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.


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.

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