex often is. And they did it again and again and again. And he pounded her and she orgasmed a lot.
I paused to write "The author is clearly a virgin" in the margins, since my other attempts at levity had been so violently denied.
And her body flew up and down in the air and she screamed, because that's exactly the sort of thing that happens when I have sex. I mean, when suave, debonair Jack Steele—soldier of fortune, Secret Service agent, and part-time CIA assassin—has sex. And then they were done having sex, and eyed each other with a simmering carnal tension, like they were immediately going to do it again. Because they were.
"It doesn't say that," scoffed Buckeye, interrupting me.

"You don't believe me?" I tossed the book at him. "Read it yourself, find out!"

So he did. And did. And I was right.

And we've been friends ever since.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chapter 122: Nightmares

I'm back in high school. That's bad enough. Worse, there's an orchestra concert.

I have to play in it. I don't want to. It's not that I don't know the music—I don't—it's that I don't want to face these people. My fellow musicians. They're the worst, the ones I really don't ever want to remember. Not because they bullied me or made my life miserable. Because they were my friends. Because they actually knew me. And that's terrifying.

I don't recognize the hall we're playing in, but it doesn't matter. It's not the high school auditorium. Maybe it's the rehearsal space in the Neighborhood Music School, somehow enlarged and distorted to hold more people.

None of my drums are set up. In a panic, I miss my cue. My friend Steve whispers at me, urging me to play. I can feel the heat of Mrs. Lauro's glare without looking up. I am frustrated, ashamed.

I decide it's probably best not to play, since I don't know what I'm doing. I slip off the back of the stage and head to the bathroom. Not that I need to go. It just offers solace. Solitude. Quiet.

Except Jeanette is inside, making elaborate mix drinks in a blender. That's weird. I haven't seen her in years. What is she doing here? In the men's bathroom?

Hey, Nette. How's it going?

But that's all I ask her. We make small talk, maybe, as she makes me a drink. Probably a health code violation. If this were a bar. It's not. I chug it down. Sweet release. I'm getting drunk now!

I slip out of the bathroom, not getting caught up in the rapidly escalating party atmosphere that's developing inside. I think maybe someone showed up with an iPod, or a DJ came with a disco ball. It was getting out of hand, in any case.

I can feel the eyes of my friends on me. I've let them down. I've embarrassed them. And now I'm drunk, making my behavior even more inexplicable. I'm sure I'll get a dressing down, later. I don't care. I don't seek out their faces. My cheeks burn. I step outside.

My parents are there. With my aunt? Don't know what she's doing there. But they don't seem too concerned with me screwing up. Maybe I forget to tell them. My dad can't stop talking about some professional act that's playing after us. Or actually, they might be playing at the bar next door. There's a bar next door? I thought that place was a music store.

And then my parents—and aunt—decide that they'd rather see the professionals than see me play. That's fine. I understand. I'm still a little hurt, even though I have no idea what I'm doing. They tell me to meet them there afterwards.

Yeah, right. I doubt it. I'm going to die or wake up before that happens.

Anyway, I can't believe how cavalier they were about missing my concert. But then again, I didn't know any of the music, my tympani weren't tuned, and I think I might have made a ruckus in one of the practice rooms with a crash cymbal, and ruined something. Mrs. Lauro is definitely going to ask to talk to me afterwards. She's angry.

And then, walking in, I catch Libby's eye. I didn't want to. I've been avoiding her this entire time.

She's so upset. And hurt. And betrayed. I can see it. She doesn't understand a) why I'm screwing up, b) why I was getting drunk with Nette in the bathroom, or c) why I was steadfastly ignoring her, and treating her like garbage.

I don't see how any of that is really my problem, though. I absolutely don't care. In fact, I burn with embarrassment and bitterness and hatred. And disappointment. Mainly because my tympani were out of tune, and I didn't know the songs, and my parents were ass holes and walked out on me. Everything else though? Complete apathy.

Is this real? Am I going to be stuck in this nightmare forever? Back in high school?


I wake up. And I'm back on the trail, pounding the crap out of my knees, starving. Something smells inexplicably of urine. I can't place it. My (new) backpack is ripped. My feet feel like they've been dipped in molten glass. And for some reason I've decided to hike twenty miles again, again, to the Wintturi Shelter. The glorious pain of it all.

I'm awake. I'm alive. Thank God.

Chapter 121: Moldy White Blazing

At 4,235 feet, Killington Peak was the tallest mountain I'd climbed since Stratton Mountain some four days earlier. Or, well, it would have been, if I had actually gone to the summit. Unfortunately, the Appalachian Trail only climbs as far as the Cooper Lodge, a derelict shelter for wayward skiers that teeters precariously at 3,850 feet.

The Killington Peak Trail beckoned nearby, promising a short 0.2 mile stroll up the roughly 400 vertical feet to the summit. However, I am neither certifiably insane nor particularly masochistic. I ate lunch in the dusty lodge, and pointedly ignored the detour.


According to The Thru-Hiker's Handbook, a "blue blazer" is a "long distance hiker who substitutes a section of blue-blazed trail for a white-blazed section between two points on the Trail." Got that? I normally considered blue-blazing acceptable only as a way to avoid doubling back or in case of inclement weather. However, there are always exceptions.

An alumni thru-hiker named Blue Jay had told me once about the Sherburne Pass Trail, which diverged from the Appalachian Trail just north of Killington and went straight down to the Inn at the Long Trail, bypassing some three miles of pointless switchbacks. Apparently it was the original route of the A.T. The trail had been rerouted sometime in the not-so-recent past to avoid cutting through private property. I had been on the fence about possibly taking it, but was willing to let him try to convince me.

"It's the original path of the A.T., and it's so much better!" Blue Jay had sworn.

"So it's not really like blue-blazing?" I had asked, intrigued. Because I really did want to go to the Inn. I'd been there once as a child, and had some fond memories. Plus they have free camping in a lot across the street. And beer.

"No," Blue Jay had insisted, "It's like... Old white blazing!"

"So they're not blue blazes," I had mused, "They're just moldy white blazes."


So I wasn't blue-blazing when I took the Sherburne Pass Trail down to the Inn. Or, at least, that's what I kept telling myself. I was just moldy white blazing.

The Inn was just as I remembered it, sort of. Popeye was there, which was cool. We'd developed a nice repartee ever since being unwilling roommates at the Green Mountain House in Manchester Center. And Fredo was there, a nice surprise. A man at the bar even bought us thru-hiker's a round of drinks. Of which we had several. It was rather festive inside. The owner was behind the bar, and very chatty. I had a veggie burger. Delicious.

And then the time came for me to step back out into a stinging wind and rain. Slightly buzzed, I trudged across the street to my tent. I lay awake for a while, listening to the sound of the storm, and hoping my tent wouldn't blow over during the night.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chapter 120: Teach Me How to Yogi

On my way towards the Clarendon Shelter, I found myself hiking behind an amiable young man and woman out thru-hiking the Long Trail. They evidently weren't having such a great time of it, however. Using only a small fraction of my considerable wisdom, I quickly gleaned that they had started out with way too much food, and, thus overburdened by superfluous Clif® Bars, were now struggling to maintain even a relatively relaxed pace.

Or maybe I merely overheard them bickering about their unequal pack weights, and generally cursing the capricious juggling act of—and inverse relationship between—mobility and preparedness. And not that I was eavesdropping, but there was one detail of their conversation that particularly piqued my interest. Apparently some family and friends were driving in from Maine to meet them at a road crossing, to bring them a (seemingly unnecessary) resupply. It didn't take an extraordinary leap of logic to extrapolate from this tidbit that there might be an impromptu picnic involved.

