Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chapter 135: Serendipity

Journal entry, as I lay in my tent at the Little Swift River Pond Campsite, listening to the rain:
Aug 9,

Veggie got off the trail yesterday because of an infected bug bite. This morning, Fredo was having stomach cramps and feeling nauseous. My health remains decent, despite what I fear may be bone spurs developing on my heels. It used to be my feet that hurt, but now it's mostly my knees. And my feet.

I see in "lean-to" registries that my old crew was here around three weeks ago. They made it from Hanover to here in two days less time than it took me. I worry, however, seeing them sign a day apart. I hope they stay together. They're all most likely done by now, if they're not summating today. Merf was only two days behind them last I saw, meaning she's still well on track to finish on time. I'm happy for them, and somewhat proud, too. But I also feel a twinge of melancholy, sad that I couldn't be there with them, to congratulate them. To share in the sadness and joy they must feel, now that they're done.

In many ways, this trip feels like school. At first it's intimidating and scary, but always structured around routines and deadlines; then it's so much fun that everything goes by too quickly, and is over before you want it. And right now, I'm suffering from the equivalent of senioritis, just wanting to be finished without doing any more work. Hopefully (maybe) Tricia can light a fire under my ass, get me motivated to do those 13 mile days we have to do to finish on time. I'm not really worried, though.

Lemonade. Chocolate milk. Birch Beer. Bananas. Yogurt. Ice cream. Pizza. An end to the drudgery.
Fredo never arrived that night. Troublesome. Moreover, we failed to see any moose. Plus it rained, so we were unable to take any of the free canoes out on the lake. Worst campsite ever? Not quite. The privy was nice.

The next morning, Buckeye and I raced off towards ME4, to hitch into Rangeley. We'd heard ominous things about the terrain betwixt the lake and the road, but didn't find anything worse than a couple of waist-deep mud bogs.

Whatever.

Reaching the road, we encountered our first stroke of luck. A familiar looking woman emerged from the woods in front of us, headed towards her car. She asked if we needed a ride. Yes?

"I was thru-hiking with my husband, but I had to get off the trail because of an injury," she explained as we drove towards town, her voice pained. "He's a backcountry guide, plus he's crazy, so he kept going. I've just been doing a couple of sections here and there to keep him company."

"You look awfully familiar," I said. "You wouldn't happen to be Elaine from Maine, would you?"

That shocked her into slence.

"I'm Major Chafage!" I explained. We had met way back when. "The last time I saw you was in Hot Springs, North Carolina. With Nature!"

"Of course! Major Chafage!" Elaine nodded, remembering me now.

"I told you I was legendary," I added to Buckeye.

He rolled his eyes.

Elaine and I chatted amiably, catching up. We reminisced about the time Jason, Bandito and I serenaded (tortured?) her with an off-key rendition of "Sweet Caroline." And that time her husband, Jim, had so magnanimously treated my blisters. By then we were arriving in Rangeley, and she was dropping us off by the public library. I thanked her again, and we said our goodbyes for the final time. The lesson, as always: being friendly pays off.

We had Thai food for lunch. We ate at a restaurant apparently made famous by its chef, who had somehow assisted with freeing hostages during the Iranian Revolution. Sounds like a (bad) movie, right? Except it actually happened. There were pictures of the man shaking hands with a bemused President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush all over the walls. Very surreal. Very funny. (The suits! The glasses! The unabashed ugliness! Eh, it was the 80's. Maybe you had to be there…) Anyway, we did our best to ignore the decor. I introduced Buckeye to the wonders of the Thai Iced Tea. His first sip, his eyes lit up. A convert for life.

And then came our second stroke of luck. While we were eating, I spied Fredo walking past the restaurant window! I quickly excused myself from Buckeye and raced outside to chase him down. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. But he was pleased. He explained to me how he had gotten violently ill the previous morning, and had puked all over the shelter.

"I got really ill yesterday morning," Fredo explained tentatively, considerate of the fact that I was still eating lunch. "As soon as you guys left, I puked all over the shelter. It was bad."

It sounded bad.

"So I hitched out from the next road," he continued, "Spent last night at the hostel."

"And now you're going to yellow blaze to keep pace with us, right?" I asked, crossing my fingers.

"Oh," Fredo hesitated. "I mean, when you put it like that--"

"Great!" I didn't let him finish. I could have hugged him.

