Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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!

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