And there was.

After reaching the parking lot by VT 103, the two Long Trailers took a seat to await their friends. Feigning exhaustion and hunger, I sat down some ten yards away and found something innocuous to do, just biding my time. Ten minutes later, a minivan pulled in carrying a jovial family of six, several coolers, a giant thermos of Kool Aid, and several boxes of goodies. Jackpot.

Of course, I played it cool at first, doing the polite thing of ignoring them completely. Until I caught someone saying something about "carrying too much weight" and "never make it to Burlington" and "death." At which point I magnanimously butted in to suggest that, maybe, if they carried less food, their packs would be considerably lighter, they could go further, and thus be able to resupply more often. And that the extra weight of added food really was a double edged sword.

Of course, the Long Trailers and their makeshift support team were blown away by this veritable Appalachian Trail thru-hiker sharing his hard-earned knowledge. Then they noticed my own food bag lying limply on the ground, my meager (but sufficient) supplies scattered haphazardly in a calculatedly pathetic display. With a barely suppressed glee, I watched their eyes fill with gratitude and sympathy, before they finally invited me to join their party.

Later, after arriving at the (surprisingly well-maintained) shelter and collecting a trail magic soda from the nearby creek, I wrote the following in the log:
Dear Long Trailers, Section Hikers, and Overnighters,

I've seen and hear you getting a lot of grief from my fellow hru-hikers, both in person and in these here registers. You've been called "ignorant" "morons," you've been accused of waking up at 5:30 AM and banging pots and pans together "like it's fucking Mardi Gras," you may have even had your food bags mistaken for trail magic and/or had someone to threaten to take a shit in your sleeping bag. Well, I'm here to put a stop to all that.

I love you guys.

Truly, I do. When I stumbled across the Vermont border, feeling lazy and lethargic at the end of a measly 14 mile day, all you newbie LTers were there to pick me right up. You made me feel fantastic by being so impressed with my mileage, comparing it to your own 7 mile days. Suddenly, I didn't feel lazy anymore. I mean, not that y'all are. But you remind me of how far I've come since I started. And not only that, but you're generally good-hearted, generous, well-intentioned people.

Special shout out to Detour and Dribble for the fantastic trail magic. A big, all caps THANK YOU for sharing your picnic and resupply with me. You guys are awesome. Enjoy the trail!
Major Chafage

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 117: On to the Green Mountain House

By 9:30 in the morning, I had made it to the summit of Stratton Mountain. At 3,936 feet, Stratton was the tallest peak I'd climbed in nearly two months, since Three Ridges in central Virgina. Not that I could remember such minutia in the moment. If I felt or thought anything at the time, it was gratitude for having come so far so quickly, with most of the day still ahead of me.

I had big plans, after all. Plans that involved somehow getting into Manchester Center, buying copious amounts of lemonade and chocolate milk, eating a lavish dinner at the Manchester Pizza House—once acclaimed by Skiing magazine as the "best pizza in town," which really isn't saying much considering their glaring lack of competition—heading over to the Green Mountain House Hiker Hostel, showering, and then maybe checking my e-mail, just to make sure that my loved ones were still alive and that civilization hadn't collapsed in my absence. And then dropping dead from exhaustion.

I reached the road at around three in the afternoon. Since coming down off of Stratton Mountain, I hadn't really found any part of the day particularly challenging. Unfortunately, that was before I tried to hitchhike into town.

After unintentionally terrifying some young women in a Subaru—who may or may not have sprayed me with Lysol or bear repellent and then called the cops—I decided it might be prudent to walk up the road a bit. I caught a ride soon enough. With someone who was on their way back from visiting a fellow thru-hiker in Maine, no less. It's always people connected to the trail.

Arriving at the hostel after dinner, I found myself in the seemingly unenviable position of having to share the barn with Popeye. Which is normally where people with dogs would have slept, but there was no more room in the main house. No matter, we still had bunks and Popeye wasn't a prolific snorer. We actually might've had a better deal than everybody else.

After a short amount of relatively painless deliberation the next morning, I decided to zero there for the day. I'd heard such good things about the Green Mountain House, and I wanted to take advantage of its vast movie collection and rumored supply of free Ben & Jerry's. I would not be disappointed.

I went into town that morning to resupply, and ran into Fredo and Saint at the Easter Mountain Sports outfitter. Neither of them had intended to stay at the Green Mountain House until I mentioned how awesome it was. Unfortunately, Saint was waiting for a ride to take him off trail for a couple weeks, to go to a wedding back home. So he, at least, would not be coming. Fredo, on the other hand, actually seemed enthusiastic about joining me there, but was then was sorely disappointed to find out there wasn't any room. I lobbied the owner on Fredo's behalf, arguing that he could easily sleep on a couch or tent on the lawn, but there was nothing for it. The proprietor was understandably leery about making an exception, and might have even mumbled something about "neighbors," "fire codes," and "illegal." Whatever. Disappointed, we soon parted ways. I would never see Saint again. It was the last hurrah of the Nature Train. Except not really.

Of course, I would be remiss in my narration if I failed to mention the melange of characters also staying at the House that evening. Pixie was there, a welcome surprise. I never thought I'd see her again, and actually wouldn't after the following day. Oh well. Veggie was there. I didn't recognize her at first, although I should have given the contentious nature of our first encounter in Pennsylvania. Then there was Buckeye, whom I found delightfully profane and generally agreeable, although he looked disarmingly like an Amish farmer someone had mistakenly attacked with a can of red spray paint. Or like a prominent Hamas leader, at least according to Twizzler, an Israeli section hiker who was also staying at the hostel. Last but not least, there was Sativa James, an inveterate womanizer who was shamelessly pretending to be a thru-hiker and always seemed to be either drunk or stoned. All together, a great group from whose company I would never escape.

No matter how hard I tried.

God, I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 119: Stand Alone

July 17,

I was pooping when they found me, the deer flies. From hell. And now they won't leave me alone. How I do hate them in a sadistic, violent way.

Of the dozens I have killed, some I have tortured before finally doing them in, plucking off their wings, wrenching their limbs from their still-quivering bodies, before the coup de grâce: a quick flick of the forefinger that sends their beady little heads hurtling through the air towards parts unknown, while their abdomens remain resolutely clenched, partly squished, between my fingers.

Part of me feels bad for deriving satisfaction (if not outright pleasure) from their pain and ultimate deaths.

Another part of me thinks they can go fuck themselves, and that if I could waterboard them, I would.

It's a messed up world. At least I have the company of some (enormous) dragonflies for lunch.


July 17, cont'd

I was taking a shit when they found me. Deer flies. This time the brought backup: mosquitos.

Despite my strategically advantageous catholing position—perched on the edge of yet another moss-covered boulder—this time I was anihilated.

The deer flies ran a perfect interference, distracting me with a series of feints, while the mosquitos went straight for my exposed backside.

Quickly defeated, I fled into the forrest, leaving a trail of blood and feces in my wake...


July 18,

Aaarrrghh! Why is it always when I'm pooping!?!

Chapter 118: Is it Fjord or Ford?

The climb out of Manchester Center was absolutely brilliant.

It helped that it was a stunning, cloudless day. From the observation platform atop Bromley Mountain, I felt like I could look around and see all of Creation in front of me. Like I was on top of the world. Even if—at 3,260 feet—I was barely a quarter mile above the valley floor. Hardly a significant accomplishment. Still, with the I had hiked out some Mtn Dew in my water bottle, and thought now was as good a time as any to break it out in celebration.