After lunch, we spent a few hours at the library, checking our e-mail and otherwise finding out what was going on with the world. At some point I received a call from Bandito, who had, in fact, just summited Katahdin. He told me all about it, of course, and filled me in on all the shenanigans I had missed with P-Nut and Caveman and whomever. But then he had to go, because he was already on the road, headed home. And I had to go, too, because I still had 220 miles to go before the end. I envied him. But I think he may have envied me, too…

Buckeye and I agreed to meet up with Fredo before we left, and then went out for dinner. (You may have noticed that our lives in town revolved around food. There's a reason for that.) We had pizza, and then decided it would be a good idea to share a pitcher of beer. Big mistake. By the time Fredo arrived, we were both extremely drunk. Or at least slightly tipsy.

And then our third stroke of luck! We managed to hitch a ride out with Malt Lickher and Ruthless—don't ask, it's that trail name thing again—a lovely couple from Hamden, Connecticut out on vacation. My hometown! We cheerfully reminisced about Modern Apizza and BAR. (If you're ever in the area, go there and try the mashed potato pizza. Trust me.) Anyway, good times.

Before dropping us at the trailhead, Malt Lickher and Ruthless shuttled us to a nearby grocery. We emerged with a substantially better haul than Andover had yielded. Fredo even bought a Joose, which is to the formerly unadulterated Four Loko what primordial sludge is to humanity: one led to the other, it's just not imminently clear how. Or why.

What compelled Fredo to try the Joose? Good question. Especially since he'd spent the previous day vomiting all over himself. And everything else. But I digress. He had a few sips, and it made his stomach hurt. I had a few sips, and my stomach hurt. Then again, I was already, uh, slightly tipsy.

Chapter 134: Left Behind

Aug 8,
Haven't written in here in a few. Familiar theme.

I have the feeling that Veggie likes and wants to continue to hike with me and Fredo, but she's not sold on Buckeye. Fredo, for his part, seems reticent to grow too attached to any of us, and continually threatens to ditch us before the end. I'm comfortable with all three, and just wish Buckeye could be a little less crude (yes, I am saying that) if only for Veggie's sake. Once again, as in high school and with the Nature train, I find I am solely responsible for pulling everyone together. (No, I'm not full of myself at all.) I feel bad for Buckeye, though, because he's had so little time to make friends out here, and the ones he's made have either left the trail or fallen behind. I'm just saying, I want everyone to get along and to stay together as long as possible.

Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, it was. Although I didn't know it at the time, my last trail family was dying. A side-trip into Andover, Maine would be our last hurrah.

The town itself was actually kind of depressing. Consisting of little more than a general store, a diner, and a cemetery, Andover had a decidedly backwoods atmosphere. The locals talked funny, glared suspiciously at us interloping outsiders, and proudly wore mullets and greasy overalls. They even had specially marked parking spaces just for ATVs. Except for the conspicuous lack of audible gunfire, we might as well have been back in Georgia.

All right, that's not entirely fair. The town also lacked any perceptible undercurrent of barely suppressed, virulent racism. Probably because there weren't any minorities around for the locals to hate on or oppress. (Besides us hikers, but we're not exactly a race.) Also, no secessionists.

Fredo, Veggie, Buckeye and myself resupplied at the general store as best we could. Which was difficult. Or, for Veggie, damn near impossible. Although they did have lots of generic macaroni and cheese… Let's just say their selection left something to be desired.

Afterwards, we sat outside drinking soda and eating pizza for lunch. And not because we wanted to, either. None of us had showered in three days. I doubt they would have allowed us to sit inside. Anyway, the food was terrible.

Truly, it was the worst resupply on the trail. Just a miserable, miserable place.

But at least the proprietors of the local hiker hostel were friendly. And happy enough to drive us back and forth from the trail. We hiked out mid-afternoon, and made it another six miles to the Hall Mountain Lean-to before dark.

The next day, Veggie would succumb to a spider bite. On the small of her back, the bite made it excruciatingly, prohibitively painful for her to carry her pack. In retrospect, we should have offered to divy up her stuff between us, to maybe help her keep going. But maybe we would never have been so selfless, especially when our burdens were already so great. After enduring a sleepless night—spent tossing and turning in pain, unable to ever get comfortable—Veggie gave in, and called the Pine Ellis Lodge to arrange a shuttle back into town.

I don't know why, but I guess I thought she would catch up with us. It never occurred to me that we might never see her again. Our plans weren't too ambitious. We weren't supposed to go any ridiculous distances. I truly thought she'd catch up. But she never did.

Now, you might think that we wouldn't be so self-aware as to realize the significance of her parting at that time. Or that—so close to our final destination—we wouldn't so much care. That the melancholy we felt, I felt, was more to do with what came after, with facing the unknown. But it was more than just the trail that we were leaving behind.

