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.
"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...