Here's a physics lesson, for all of you. The air pressure at altitude tends to be much lower than it is at sea-level. Why? Magic, duh. Because the higher you go, the less physical matter—like trees and houses and whatnot—there is around the air, hemming it in, and so it naturally has more room to spread out. Simple, right?

However, that's not the point.

The point is this: the pressure inside my water bottle—which contained a highly carbonated beverage, don't forget—was disproportionately greater than the air pressure outside. Thus, opening it was a little like pulling the pin on a highly comical grenade. If I hadn't been holding onto the lid, it might have taken my eye out. As it was, it merely caused me to punch myself in the chin, hard, while an explosive geyser of Mtn Dew drenched me from head to foot.

Ignoring the raucous, derisive laughter of the throngs of hysterical onlookers—oh, wait. That's right. There was nobody there. Alone with my humiliation, I took the opportunity to write in my journal:
No entry while I was in town. Manchester Pizza, despite its glowing recommendation in my guidebook, sucked. The Green Mountain House was, however, awesome. Two (free) pints of Ben & Jerry's, 3+ meals culled from random hiker box supplies, plus the opportunity to watch "The Fifth Element," "Hellboy II," "Avatar," "Spider Man 2," and "Rumble in the Bronx?" Nice.

Always mixed emotions when getting back on the trail. Excitement, yes. Sadness too for leaving behind that which is comfortable and familiar. A certain amount of dread for the unknown one is about to face, and more sadness still that one's journey is one day closer to completion. Yet more dread at the unknown that awaits us back in "real life," as though living out here isn't real...

An "easy" (presumed, by me) 13 or so more miles awaits me today. Rellishing the opportunity to take it easy, and relax when I want to. Somehow, I'm both worried about eating too much and worried about carrying out too much food. Also worried about rain. Preoccupied with thoughts of Megan, family, home, and food (of course). But mostly Megan. And then of seeing mom and dad in Hanover. But still, mostly Megan.

Had a weird anxiety dream last night about being in an airport, being constantly late, and then rushing for a plane with Tricia and a lot of other hikers. Then the plane, a 747, came in for a landing on the wrong runway, while we all crowded on a narrow, unpaved runway, between rows of low, overhanging trees, all swaying violently in a dangerous, gusty wind. Huh?
Moving on.

Later that afternoon, I was faced with a rather irksome dilemma. I could take a 5.3 mile reroute around where a bridge had apparently been taken out by a flood, or I could risk boulder hopping across the river, which several southbound Long Trailers suggested would lead to my immediate death. Well, I hadn't walked sixteen hundred miles through heartbreak and hardship just to foolishly risk my life doing something incredibly stupid. On the other hand, 5.3 miles is an awful long way, and I am not—nor have I ever been—a coward. Or particularly smart.

So I soldiered on. And—luckily—the raging torrents I was warned about amounted to little more than a pleasing tickle. I may not have even gotten my boots wet.

Who said fording was difficult?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chapter 116: Chafe Harder

Registry entry, Congdon Shelter:
Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue, er, I mean, try to do 20's again. Goddamn rain, making everything all cool and tolerable again...
Popeye—who wasn't the creepy man I saw in the woods at all, but a spirited middle-aged man who was, unsurprisingly, a retired sailor with a pronounced fondness for spinach—and Saint conspired together to convince me to hike to Manchester Center in two days rather than three. Unfortunately, this required me to do 20 miles a day once again, something I had previously sworn off doing forever. But, and as I've repeated ad nauseum, Major Chafage's rule number one of thru-hiking is "Never leave a man or woman behind." So, if I had to hike a little faster in order to stay with friends, so be it.

Okay, or maybe I was tired of being lonely.

I ran into Fredo when I stopped at the Melville Nauheim Shelter for a break. Saint and I gauged his interest in making it into Manchester Center around the same time as we did. He was more enthusiastic than ambivalent, and I asked both of my companions if they wanted me to make reservations for them at the Green Mountain House, a hostel of legendary repute. Stupidly, they both declined. Their loss. I called and made a reservation, and would be glad I did. But more on that later.

Oh, but one more thing about stupidity. Fredo accidentally left his Crocs™ behind at the shelter. And none of us noticed. Oops.

And then it rained. The waterproof lining of my rain pants—the manufacturer of which my lawyers have strongly advised me not to mention, Outdoor Research—had by now nearly completely disintegrated, making travel a wet, messy, uncomfortable affair. When I finally arrived at the Story Spring Shelter later that evening, I was a sodden, bitter, profane, vociferously angry wreck, and in excruciating pain.

Somehow, I had the courage and wherewithal to sign the shelter log:
The Legend Continues... My ass is killing me! Also, my balls.
-Major Chafage
Later, as I lay in my tent thinking over recent developments, I made the mistake of rereading the previous entry in my journal. It wasn't excruciatingly painful, but it also wasn't exactly art, either, that's for sure. I felt the need to atone, so I hurriedly scribbled:
Hating yesterday's entry. Rambling incoherent nonsense. At least it gives an unintentionally accurate picture of my mental state.

Pulling another long day tomorrow. Why? Stupidity. Also, getting in town to spend mad duckets. Does that have two t's or one?

Chapter 115: The Long Trail

I escaped from town without making much more of a fool of myself than I already had. And hiking while riding a caffeine high? Amazing!

I was thrilled to cross the border into Vermont, and to begin the Long Trail. I ended up at the Congdon Shelter, some fourteen miles from where I began the day. It had started to rain just a few hundred yards before the shelter, so I didn't feel particularly bad about my apparently lax accomplishment.

I sat in my tent for a while, just listening to the rain. And endlessly contemplating my plan to do only easy 15 mile days in order to meet my parents in Hanover on the 23rd. Eventually growing bored with such ruminations, I pulled out my trusty journal, which was quickly filling with rambling diatribes against various petty personal injustices:
It feels weird getting into camp at 4 P.M. No, wait, I meant it feels awesome! Duh.

Another 14.1 done. It's raining now, but I'm in my tent. Bathroom this morning hit the spot. Wait, I'm--

I'm thinking about changing my plan, and doing twenties for the next couple days, so as to get to, er, Hanover by the twenty first. Why? So I can go to Ben and Jerry's on the twenty second and get the Vermonster. I figure that could hold me over the entire day. Why am I writing this way? maybe to practice, or maybe it's just because I'm lazy and I don't want to pick the penn off the page. But now I'm even tiring of that. There are a lot of people at the shelter just hiking the Long Trail. Lazy fucks. Why am I so lethargic? Its It's like six thirty. And I only did 14 miles. I think I ate too much food. Maybe that's why.

Haven't seen Mimi, Fred or Lou all day. On the other hand, Saint is here. Together we make up the rear, rear, rear guard, okay, last deserters of the Nature Train.

Section hiker out there is talking about wine and Bailey's in her resupply. She needs to shut the fuck up. She has. Good. I need some fucking Bailey's. I'll get some at the Long Trail Inn, maybe.

Blah Blah blah. Fuck. Only semi-emotional moment to day was when I realized how close to being done I really am. Fuck. Fuck.

Hiking was good the last couple days, probably because I had company. A tree is going to fall on my tent, and I'm gonna die. Should I go outside and be social? Feel wierd. Weird even. Thoughts scattered, unfocussed. Hiking angry this morning, probably because I accidentally started pouring liquid sugar into my water bottle, thinking it was water, at a coffe place in Williamstown. Fuuuuck. I remember meaning to remember to write that down, but I almost forgot. Fuck it. I'm going to bed. It's 7 P.M.

Chapter 114: An Embarrassment of Embarrassments

I awoke to the steady burble of the stream outside my tent; and to an unnerving grumble from somewhere much closer, and far more disturbing.

This was going to be bad.