----

The morning after Veggie left, Fredo awoke feeling nauseous. At first, I thought it was just indigestion from the awful generic macaroni he'd bought in Andover, but that it would shortly pass. Then I thought he might've just been making light of the appalling south-bounders then monopolizing the shelter. But he vehemently assured me he wasn't joking, and begged Buckeye and myself to continue on without him.

Buckeye and I stopped at Long Pond later, hoping Fredo would catch up. There was a picnic table and fire pit set up on the beach. Seemed like as good a place as any. Buckeye quickly availed himself of the opportunity to go swimming, taking along a giant inflatable duck he'd brought expressly for that purpose. As he splashed around like an overgrown six-year old, I was quietly thankful that I had awful eyesight—and that I'd already eaten—or else I might've been put off my lunch. Then he put his clothes back on, thank God, and came ashore.

And we waited. A terrible thought occurred to me. Was Fredo's nausea just a ruse to get away from us? Could he have lived up to his name and betrayed us? With Veggie gone, what else was to keep him with the group?

Filled with dread and nagging doubts, we grudgingly packed up and headed off towards the Little Swift River Pond Campsite. People had told us we'd definitely see moose there. How about that I wasn't about to hold my breath.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chapter 133: Mahoosuc Notch

Mahoosuc Notch is often cited as the most difficult mile on the entire Appalachian Trail. It's not. The most difficult mile on the trail is really mile 679 in Central Virginia.1 Mahoosuc Notch, on the other hand, is actually kind of fun. Sure it's time consuming, but it's never not enjoyable.

Veggie, Buckeye, Fredo and I kept a decidedly leisurely pace, stopping every few yards to take pictures; laugh at the precarious positions we'd gotten ourselves into; bash our knees into boulders; and sob like lost, pathetic little girls.2 Where else on the trail do you have to shimmy underneath giant boulders, through spaces so tight you have to take your backpack off and drag it behind you? Is there year-round ice? Are there crevices you could slip into and die, your body never to be found? Nowhere! It's magical.

And over too soon. The worst part is, when you're done, there's no summit, no rewarding viewpoint or lookout. It just sort of peters out.

And then we passed the Speck Pond Shelter, where I had stayed ten years earlier on my AMC backpacking trip. The lake, normally leech infested, wasn't much of an attraction. We stopped at the shelter only long enough to check the logbook and chat with some fellow north-bounders whom I strongly suspected were fakers.

One of them casually mentioned that they had started in May, as if we were supposed to be impressed by that sort of thing. Morons. Yeah, they were just breezing through. One of them was from Pennsylvania. I asked him how he liked Lehigh Gap. He didn't seem to know what I was talking about. I quietly wrote him off.

Climbing Old Speck was much hairier than I remembered. Sheer granite slabs with very little in the way of handholds. I wondered how I had managed to climb up it in the dark. And with a handheld flashlight. Then again, everything is less scary when you're sixteen. Except girls.

Sadly, we decided as a group not to take the loop to the summit. Not only had we abjectly failed to make it up there in time to watch the sunrise—or sunset, for that matter—now we wouldn't even be going. It was disheartening, but we'd fallen behind schedule, and were already having too much fun tripping on bog boards and falling up to our knees in mud.

Descending to Grafton Notch, we encountered a flood of day hikers headed in the opposite direction. None of them looked particularly pleased to see us barreling down the mountain toward them, falling all over ourselves and screaming in panic. It was kind of steep. Whatever.

Reaching the gap, we found a cooler of trail magic. Some assorted, vaguely generic snacks, and some Emergen-C packets. Did I want 1,667% of my daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C? Don't mind if I do!

And then there was a Forest Ranger sitting in his pickup truck in the parking lot, giving out juice boxes, soda, and cookies to any thru-hikers who walked past. Double score.

Feeling fat and contented, we hiked on. But we didn't make it far, only another 2.3 miles to the Baldpate Lean-to. (Like I said, fat and contented) Finding the shelter blissfully south-bounder free, we monopolized the space, made a roaring campfire, and relaxed.

But these are only the things we did. No simple account of the day's events can capture the feeling of being out there in the world. The camaraderie we felt, as a group, as adventurers, as frontiersmen, as pioneers. The joy we found in each other's company, the solace from the grind.

We only had 264.5 miles left. If only I had done more to savor it at the time.

