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.

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