I was camped behind the Mountain Goat Outfitter in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Mimi, Fred, Lou and I had hitched in the day before. Starved for food and culture, we had decided to treat ourselves to a fancy dinner at Spice Root, a local Indian restaurant. Delicious. A good choice.

Or not.

I needed to take a shit.

What was I to do? I couldn't rightly dig a cathole in someone's backyard. And the Outfitter wasn't open yet, so that was out. Ring a stranger's doorbell? Definitely not. Maybe a restaurant, or coffee shop?

A sharp, stinging pain shot through my intestines as I waddled desperately down the street, with only a half-formed idea of where I was going. I remembered walking past the place the night before, on our way back from dinner, but everything looked so different then, underneath the street lamps, with the sidewalks choked by throngs of annoyingly boisterous coeds galavanting around in their skimpy lacrosse uniforms. Damnit! Why didn't I pay more attention to where I was going?

At last, I turned a corner and spotted the Tunnel City Coffeeshop. It did exist. And it was open. Perfect. I went in.

And was instantly lost, thrown by the sterile corporate sheen of the café's modern decor. All around me, bright florescent lights flashed off of clean steel tables; my ears bombarded by the soft, smokey coo of a suitably austere singer/songwriter. The other customers and employees seemed so tidy, professional, and dignified. No room for a confused, terrified hiker. Running out of time. With trembling hands, I first ordered an espresso, then timidly asked for the bathroom.

It was occupied, of course. I paced back and forth in increased agitation, and threw back my espresso without bothering to savor it—although, it was pretty tasty—all while keeping a scornful watch on the bathroom door. Finally, it opened, and out walked, eh, who cares. I was in.

And then—sweet release!—I'm making like the Space Shuttle, lifting off the toilet seat on an explosive tower of shit.


Returning from the catastrophic scene of horror I left in the bathroom, I tried to play it cool. I ordered an everything bagel, with vegetable cream cheese, then smartly sat at a table outside, all the better to avoid people's accusatory glares. And then, much to my surprise, who walked up but Baltimore Jack, whom I hadn't seen since the Walasi-Yi Center, my third day on the trail!

Baltimore Jack was in fine form, as smug and condescending as ever. He quietly reassured me that—although I had miraculously managed not to die, yet—the hardest part of the trail was still ahead of me, and that I'd probably die. Thanks, Baltimore Jack.

Feeling ever more chipper by the moment, I decided to surreptitiously refill my water bottle at the Coffeeshop before hitching out of town. Trying not to draw attention to myself, I nonchalantly sidled up to the bar where they kept their milks, creamers, and organic agave syrups and whatnot, and grabbed the first thing that looked like water. I wasn't too concerned, and just stood there, gazing off in random directions as I poured, willing myself to be invisible.

"Sir?" came a voice to my right. I snapped out of it. It was a middle-aged woman, an employee. "You do know that's sugar water, right?"

"What? Oh!" I shrugged, bewildered, wanting to die. "I love sugar water, it's delicious. Why? Should I pour it back?"

"No, sir," said the woman, grabbing my bottle as I began to do just that. "I can do it, and wash this out for you. The water is just around the corner, here."

She nodded to the actual water jug, which had a lemon floating in it. Because of course it did. I flushed, and shuffled my feet impotently.

I instantly came to the startling revelation that I hated Massachusetts. Terrible state. And Williamstown? Terrible town. Couldn't wait to put it behind me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chapter 113: Adventures in Journaling

I awoke early. Too early. I couldn't risk leaving; I didn't want to disturb the others—Mimi, Fred, and Lou—who had arrived so late the night before. So I grabbed my journal:
July 12th,

Feel like crap this morning. Slept in a church basement last night. Slept decently enough, but kept waking up at random times by the nagging urge to urinate. The bathroom is about 150 feet away. Too far. Woke up first at 5-something, and then at 6:50 for good. Long climb coming today, biggest since central Virginia.

I am not intimidated.

Don't know what I want most right now: some company, for a change? A real bed? A day off? Lemonade? Lemonade? Juice? A respite from the deer flies? All of the above? Just one good night's sleep? My iPod? Feet that aren't in constant pain?

Major Chafage's Rules for Walking the A.T. (Revised):
1) Never leave a man or woman behind.
2) Never pass up trail magic.
3) Always stop to eat the blueberrries.
4) Slackpacking is for the weak and feeble-minded, but should be done as often as possible. (So far: never)
5) Juice. Just juice.
6) Shit, I'm just making stuff up, now.

Greylock awaits, then, Stop & Shop...
That evening, I appended the above with the following:
Greylock was okay. Stop & Shop was better, although I did not find any drink mix packets.
Which reminds me. Damn you, Stop & Shop! Why don't you carry Crystal Light? Are you too good for Kraft Foods? I don't think so!
But, for once, the hiking:

The grades were moderate in the morning. Heading out of town we passed through a couple of meadows, several clouds of midges, and then faced a steep up, up, up. Once landmarks started becoming recognizable, e.g. "several streams cross A.T. numerous times," the hiking became much easier.

I enjoyed a popsicle on Greylock's summit,
That, I bought from the cafeteria/gift shop of the hotel at the summit. Greylock is one of a handful of mountains on the entire A.T.—Mt. Washington and Bear Mountain in New York being two other examples—where cars can drive straight to the top. The hotel there is spectacular, but prohibitively expensive. Sadly, hikers have no chance of doing work for stay.
and a Magic Hat IPA courtesy of some trail magic by Blue Jay, a southie section hiker I met once before in Virginia, and talked to about skirts. Yeah, that's the guy.

After an almost two hour break, I hiked down with Mimi,
Whom, incidentally, I had also met before, apparently way back in the Smoky Mountains, where we had conversed congenially about the benefits of hiking in one's underwear.
Fred and Lou. It was steep. No bugs, though. Went faster with company. Sad, though, because those three are staunchly individualistic. Group hiking with them seems unlikely.
In retrospect, it's possible they just didn't like me.
Am now camped out behind an outfitter in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Beautiful city, by the way. However, I don't know where I'm going to take my morning crap. I just had Indian food, though, so it will be necessary. (As though it isn't necessary every other morning...) Tired now. It's only 9 PM.

Oh, and my 3 newfound companions ditched me while I was in Stop & Shop! Jerks! Although, I mean, I did find them again... But still! Caveman knows I hold a grudge like no other...

Chapter 112: Church

Journal entry, July 11th:
No chocolate milk (yet), but trail magic. Two Mountain Dews, two ginger ales, and a Brisk iced tea. Yeah, that's five. Eat your heart out, Caveman.

Some unfinished business while I'm here and trying to contain a pressing bowel movement until town: A) that was not the first time I peed on my hand. This week. B) Seeing a trail maintainer out and about doing his job is a bit like seeing the emperor without his clothes. You expect a burly outdoors-type, either wielding an axe or a machette or a flock of goats, not a fat guy in jeans with a weed-whacker.

I can hear someone in the woods behind me. Creepy. No desire to push hard to get to Cheshire (Just been passed by the guy. Never seen him before. He may be this dude Popeye I've heard about. Will not investigate further.) on time to see the World Cup game. Only desire to get there on time to take a crap.

Just sneezed (really loudly) and a voice comes out of the woods, "Bless you!" ... Again, creepy. Should keep moving.
The trail magic was kept in a milk crate, just above some railroad tracks that marked the unofficial boundary of Dalton, Massachusetts. I knew Smokestack, Fredo and at least the one other guy had already rolled through, yet the trail magic box was still fully stocked with sodas, as though someone had just been out to refill it. Thus reassured that it was impeccably maintained, and not knowing any other northbound thru-hikers within two days of me to the south, I gleefully plundered the magic without a twinge of remorse. Besides, it was really hot out that day. And I was cranky. I mean, thirsty. I deserved it.