1. The less said about that, the better. It was steep, and I cried.

2. Or maybe that was only me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chapter 132: Where We Fall Short, Again

When I was sixteen, I went on an eleven day backpacking and sea kayaking trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club. It was awesome, one of the formative experiences of my life. I made a lot of new friends; pushed myself physically and emotionally; learned how to be self-sufficient; and overcame my then-undiscovered fear of pooping in the woods. While on the trip, I told people that I wanted to become a writer, and for the first time nobody laughed, scoffed, groaned, or patiently pointed out my absolutely mediocre grades in English class. (Career average: B-) Moreover, when I came home afterwards—and started my senior year of high school—something had changed. I could suddenly tell stories that didn't involve playing computer games, eating pizza, or having my heart broken by the girl across the street. I had wisdom. People started looking up to me. I realized that, hey, maybe I was a great guy after all, and that life was worth living.

And I've lived with that ethos ever since.

On August 6, 2010—the 138th day of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike—my companions and I were approaching the New Hampshire-Maine border, Mahoosuc Notch, and Old Speck Mountain; exactly the same territory I covered on my AMC trip.

Naturally, I incessantly urged the others—Veggie, Fredo, and Buckeye—to camp atop Old Speck, if only to be able to watch the sunrise from the observation deck at the summit. Ten years earlier, we had camped at the northern end of the Notch, then climbed up Old Speck in the dark. I fondly remembered scrambling up the Mahoosuc Arm at three in the morning, racing ahead of the group to find an adequate viewpoint before dawn. And I'd found one just in time, right as the sun peeked above the horizon. And as an early-morning mist rose from the valley, the surrounding mountaintops had all seemed like tiny green islands lost amongst a roiling sea of white.

It was beautiful.

And I badly wanted to recreate that experience, to share it with my friends.

Unfortunately, after taking a (too) lengthy break at the border—to take some celebratory pictures—we watched in horror as the sky darkened ominously, and then it started to rain. Or drizzle slightly. It was enough to dampen our moods, exacerbate our latent (and growing) laziness, and encourage us just to stay at the next shelter.

Which is exactly what we did. We pulled in to the Full Goose Shelter, whipped out our sleeping bags, and settled in for the afternoon (and night). We'd be going no further that day. Why punish ourselves by going through the Mahoosuc Notch when it was all wet and slipper, at the end of a long day, right before a really tough climb? Better to do all those things in the morning, when the weather would be better, when we had fresh legs under us. Our sunrise would have to wait.

I was still in a bad mood from the night before when I pulled out my journal.
Aug 6
Tried to do the dry-out-wet-clothes-by-sticking-them-in-my-sleeping-bag thing last night, but all it did was make my sleeping experience damp and awful smelling... I have a reputation on the trail for being angry/hating everybody, but how can I help it when all these people piss me off?
It was no use. I gave up, and handed my journal to Veggie. To let her have the last (and hopefully more upbeat) word.
Dear MC,
The first few times I met you, I did not understand your ridiculously sarcastic, blatant, unrelenting humor. But now, after walking with you and hearing exclamatory curse slurs every time you hit your knees, fall up to your waist in mud, bend a trekking pole, or get stabbed by a protruding pine branch, I now laugh.

Or maybe I couldn't take it seriously, with the hat, goatee, and the bandana which makes you look like you should be in an old western movie.

Maybe in Brokeback Mountain, just maybe.

Anyway, the slow pace we have all been going has allowed all of us to relive the 90's due to a) VH1, b) the woods having good accoustics and c) your outrageous and lack-of-shame singing "skills."

So now I am amused. Even more so because we're all huddled into our sleeping bags just like the beginning.
-Veggie

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chapter 131: General Chafage

After our slackpacking adventure—twenty plus miles over Wildcat, Carter Dome, and Mt. Moriah in only eleven hours!—Veggie, Buckeye, Fredo and I spent a day lazing around the White Birches campground, swimming in the pool, drinking copious amounts of beer, and watching VH1 countdown the top 100 pop songs of the 1990's. Awesome.

The next morning, we got some trail magic and a ride to the trailhead from one of Buckeye's friends, then hiked out singing the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way." (No. 3 on the countdown.) Again. Because of course we did.

We weren't feeling particularly ambitious that day, however, and so only went an easy 11.8 miles to the Gentian Pond Shelter. Katahdin—and the end of the trail, and all that other unpleasantness involved with our inevitable return to "real life"—loomed just 286.1 miles away, after all. We fully intended to savor every single step. Besides, I figured I had roughly twenty days to finish, which dictated a relatively relaxed pace of only fourteen miles a day. I wasn't in a hurry. And I constantly lobbied my friends to be lazy stay with me.

