Aug 8,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.
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?
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.