I was still sipping my Brisk as I reached the north end of town, where Fredo was loitering, adjusting his pack. Feeling inexplicably compelled to justify my actions, I explained to him what I had done. He didn't seem particularly enamored of my reasoning.

"You just can't do that," seemed to be his message. "You have to be considerate, and think of other people."

But I am, I thought. I'm thinking about all those policemen and paramedics who won't have to come out here to clean up my mess after I murder everyone for not giving me soda.

But I kept that to myself. I was already on thin ice with Fredo. I didn't want him to think I was a deranged, possibly dangerous lunatic and an inconsiderate ass hole. Just the one was bad enough.

It was about five miles later that I started needing a privy—or better yet, a bathroom with running water—and hearing the voices in the woods. By which I mean real, live, human voices, and not at all merely hallucinated ones. Despite all that, I made it into Cheshire with my compression shorts unsoiled, and my sanity intact.

How? I honestly don't remember.

However, I do remember stopping at O'Connell's Convenience Store & Shell Station for a half gallon of Cumberland Farms chocolate milk. Delicious. I then remember walking back into town, to the Cobble View Pub and Pizzeria, where everyone else had gathered to watch the finals of the World Cup. Not quite the worst pizza I've ever had. It didn't make me vomit. But it wasn't good. And then I and one other forlorn section hiker trudged off towards the St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, to stay for the night.

Chapter 111: Secondhand Smoke

The following night, I found the Kay Wood Lean-to practically as crowded as the Upper Goose Pond Cabin had been. Fredo was there again, of course. Despite the inexorable lethargy that had dogged me nearly the entire day, snapping at my heels and threatening to overtake me in the afternoon heat like a Doberman chasing a six-year-old on a tricycle, I'd somehow managed to keep pace with him. And to his eternal credit, Fredo greeted my arrival with a spectacular display of raging ambivalence.

Smokestack was there too, with his friend Boston. Or at least that's what I think his name was. There were several thru-hikers named "Boston" on the trail that year, all of whom—in a seemingly spontaneous act of rather questionable serendipity—proudly wore faded Red Sox caps to distinguish themselves, which was neither particularly imaginative nor especially helpful.

Fredo stuck to Smokestack and company, and I can't blame him. Not with our personal history and them being so much cooler than me. Smokestack in particular was a figure of towering charisma and frightening... Well, he was just kind of scary. He smoked continuously, swore nearly as often, hiked impossibly fast, and when he wasn't evincing an air of brazen badassery that would—and did—make lesser men cower in poison ivy bushes weeping for their lost masculinity, he was bragging about how awesome it was to be him; and in a committed, monogamous relationship with a totally gorgeous wife, like he was. At least when she wasn't annoying.

A cloud of aggressive manliness hung around Smokestack and his crew like all the secondhand smoke from their cigarettes. I knew better than to get caught up in such petty games of macho posturing, however. Honestly, I couldn't imagine maintaining that façade for the entire trail. The very idea was too exhausting. Plus, again, the secondhand smoke. Awful.

With the shelter itself occupied by a group of fawning, hormonal teenagers, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to tent in seclusion. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of available land, forcing me to camp in between the shelter and where Smokestack and company had already strung up their hammocks. C'est la vie.

After waking up for the second or third time that night, I wrote the following in my journal:
July, um, 10th (I think)

I just peed on my hand. Have yet to perfect the urination-through-the-bug-netting thing, which also needs a snappier name.

Yesterday, during one of my frequent rests, and old acquaintence caught up with me, Fredo. He persuaded me to do 20 miles instead of 15, so we could stay at this cabin on a lake that had a canoe and a beach with swimming and all this other shit I didn't get to see. I don't know why I did it (wait, I do: loneliness), but it ended up being well worth the trip.

The caretakers—who thru-hiked in 2003 and now work for... I dunno? The AMC maybe? I think it's only a volunteer position, but anyway—made everyone coffee and pancakes in the morning. Normally, I am not a coffee drinker. Er, well, was not. The secret to coffee, as I've found out, is that you have to add sugar! Sugarcoffeesugar!!! I wish I had some right now.

Days pass, yet I think about the same things and sing the same songs, albeit in different ways. (Fast, slow, soft, loud, with the right lyrics, with the wrong lyrics, etc.) I see the same brown trail in front of me, the same green(ish) foliage on either side, feel the same bugs flying around my head and landing on my skin, sometimes biting me, sometimes drowning in my sweat. Sometimes the views charge, like when you emerge from the forest onto a barren mountaintop. And sometimes more of the same can be good, like when you find blueberries. The pain in my feet remains unchanged. My company changes, slowly. The incessant birdsong stays the same. So do the hunger and thirsts in my heart, and my stomach...

Now, sleep. Tomorrow: chocolate milk. Exciting!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chapter 110: Final Draft

I failed to write anything in my journal on July 9th. Maybe that was because nothing particularly exciting or noteworthy happened. It certainly couldn't have been because I was too busy, or having too much fun.

I said goodbye to Brünnhilde and Blackbird that morning. They were taking a zero at the East Mountain Retreat Center. Blackbird was having horrible problems with her feet, due to her boots being half a size too small. Caring deeply for her well-being and continued enjoyment of the trail, I magnanimously delayed my departure for a moment to deliver an extemporaneous lecture about the myriad benefits of moleskin and all the various other blister treatments I knew.

Brünnhilde and Blackbird thanked me profusely for my words of wisdom, insisted on taking me out for breakfast, and even went so far as to propose naming their first child Major Chafage in my honor. Abashed, I demurely suggested that their gratitude was unnecessary, but that I would happily accept a check or money order instead. And then I hiked on, once again, on my own. Alone.

And that was pretty much it.

Oh, except for Fredo caught up with me.

I never got the impression that Fredo liked me very much. Maybe it was because I had erroneously judged him to be an inveterate druggy—due to the unfortunate subject matter of our first real conversation—and had thus, rather unfairly, treated him in a somewhat standoffish, possibly even cruel or condescending manner. Or perhaps it was because Fredo had me accurately pegged as a sniveling, insecure, narcissistic ass.

The last time I had seen him was during the Watauga Dam Challenge, and I apparently hadn't come off very well, to put it mildly. In truth, I may have acted like a callous, supercilious jerk, and so failed to emerge from the encounter with my dignity and reputation unscathed. But whatever. Let it never be said that life isn't about second—and third, and possibly fourth—chances. I was overwhelmingly relieved and truly glad to see him. And he didn't seem to be completely horrified to once again be in my company. Clearly, it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

We passed each other frequently during the day, with Fredo seizing every available opportunity to lobby me to do twenty miles instead of the fifteen I had previously intended. Fredo badly wanted to stay at the Upper Goose Pond Cabin, drawn by the opportunities for swimming and canoeing, and the off-chance we might get trail magic from the caretakers who were living there for the summer. Spurred on by his infectious enthusiasm—and not at all by that hypothetical trail magic—I cheerfully acquiesced to his plan.

Unfortunately, there was a fairly sizable crowd at the cabin, and it wasn't long before I was yearning for my solitude. But then a storm rolled in, totally obviating any chance I had of enjoying myself down by the lake, or leaving. And I was faced with the stark reality of sleeping—or trying to sleep—in a cramped bunk room with nearly a dozen other snoring, smelly hikers.