Unfortunately—and as usual—events conspired to put me in a particularly nasty mood upon our arrival at Gentian Pond. Maybe it was because we'd run into Sativa James and Loud Mouth in town the day before. (They had yellow blazed again, and seemed hell-bent on catching up with us. Why? I felt like I had made it perfectly clear, in my typically passive-agressive way, that I hated their guts and wanted them to die. Was it just to torture me?) Or maybe it was because there was an ornery south-bounder already occupying the shelter.

Feeling thusly apocalyptic, I wrote two registry entries, one at night:
Nice trail magic back at the water source! I know I was just in town for 3 days drinking Magic Hat and chilling by the pool, but I really needed some soda today to help me keep going. Plus I know there's nobody behind me and fuck SOBOs, so I took seven!! And if you come along tomorrow and there aren't any, that means I finished them. Ha ha!! Fuck you.

-Major Chafage

PS. It was Dr. Pepper, Mug Root Beer, and Orange Crush. HA HA HA HA HA!!!
(All of which was purely fiction and meant as a joke.)

And the other the next morning, after I had courageously endured the south-bounder's rather peculiar early-morning rituals:
Dear SOBOs,
I love you, but you're never going to make it. Not because you're bad hikers, or you have the wrong equipment, but because you're all so infuriatingly annoying, waking up at 4 AM to fuck your water bottles (that's what it sounded like), talking in normal voices when people are sleeping, smoking in the shelter, blasting death metal on your iPod, and just generally acting like discourteous dick-holes, some tired NOBO at the end of his rope is going to murder you. Just a fair warning. I want you to be safe!

Love forever,
Major Chafage
Good stuff! Three weeks left on the trail, and I was having so much fun... I wished it would never end.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chapter 130: A Slackpacking Jones

August 5,

The Whites are over. Hut hopping was fun and fruitful, although the experience was somewhat diminished by the preponderance of obnoxious south-bounders, the Worst People in the World®. SOBOs are arrogant, they eat too much, and they're ugly.

I slackpacked for the first (and probably last) time the other day. I take back nothing I've ever said about slackpackers.

And I wouldn't have done it except for being stricken with a severe case of the lazies.
Shocked? Outraged? Don't believe me? Let me explain.

Twizzler and I never really got along. Maybe it was because he was younger, faster, and stronger than I was, and I resented him for it. Or, maybe it was because he complained constantly about how the trail was too easy, and how the mountains were so much better in his native Israel. Which was—needless to say—deeply annoying, and deflating.

But at least he had a sense of humor. Buckeye used to make fun of him for prefacing everything he said with, "In Israel..." And for asking "But do they have bagels there?" whenever we proposed going anywhere. And Twizzler laughed, which made everything easier.

Still, the day we came down off of Madison, Twizzler had sprinted ahead of us in his typically brazen, boulder-jumping fashion. I felt terrible about ditching him, but I simply lacked the patience, and energy, to keep up. Plus the skies were darkening ominously, and it seemed almost certain that it would, well, drizzle. None of my other companions—Veggie, Fredo, and Buckeye—seemed exactly enthusiastic about climbing over Wildcat in the rain. So we didn't. We gave up, and hitched a ride into Gorham, New Hampshire, to stay at the White Birches campground.

Apparently discouraged by our sudden and unannounced disappearance, however, Twizzler decided to end his hike prematurely the very next day. At the very same time we were slackpacking to catch up with him, he was hitching a ride back to Manchester Center, Vermont, where he could catch a bus back to Boston. So he left. And we never saw him again.

Anyway, that's how we lost Twizzler and ended up slackpacking.

It wasn't because we were lazy and were looking forward to a day spent zeroing at the White Birches, drinking beer, watching VH1, and going swimming in the in-ground pool. It was because of our fierce sense of loyalty. Of companionship. We slackpacked because we never leave a man or woman behind. I mean, did we zero, and do all of those other things I mentioned? Yes, but that's incidental.

Oh, and none of the Whites were as much unadulterated fun as South Kinsman, although Wildcat came close.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chapter 129: An Excess of Effluvia

I deftly slipped into my merino wool base layer and took a seat outside the Madison Spring Hut. We had to wait until the AMC's paying customers had finished their dinner before going in.

Wonderful. All we could do was wait, shivering occasionally in a cool gust of wind, watching the clouds billow overhead in the encroaching darkness.