It wasn't quite like burrito night at the gorilla house, but it wasn't heaven, either.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter 109: Rough Draft

Friends Forever

I never got the impression that Fredo liked me much. Maybe it was because—due to the unfortunate subject matter of our first real conversation—I thought that he was an inveterate druggy, and so unfairly treated him in a somewhat standoffish, perhaps even cruel manner. Or maybe it was because Fredo accurately had me pegged as a sniveling, insecure, narcissistic ass.

The last time I had seen him was while attempting the Watauga Dam Challenge, and neither of us had emerged from the encounter thinking better of the other. However, let it never be said that life isn't about second (and third, and possibly fourth) chances. When he caught up to me on this day, I was overwhelmingly relieved to see him.

Truthfully, though, I would have been as happy to see any other familiar face. No matter what, I cannot escape my nature. I am an insensitive jerk at heart, despite my best efforts to reform my ways and reconcile with the many, many people I've hurt and disappointed.

What Am I Going To Call This Chapter?

So Brünnhilde and Blackbird were taking a zero. Blackbird was having awful blisters due to her boots being half a size too small. I lectured them smartly about the best ways to deal with such things, and then hiked out. Once again, on my own. Alone. I would never see them again.



Due to a confluence of unforeseen circumstances, I wasn't able to write in my journal on July 9th. However, I picked things up where I had left off the following day, after I settled in for the night outside the Kay Wood Lean-to:
July, um, 10th (I think)

I just peed on my hand. Have yet to perfect the urination-through-the-bug-netting thing, which also needs a snappier name.

Yesterday, during one of my frequent rests, and old acquaintence caught up with me, Fredo. He persuaded me to do 20 miles instead of 15, so we could stay at this cabin on a lake that had a canoe and a beach with swimming and all this other shit I didn't get to see. I don't know why I did it (wait, I do: loneliness), but it ended up being well worth the trip.

The caretakers—who thru-hiked in 2003 and now work for... I dunno? The AMC maybe? I think it's only a volunteer position, but anyway—made everyone coffee and pancakes in the morning. Normally, I am not a coffee drinker. Er, well, was not. The secret to coffee, as I've found out, is that you have to add sugar! Sugarcoffeesugar!!! I wish I had some right now.

Days pass, yet I think about the same things and sing the same songs, albeit in different ways. (Fast, slow, soft, loud, with the right lyrics, with the wrong lyrics, etc.) I see the same brown trail in front of me, the same green(ish) foliage on either side, feel the same bugs flying around my head and landing on my skin, sometimes biting me, sometimes drowning in my sweat.

Sometimes the views charge, like when you emerge from the forest onto a barren mountaintop. And sometimes more of the same can be good, like when you find blueberries. The pain in my feet remains unchanged. My company changes, slowly. The incessant birdsong stays the same. So do the hunger and thirsts in my heart, and my stomach...

Now, sleep. Tomorrow: chocolate milk. Exciting!

Chapter 108: Catch-23

The nice woman and her daughter drove me right to the gates of the East Mountain Retreat Center. Which was difficult for them, driving an unwieldy minivan on a narrow gravel road. I gave my profuse thanks, and politely declined their offer of a half-melted chocolate bar. Wait, what am I saying? I totally took their chocolate. Of course. It was 64% cocoa and had almond pieces. I probably ate half of it before I reached the front door.

I was surprised to learn I wasn't the first hiker to arrive. Puzzling, since I hadn't seen another northbound thru-hiker in days. Ushered into the hikers' lounge by the Retreat Center's proprietor, I found the lesbian couple from the night before already sitting at the dining table eating delivered pizza and sucking down giant bottles of Gatorade. I was instantly jealous.

"Wow," I said, very articulately. "I didn't expect to see you guys again so soon. I didn't think you'd make it eighteen miles!"

I was trying not to sound like a jerk. I don't know if I succeeded.

"Oh, we didn't," said Brünnhilde, the slightly more verbose one with previous hiking experience. "We hitched in from a road some eight miles back."

I didn't even know that was possible.

"I didn't even know that was possible," I marveled.

"You're an idiot," she teased.

And so I am.

"Well, that's too bad, because I thought of a good trail name for Eileen."

Eileen was Brünnhilde's girlfriend. They both gaped at me confused. I guess because I hadn't explained myself.

"You have the same pack as this girl I was hiking with before," I said, nodding to Eileen's lime green backpack. "Her trail name was Redwing. So because of that, and because you hike so fast, I was going to name you Blackbird."

They still didn't get it.

"As in the Red-winged Blackbird? And also the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest military jet ever? Oh, never mind," I mumbled.

"Sounds like you had a bit of a crush on this Redwing character," assessed Brünnhilde, her eyes twinkling.

"What? No!" I stammered. "She had a crush on me! I have a girlfriend!"

I poked myself in the chest emphatically, as if that meant something. "I have a girlfriend!" I repeated, to no one in particular.

Brünnhilde and Blackbird nodded to each other knowingly.

Angry at myself, and mortified, I stumbled off into the bathroom to hide my shame. I turned the shower on to cover the noise, but just sat there on the floor, weeping gently. It was a very confusing time.

Okay, that never happened. Except for the bit about the trail name. I was, and remain, awesome at bestowing trail names.

But who cares about the truth?!? Or such things as "narrative consistency" or whatever?!? Here's what I wrote in the Retreat Center's hiker registry, and then copied into my journal for posterity:

Later, I found the courage to write the following in the Retreat Center's Hiker Register:
I'm missing my friend John's birthday party for this?!?1 ... Oh well. I can't be much of a friend, because I just spelled his name wrong. No "h." In other news, I'm only a day behind someone I know!2 ... And tomorrow I'll probably be a day and a half behind, since I'm only doing 15 miles. This heat sucks.3 Cold showers, on the other hand, are/were the order of the day! (Especially considering what I resorted to thinking about4 to make it those last few miles, ahem, without water.) Thanks!
-Major Chafage5
1. Sorry, Jon. And notice how fond of "?!?" I am today.6

2. Ten-fiddy. Met him twice before.

3. It was ≈10,000° that day.

4. SEX! In case you couldn't guess from my reference to cold showers. Which you probably couldn't. It was a rather obscure, obtuse allusion. Inference. Something. Whatever.

5. Why did I sign my own journal entries?

6. Also, of footnotes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chapter 107: Catch-22

The waitress at the pizzeria didn't seem very enthusiastic about serving me. Maybe it was my disheveled, undignified appearance. Or my rancorous, fetid, chthonic1 smell. That might've had something to do with it.

It had been a hot, dry, extremely hot day. And dry. I had seen flowing water just once, at the very end of my hike, just before I reached the road. And even then, it had been the turgid overflow from a stagnant pond, pouring over an old, algae-encrusted concrete dam. In a rabid fit of choleric desperation, I had thrown myself at the dam and sucked down the black, vaguely sinister water straight from the out-tube on my Katadyn filter.

And then I had hitchhiked into Great Barrington, Massachusetts, getting a ride with a loopy Vietnam vet on his way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. His ex-wife was driving him, due to the fact that his license was suspended, and he couldn't legally own the truck without installing an ignition lock and breathalyzer. Charming people. Despite my aforementioned appearance and general lack of hygiene, he genuinely seemed to like me, and continuously urged his ex-wife to buy me dinner. After dropping him at his meeting, she unceremoniously dumped me in the parking lot of the Four Brothers Pizza Inn and drove off. I suspect she wanted less to do with me than I with her. Again, could've been the smell.

And so I went in, alone, and ordered a mushroom and pepper calzone and a fountain root beer. By the time the bill came, I'd had three root beers, and two glasses of water. For some reason, I had assumed there were free refills on the soda. Probably because there should have been. Imagine my shock when the bill came, and I'd been charged six dollars for beverages. I could've bought six liters of soda for that much! I was furious. Both with myself, for not asking, and with the waitress, for... just because. I suspected she treated me poorly because I was a smelly thru-hiker, and she didn't think I'd give her a tip. Well, she didn't get a tip.