Buckeye, Twizzler and I had enjoyed once-a-year weather earlier that morning atop Mount Washington. Winds were a blistering four miles an hour; visibility was so terrible we could barely see the Atlantic Ocean gleaming on the horizon, some seventy miles away. Naturally, we spent as little time at the summit as possible, stopping only long enough to pose for the obligatory photos, check out the museum, have a snack, and take a two hour nap.

After lunch, we said goodbye to our fellow NOBO's Mimi, Fred, Lou, Creepy and Nobody for the final time—some of whom we had only met the day before—and began the long, arduous trek to the Madison Spring Hut. Seven and a half miles. All above tree line. It was torture.

Mostly because I needed to take a shit. Now, you might be wondering, why hadn't I gone to the bathroom at the summit? And that would be a good question. The best answer to which is, "Shut the fuck up."

Digging the second highest cathole on the trail was awkward. Doubly awkward, actually, considering the fragile state of the surrounding alpine vegetation and the general preponderance of nearby day hikers. Fortunately, I found a relatively secluded spot between two boulders and, well, made do.

We made it to the Madison Spring Hut in the early afternoon; We were, by design, the very first thru-hikers to arrive. Securing work-for-stay was thus ridiculously easy, and our chores summarily dispatched. But then began the long, tedious waiting game for dinner.

And then Guillermo, One Pace, and Creamcicle waltzed in from the North, a trio of ridiculously bearded south-bounders bursting with unearned confidence and strained machismo. Their conversation reeked of barely-restrained condescension and empty braggadocio. They had just finished Maine, and done the Mahoosuc Notch, and clearly expected us to prostrate ourselves at the feet of their magnificence. Bullshit.

Serendipitously, help soon presented itself in the form of a skinny north-bounder, his oddly familiar face framed by a halo of preposterously curly hair.

"Shorts?"

"Major Chafage!" cried Shorts, his eyes lighting up.

"I thought that was you! Mimi told me you were just about a day behind."

"I feel like I've been a day or two behind you for over a month, man! I've been chasing you for hundreds of miles!"

This wasn't creepy at all in context, by the way. It was actually sort of flattering. I mean, of course it was. I was dying to know what sort of chaos and discord I was leaving in my wake. And Shorts dutifully filled me in.

"Remember how you wrote something in a shelter log about finding a six pack of beer in the crook of a tree and then pouring it out?"

Yes. "Yes," I nodded.

"That really pissed off a lot of people!" Shorts laughed.

And so it went. I don't know why, but I never asked him about his hike, or the various things he'd seen and experienced. The people he'd met. The friends he'd made, and lost. And it's not because I'm a raging egomaniac. Well, not completely because of that. I hope.

I would see Shorts only once or twice after that night. Once again, our paths diverged. He had a schedule to keep, and pink-blazing love birds to keep up with. Meanwhile, with the late but welcome arrivals of Fredo and Veggie, my final trail family was complete...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chapter 128: Lake of the Clouds

Journal entry, August 1st:
Unfinished business: My bout of near terminal-laziness at the Eliza Brook Shelter paid off. Veggie didn't catch up to me, like I thought she might, but Buckeye and Twizzler did. Glad to have their company.

South Kinsman was awesome. Most fun I've had since Albert Mountain in North Carolina. Just one long rock scramble, forcing you to put your feet in creative positions to get the proper leverage and all sorts of other weird stuff. I was so happy, I was even nice to the southbounders.

Stayed in a hostel called Chet's Place in Lincoln on the 28th.
I went out for $1 pizza slices and unlimited salad bar with Buckeye and a random SOBO girl that night. My body wasn't used to so much roughage. Leafy green vegetables. I had a giant leafy green shit the next morning.

Speaking of giant leafy green shits, Sativa James yellow blazed around the Kinsmans and caught up with us in Lincoln. He brought an even more insufferable friend with him, Loud Mouth.

Loud Mouth wore a kilt and the perpetual smirk of a pederast on the loose at Disney World. I remember our first conversation well. I wish I didn't. Loud Mouth had accosted me while I was waiting in line at the post office.

"What's your trail name?" he had asked.

"Major Chafage."

"What?" He didn't seem to get it. "Major what? Chafe?"

"Chafage."

Still nothing.

"I think your trail name should be Keebler Elf," he asserted confidently. "Can I call you Keebler?"

"No," I sighed, wishing he would go away.

"How'd you get that name, anyway?"

"I gave it to myself."

"That's stupid. Trail names have to be given! You can't name yourself. I think your trail name should be Keebler."

"No. It's Major Chafage, or M.C. for short. It's been that way for eighteen hundred miles. I think I've earned the right to be called what I want."