Which will probably only reinforce her already negative presumptions about thru-hikers, and the next poor fellow who follows in my footsteps will get even worse service. And then the cycle will continue, ad nauseum. Oh, and the calzone was terrible. Hot tip: avoid Four Brothers.

Pissed, I started walking out of town, towards the East Mountain Retreat Center, where I was tentatively planning to stay for the night.

En route, I called my friend Giovanni.

"Want to pick me up to go to Jon's birthday party?" I asked.

"Where are you?"

"Great Barrington, Massachusetts."

He hung up on me.2 I called him back.

"It's only an hour away!" I cried.

"Where is it, again?"


"I don't know, man. I'd love to, but I gotta pick up Jeanne3 first, and that'll take two hours, so by the time I came to get you the party might be over."

"Oh well, don't worry about it. I'm going to stay at the East Mountain Retreat Center tonight."

"What's that?"

"Some hippy-dippy place. No, sorry, 'an interfaith retreat facility,'" I said, reading from my guidebook. "Probably run by godless Pagans."

"You know, Pagan means they have more than one God."

"Shut up."

"You're an idiot."

"I know," I sighed. "Fine. I guess I deserved that.4"

And then a woman driving a minivan pulled over in front of me, offering me a ride. Shocked, I said a hasty goodbye to Giovanni and slithered into the passenger seat. Had I been wrong about Great Barrington, and its people? Was this not the worst town in the world5? Were these not the worst people, besides day hikers and south-bounders?

To be continued...

1. chthonic |ˈθänik| (also chthonian |ˈθōnēən|) adj. concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld : a chthonic deity. I'm implying that I smelled like a corpse, dead and buried. Which is probably more true than I'd like to admit.

2. Okay, that didn't really happen, but you can't deny it makes for a better story this way.

3. This is also wrong. Jeanne is Giovanni's ex-girlfriend, and they broke up months before this conversation took place.

Jeanne did attend Jon's birthday party, however. Apparently it's cool for Jon to remain friends with his friends' exes, even if it's not cool for us to remain friends with his. Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to be. It's all water under the bridge by now, anyway. Jon is, as of this writing, engaged to a lovely woman, working a high paying job, and, in all other respects, living his dream. He couldn't be happier. And I couldn't be happier for him. So all of our previous disagreements, fist-fights, and drunken cock-blocking attempts have been forgotten. Right, Jon?

4. This exchange didn't happen either. I just wanted to include it to show I have humility. Or a sense of humor about myself. Or I am an idiot.

5. No, actually. It's the fourth worst. The absolute worst town in the world is Venice, Italy. The second is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the third is Niagara Falls, Ontario. The fifth worst, in case any one was wondering, is Mogadishu, Somalia. Sorry, Cleveland. You are—as with everything else—merely an honorable mention here.

Chapter 106: Sneakers Were a Mistake

Leaving home for the final third of the trail, I brought with me two new items of apparel. Well, not exactly "new," as in I got them a long time ago, but new for me on the trail. Got that? Anyway, the first was a pair of relatively unscathed New Balance 806 trail runners. The second were some seldom-used Adidas swim trunks. Both were huge mistakes.

Many people on the trail will tell you that taking one pound off your feet is like taking five pounds off your back, and I believe them. Usually because what they say is appended with the reassuring qualification, "...or you're gonna die," and I have a well-known, life-long aversion to death. That said, I hope it's understandable why I thought that these comparatively light trail runners were a great idea, especially in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the terrain was still relatively mild.

However, my anticipated weight gains were somewhat mitigated by the fact that I had steadfastly refused to give up my beloved Asolo boots, and stowing them added a previously unaccounted for three pounds to my pack. In that context, bringing sneakers may have been little more than a stupid mistake. Or an especially stupid one, because I also failed to take into account the fact that my feet had swollen just slightly due to me pounding the everloving shit out of them for three straight months. So the sneakers didn't fit. And, while they weren't excruciatingly painful, they were essentially useless, and so just more dead weight in my pack. Wonderful. I seldom wore them, but usually regretted it when I did. The blisters were horrible.

As for the swim trunks? Well, they were brilliant. Lightweight. Breathable. Quick-drying. One teensy little problem, though: they featured a built-in mesh liner. Which would have been great if I were actually swimming, and wanted to enjoy the exhilarating feeling of water flowing around my genitals. But for hiking? Ruinous. The chafing was horrible.

I wrote the following in my journal that morning:
July 7,

Man, I'm hungry/thirsty/itchy/head-hurty. I think I slept better/for longer than I did last night, and I've got a shorter day in front of me. Maybe.

Thinking about tearing the netting out of my shorts to alleviate the ball chafing.

It's gonna be a hot one.

-Major Chafage
Later that morning, I hiked into Salisbury to resupply at their lovely, decadent, "heinously overpriced" grocery store. Whatever. Newman's Own Pomegranate Lemonade never tasted so sweet. I drank an entire half gallon in less than fifteen minutes.

And then began the long sojourn up Bear Mountain, the tallest mountain in Connecticut. I'd hiked up it before, but never with a forty pound backpack. I'd previously failed to appreciate just how... Well, no, it still wasn't that difficult.

It was actually kind of beautiful, though. Especially when the trees thinned out, and the trail became a series of rock slabs surrounded by low-lying blueberry bushes. With the brilliant blue sky above marked by only the occasional faint traces of some thin, wispy clouds. And then looking around at the lush, golden-hued valley below, tinged by the light of the afternoon sun? I could have stayed there forever.

And maybe I did linger too long. Because, once again, I failed to make it to my desired destination, in this case the Hemlocks Lean-to just north of the Massachusetts border. Speaking of which, I'd heard a rumor about some trail magic. Apparently someone was in the habit of leaving sodas in the Sawmill Brook, some two tenths of a mile from the state line. I eagerly scrambled down to the water's edge, only to find... Nothing. Later on, some chipper tourists gifted me some candy bars after finding out I was a thru-hiker. They were mostly melted. I took one and left the others propped against the trunk of a tree, hoping others would find and enjoy them. Or maybe I just didn't want to have to pack them out. Disappointed and ashamed, I gave up making it to the shelter, and turned off towards the Race Brook Falls tent platforms.

Where I was, once again, alone. Except for a young lesbian couple, who mostly kept to themselves. And the literally thousands of mosquitos. For some inexplicable reason, and despite the unbearable heat, I made a campfire, by myself, and wrote the following in my notebook:
July 7, cont'd

Am I allowed to quit? I don't know if I can do this alone. I'm having a nervous breakdown every day. Freaking bugs. Freaking heat. The pain in my feet is constant. I am always uncomfortable, despite my ability to do good time. Sneakers were a mistake.

I wonder if I had gotten soda at that creek back there instead of crappy, melted candy bars I would feel better. Is that sad? But isn't trail magic defined as help that comes in the most dire of circumstances? And aren't these dire circumstances?

What's keeping me going? Shame? And not being able to implement my "secret" plan. Lame. If I really wanted to I could just, regardless of the setting. Tired, bleak.

Don't know what to do.
A little later, I added a third entry for the day:
July 7, one more time

Major Chafage doesn't quit. He does, however, cry a lot, wastes way too much time eating blueberries, and camps illegally on the tops of mountains and in reforestation areas. Here's hoping no AMC Ridge Runner comes around to-- is that a wolf barking/howling? Major Chafage is unaffraid. Major Chafage builds campfires in 100° weather. Major Chafage is just dumb special like that...