"Whatever. People who name themselves are douchebags."

Touché.

Needless to say, I really hated Loud Mouth.
On the 29th, I hiked over Lafayette and stayed at the Galehead Hut with Buckeye and Twizzler.
I had to wash every window in the place for my work-for-stay. Which was okay. The Hut itself was very cool. It was quiet, not at all crowded, relaxing. We played Trivial Pursuit that night with an apparently brain-dead SOBO. I don't think he got a single question right.

Also, Mt. Garfield totally kicked my ass. Hard. It was all steep, rocky ups and downs. Nothing made sense. At some point the trail inexplicably turned into a waterfall. I may have cried.
On the 30th of July, we hit the Ethan Pond Campsite, which was full of camp groups and one cotton-clad, super-annoying overnighter. Then, last, er, yesterday, we (myself, Buckeye and Twizzler) hiked the Presidentials up to the Lake of the Clouds.

Yesterday, I a) stepped in mud up to my mid-shin, b) broke a boot lace, c) fell over, d) fell over again, this time ripping a gaping hole in my pans and bloodying my knee
Which happened right in front of Buckeye and some day hikers. Buckeye didn't bother to stop to see if I was all right. No, he laughed and then took pictures, because that's what good friends are for. And the day hikers? They callously ignored my plight. None of them even offered me a bandaid, let alone Gatorade or soda. Bastards.
and e) something I may be forgetting. Oh yeah, I ate too much food, then "dumpster dived" for some juice some paying guests had left half-drunk on a table, only to find out too late that they had some vile alcohol in them. Spent the next... a long time afterwards just lying there in agony. Working for stay here was easy, though.
And the view of the sunset. Amazing. Breathtaking. Utterly [enter the superlative of your choice here]. Words don't do it justice.
The hiking? Meh. I can't say I find it very invigorating, what with the difficult terrain, the abundance of annoying day hikers, and my damning propensity for self-destruction. The views are nice, but not better than they were from Moosilauke or South Kinsman or Garfield, far less trafficked summits.

I keep wanting to write down my thoughts about a story idea I have, not to mention my frequent daydreams about Katahdin, Megan, and what-happens-after. That last part is both exciting, dreadful, and annoying. So are the daily reminders of how close we, I, am/are from finishing.

I miss Bandito, Caveman and the girls. Bandito would pick me up after I'd fallen. Caveman would, no, he'd just laugh about it, too. The girls would commiserate. But they would all pull for me, because we're all striving for the same goal in the end, and we can all appreciate the effort, pain, whatever it took to get us this far. Maybe I just miss my friends.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter 127: Tree Line

Well, I didn't get murder raped, but some local riffraff did come up to my campsite to drink beer and play their banjo. So that was terrifying. Once they noticed my tent, however, they simply—and politely—left.

How sad.

I spent the 26th of July hiking over Moosilauke or however you spell it. It wasn't hard at all, just long. That sounded dirty.

After breezing past the Jeffers Brook Shelter, I walked by a crashed Toyota Prius, its hood crumpled into the trunk of a tree. Oddly, nobody was inside or sitting around nearby, crying, waiting for a tow truck to come. It was as if the driver had deemed it just a particularly poor parking job and decided to go on with their day.

Puzzled, but not particularly alarmed—why should I care if the owner didn't? And it's not like there was blood seeping from the trunk or anything. But I digress—I continued on. And immediately got lost. The trail followed a road uphill for about half a mile, but thanks to a conspicuous lack of adequate signage, all I had to go on was faith. Thankfully, I was distracted by the sudden arrival of several moose, who watched me tentatively from a nearby meadow. Otherwise I might have been more disturbed by my seeming aimless wanderings.

But then I found the trail again, and the moose, the Prius, and the vagaries of the Dartmouth Outing Club were soon forgotten.

Four miles later, I'd climbed 3,500 feet, and was above tree line for the first time. I wasn't disappointed.

With fifty mile an hour winds at the top, I almost had to walk sideways. The surrounding grass rolled in the wind, reminding me strongly—and unexpectedly—of the Irish seaside. After the exertion of the climb had worn off, I actually found myself getting quite cold, so I put on my thermals and ducked into the broken foundations of the old summit house to get warm. There, I met and talked to Maddy, the caretaker of the D.O.C. Ravine Lodge, for a while. She was amused to hear my stories of pizza and drunkenness, and was of course thrilled to meet a trail legend such as Major Chafage. Eventually her fawning obsequiousness became too much even for me, and I politely excused myself and moved on. Such is the nature of my celebrity.

Hiking down the Beaver Brook trail later was more fun than difficult. I'd been warned about its steepness, and inherent danger. I simply stowed my trekking poles and treated the whole thing as one big rock scramble.

While I stayed at the Beaver Brook shelter with Popeye, Smokestack and others that night, the following morning I was faced with an almost immediate choice. At Kinsman Notch, I could A) hitch into Lincoln to collect a mail drop containing my heavy sleeping bag, resupply, etc., then come back and try to make it to the Eliza Brook Shelter; B) Continue hiking over the Kinsmans to Franconia Notch, then hitch into Lincoln and do all the above stuff only to stay at a hostel in town, or C) none of the above. Stupidly, I went with C.

I got the Eliza Brook Shelter at around 2:30 PM. I thought I could make it to the Kinsman Pond Campsite by 4 or 4:30, and the Lonesome Lake Hut by 6 PM. Unfortunately, I could not guarantee myself getting work for stay at either of those facilities, and getting into town around 8 didn't sound so good either. So I stayed. Relaxing? Yeah, for the most part. But then I was running out of food, and now had to do a couple or several 15 mile days in order to stay on schedule... Oh no! Whatever would I do???

Chapter 126: Catching Up

Journal entry, July 25th:
Didn't realize it'd been almost a week since I wrote in here. I guess that's what staying at the Long Trail Inn, drinking beers and such, and then having shitty weather/good company during a dash to Hanover will do to you.

So, what's happened during the past week?

A nice guy bought us hikers a round of beers at the Inn. My tent got soaked overnight. I caught up with Veggie. I ran uphill through a precipitous (wait, what the fuck does that mean?), I mean, oncoming thunderstorm with 60 mph winds and quarter-sized hail. I got pissed off by some arrogant SOBOs/section hikers who took up all the room in the shelter while bragging about the six miles they'd done that day out of Hannover. Found a Star Wars novel in the shelter and read it cover to cover.

Got into Hanover early, went to Ramunto's twice, got two free slices, 6 free beers (2 for myself, 4 for my companions), and half a free garlic knot pizza. Was horrified by Sativa James's drunken antics. Disappointed I didn't get drunk like Veggie and Buckeye. Stayed at a frat house. (Self professed "marching band" frat.)

Saw my parents. They were on their way home from Toronto. Had Indian or Thai food. Stayed in a Comfort Inn. Mommy bought me groceries at the Dartmouth Co-Op the next morning.

Did 16 miles out of Hanover. Took a crap at the Velvet Rocks Shelter. Nice privy. Ate lunch at the Moose Mountain Shelter. Saw Veggie and Smokestack there. I spent last night at the Trapper John Shelter.

Now I'm sitting here writing this on top of Smarts Mountain
Smokestack and Co. arrived at the Firewarden's Cabin atop Smarts Mountain just then, interrupting my session. It was hard to write with other people around, chatting. Not that I begrudged them their presence. Except for that I did. God, how I could hate people. Especially those with "friends."

My group of friends had recently evaporated. I had said a temporary goodbye to Popeye, Buckeye and Veggie when I'd seen them last in Hanover, before I'd left to stay the night with my parents in nearby White River Junction. Although I'd seen Veggie the next day, and earlier that morning, she had vowed she wasn't going as far as even I was planning. And I wasn't planning much. I had promised myself—and others, quite vociferously—that I wouldn't ever do a twenty mile day again. For the rest of the entire trip.

I was there to enjoy myself. And that was it. From there on out.

But you know what they say about the "best laid plans of mice and men."

Journal entry, evening of July 25th:
Fuck everything and everybody. Fell 3 miles short of my goal today thanks to some prime stupidity. Tent got soaked in the rain last night thanks to me not setting it up properly. (Mistake #1) I got to the top of what I thought was a 2,900 footer (it wasn't. Mistake #2) and took my tent out to dry since the sun came out for the first time in 2 weeks. "Securing" the tent to my pack's compression straps, I continued on up and then down the mountain, not being too careful to see whether my cargo was still secure. (Mistake #3) ≈1.5 to 2 miles down the mountain I stopped to get water, only then realizing I'd dropped my tent somewhere.

I ditched my pack and ran back up the hill (steep! but no pack was awesome), passing 2 NOBO's (Bumper and Breeze) who'd seem the tent but hadn't packed it out. Thanks. So I literally had to run back to the summit! to retrieve it. So much for not doing anymore 20 mile days. So now I'm camped within earshot of a road, and will probably be murder raped by a hillbilly bear. From New Hampshire. During the night.