And that's it! I've finally gone insane! Not to mention it took me 5 minutes to decide whether affraid has one "f" or two. Oh yeah, plus the whole writing-an-entire-paragraph-about-myself-in-the-third-person thing.

Looking forward to peeing out of the vent of my tent. Bug netting for the win!

Why am I hungry? It's bedtime!
And then I had a snack before going to sleep.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chapter 105: Heat Wave

Shocking as it may seem, Major Chafage is as entirely capable of making an ass of himself in civilian life as he is on the trail.

For example, while I was at home for the Fourth of July, I got pleasantly drunk and decided to drag some beers over to a neighbors house with the hazy intention of roping them into continuing my spontaneous party. Unfortunately, I stumbled into the aftermath a massive personal tragedy, and my presence was thus justifiably regarded with some annoyance, if not open hostility. Not having the good grace—or sober self-awareness—to realize my mistake, cut my losses, and leave, I stuck around until the withering glares became far too obvious, and then went home, head hung low, contrite, and hopefully appropriately humiliated.

My myriad recent personal failures haunted me as I blearily made my way from the Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-to towards the Limestone Springs Lean-to. The day would take me twenty two miles, across the Housatonic River and down an interminable trail reroute through a couple of less than idyllic small New England towns. Apparently a bridge had been flooded sometime in the late 20th Century, and the state was only now—thanks to the lousy economy—getting around to rebuilding it.

After passing a turnoff towards the world-famous Lime Rock race track, I stopped for dinner outside a cemetery, where a helpful local told me I could find a running water spigot. Apparently the sight of a forlorn hiker sitting on a stone wall outside a cemetery eating cold Indian food out of a foil pouch was too much for some passersby, however; I had multiple people stop to offer me bottles of water. Connecticut was in the grips of a historic heat wave. Temperatures reached 102° F in Hartford that day, with a Heat Index of approximately 120. I was very grateful for the help.

At some point, I managed to find the time to scribble the following in my journal:
July 6,

This pen is going to die.

Holy crap, my balls hurt. Had another nervous breakdown today. That makes three and a half... thousand.

Thought a lot about Melanie this morning, and her whole situation. I guess her--Arrrgh! fucking ants!--Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah.
I'm not sure where I was going with that. Well, I have a pretty good idea, but I don't know if this is the appropriate setting to get into it. Some things are more important than for me to besmirch them by mentioning them here.

I never made it to the Limestone Springs Lean-to. It was approaching dark as I reached the summit of Prospect Mountain. An older woman, a section hiker, was stealth camping up there, which seemed to me to be as good an idea as any. I asked if I could join her, she cheerfully agreed, and I settled in to my tent to watch the sunset.

And so what if camping is prohibited anywhere along the trail in Connecticut, except at designated sites?

Let a ridge runner come along and arrest me, I thought. I'm dying to quit! Or at least go home again, drink birch beer, and then maybe yellow blaze...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chapter 104: The Last Third

For the first time ever, I am alone on the trail. I've spent so much time out front, staying just ahead of the big bubble of northbound thru-hikers, that I honestly thought I might return to find myself blissfully back amongst the company of long-lost friends. Instead I hardly see anyone all day.

The terrain in Connecticut has been easy, and—having done day hikes on the sections north of me—I fully expect it to stay that way. But I'm not about to complain. I actually find it a source of pride that the powers that be decided my home state didn't need any contrived bullshit to differentiate it from its neighbors. Not that New Jersey and New York were necessarily hard, just psychologically taxing. And that might've been entirely my fault, and so unique to my experience. Whatever.

For several flat and entirely pleasant miles, the trail follows the western bank of the Housatonic River. I pull in to the Stewart Hollow Brook Lean-to for the night, but decide to tent to avoid the omnipresent mosquitos. I scour the log book for familiar names, but see none. I guess most people either stayed in Kent for the night or pushed on further, so I try not to let that bother me. I loiter around the shelter, trying to stay up as late as possible, hoping someone else might show up, but no one ever does.

And so disappointed, I crawl into my tent, and in the fading sunlight write the first entry in my journal:
July 5,

I'm back on the trail for all of half an hour before I face plant. Inauspicious start to the last third of the trail, and also my journal.

Walked through plenty of poison ivy today. Am worried about a possible breakout. Could be bad, but then I'll just have a good excuse to go home and then maybe yellow blaze. Yes, I'm already homesick and have no shame.

Spent much of today thinking about Lemonade (and also lemonade) and my secret (or not-so-secret) plan. Slightly less than 3 weeks before I see my family again, then another 3 until Tricia (hopefully) joins me, then 2 more before the big day.

Lonely. Wish dad was here to identify birdsong. Getting dark now. Gonna put ear-plugs in and try to sleep. Long day (22 miles) tomorrow.

-Major Chafage

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chapter 103: Kumquats

I'm clearly a fan of nonsensical, one word chapter titles.


If I'd stayed with my friends—with the Nature Train—I could've been partying at Nature's family's house in Massachusetts. Instead, I'm jogging across the Metro North tracks and past the Wiley Webatuck Shelter on my way to the Connecticut border. It's still early. I got out of camp before Pixie and her friends even woke up. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. But I'm excited to be going home, and I'm letting the adrenaline carry me.

I see Little John at the Wiley Webatuck Shelter, and slow down to chat with him briefly. He asks me if I've seen his friends, Pixie et alia. I nod, and give him the good news. He smiles and thanks me, telling me that I get a unfairly bad rap on the trail, and that I'm a genuinely nice guy who doesn't get the respect or attention he deserves. Shucks.

I cross the border into Connecticut. I know this because the boundary is clearly marked with a sign. The trail and surrounding forest on the Connecticut side looks exactly the same as on the New York side. Although I fully realize the inherent stupidity of it, I can't help but feel strangely disappointed by this.

Breathless, I continue on, and finally reach the road. Well, a road. Without my guidebook, I have no idea if it's the right road or not. I drop my pack and scout around, looking for a sign. Like, a road sign. Anything, really. But I find none, since I apparently search in utterly the wrong direction.

My mother is late. I am completely unsurprised. However, as I check the time on my cell phone, I note with some worry that I have no signal. Which means my mom wouldn't have reception either. I hope I'm in the right place, and that she's not waiting for me at a different road crossing, and trying to call me on the phone when neither of us has coverage. But then I see the familiar silver Honda Civic, with its drab black replacement bumper proudly announcing her imminent arrival.

She pulls over, and steps out of the car. She seems to have aged two years since I saw her last. Struck by this sudden change, I falter momentarily. Until I remember that I must look like I've aged 30 years in the same amount of time. And then died. And rotted a little. But then we embrace. Quickly. No need to impose upon her my stench. And I throw my pack in the backseat, grab a half-gallon of lemonade from the cooler, and settle in for the ride home.



My return is less than triumphant. I see my friends Giovanni, Steve, and Jon. Steve doesn't believe me when I tell him what I've been doing. I immediately start looking forward to getting back on the trail.

I spend most of my time eating and drinking, and utterly failing to do anything especially social. None of my friends have parties for the Fourth of July. My dad is still recovering from his surgery, and the atmosphere in ny house is thus somewhat subdued. I go with my mom to watch the fireworks from a vantage point near my aunt's new apartment.

I end up spending a week at home. Both my parents make the drive up when they drop me back off. I'm happy and anxious to return. I've already made plans to see my parents again. We're to meet in just over two weeks in Hanover, New Hampshire.

I've brought a journal with me.

To document the last third of my journey. And the ultimate fulfillment of my not-so-secret plan. Which I still haven't forgotten about.


It's on.

Pass the kumquats.