Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chapter 143: The 100-Mile Wilderness (Take 2)

On a fateful day that presumably fell sometime during the week, Fredo, Hot Sauce and I finally set out into the infamous hundred mile wilderness. Spirits were low, despite the exhilaration we all felt from being so close to the end of our adventure. Though it took considerable effort, I heroically did my part to motivate and encourage my friends by walking slower than them, falling down and hurting myself a lot, and ceaslessly complaining about everything and everybody.

We soon happened upon a sign, weathered and stoic, belatedly advising all comers that attempting the “wilderness” with anything less than ten days of supplies was egregiously foolhardy and would surely result in our inevitable, gruesome deaths. We were already at least five minutes fifty yards feet from the road. We had come too far to turn back.

For a brief moment, I warmly remembered all the haters, mostly in the South, who had so often predicted our premature demise. There had been those who repeatedly warned us that if we didn't buy their $200 rain gear, for example, we were gonna die. Or that if we attempted to hike the Smokies with thermals that were even 20% cotton, we were gonna die. And that if we continued to hike naked, even for just one more day, under that blistering sun, we were definitely gonna get eaten by dragons and die. Rest assured, dear reader, we were well inured to these idle threats by now, and we were not about let this latest proclamation deter us. Besides, we had at least two and a half days of food. How bad could it be?

Very bad, as it turned out, though not on the first day, the proceedings of which, besides the spotting of the aforementioned sign, were not particularly memorable. Yes, it was on our second day out that the trouble really started, our lives irrevocably changed, and our hike forever ruined.

It was on the second day that we met them. The Georgia Peaches. I had fallen behind that morning, as I frequently did, taking long breaks to sob quietly into the underbrush. Cresting yet another of the innumerable boulder-strewn, granite slabbed ridges that merrily dot the New Hampshire and Maine sections of the trail, I spotted them. Their long, languid bodies lying lackadaisically across the trail, luxuriating in the sun and the attentions of a delirious, weak-minded fool. Fredo.

I knew immediately that he was in trouble, his three-mile-an-hour pace shot, the contents of his pack strewn about the ground, his food bag open. Curiously, the Peaches seemed not to be carrying any food or equipment themselves, and were so clean and cheerful in appearance and demeanor that I began to suspect that they hadn't hiked there at all, but had simply appeared at that very spot, emerging from the deepest depths of Hell that very morning.

They were sirens or succubi, I was sure of it, and were clearly intent on devouring my friend alive, leeching his life's spirit, or at the very least mooching his food. And they were good at what they did. But my attentions were elsewhere, my mind preoccupied with dreams of Katahdin, with long-nurtured secret plans of fantastic design and foolish ambition. I alone appeared immune to their "charms." Clearly, it was up to me to rescue my friend. But I didn't. I promptly left in disgust, and then mercilessly made fun of him for it later.

That night the three of us found a sweet stealth site by the west branch of the Pleasant River. We camped there with the frequently-naked Austrian, Matterhorn. Or was he Swiss? No matter. Any way, yes, Materhorn, the same man whose dinner I had accidentally destroyed not two nights earlier. I feared for my safety that night, and was plagued by nightmares in which I was repeatedly and viciously attacked by a very angry, very nude European wielding a terrifying pot of cold macaroni.

The next morning I awoke, unfortunately still alive, for little did I know what new terrors this day would bring...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chapter 143: Oroboros

And so we come down to it. On the morning of the 18th, Fredo, Hot Sauce and I started off on the last 22 mile stretch towards Monson, Maine, and the start of the 100 Mile Wilderness. Which, of course, is where this story all began, all those many days (or years) ago.

When I first proposed hiking together, I had told my sister, "Yeah, come out to the trail. It'll be a blast. We'll do 12.5 miles a day... Relax..." Since she had joined me, however, we had gone 8.4, then 15.3, 17.3, and finally 18.8 miles each day. She wasn't exactly thrilled by our pace, but she wasn't overwhelmed by it, either.

Still, after hiking over two thousand miles myself, I wasn't entirely jazzed by the idea of such a long haul into town. So I admit it: I fully planned on taking a blue blazed trail—the one to Lake Hebron, and then on to Pleasant Road—that would cut 1.3 miles out of our trip. Sue me.

The best part was, once Hot Sauce and I hit the road, we quickly found a hitch into town in the back of someone's pickup truck.

Blue blazing, yellow blazing, what's the difference?

Shaw's Lodging in Monson—a legendary hiker's hostel, if there are any on the Trail—exceeded all of our expectations. Which wasn't terribly difficult; our expectations were exceedingly low, as set by the establishment's rather iffy depiction in the laughably awful "Southbounders."1 The movie makes Shaw's seem like some sort of cultish hippy commune, where nobody's allowed to wear even their homemade hemp sandals inside, and there are no locked doors anywhere, ever.

Far from that hellish nightmare, what we found was simply a collection of large, well-maintained, adequately furnished bunk rooms; some blessedly warm showers; a cavernous dining room; a TV lounge replete with sunken-in couch, pre-stained coffee table, and a hearty selection of dusty board games; and a veritable cornucopia of a hiker's box.2 Amongst the items left behind? A ziplock bag of chipotle-flavored pepper flakes that my sister snatched up immediately, thus earning her trail name: Hot Sauce.

The three of us attempted a resupply at the Monson General Store, but were quickly discouraged. If we'd wanted to rent a VHS tape—or stock up on car batteries or replacement parts for our snow mobile—we might have had more success. Luckily, we still had a bit of food leftover from Straton, or else we might have needed to hitch two miles north to Wal-Mart. Sated, we visited an ATM at a nearby gas station—where I found my checking balance to be a startling $0.00—bought a couple of bottles of Boone's Farm, and then retreated to the hostel for a good night's rest.

Because we know what awaited us on the morrow: the 100 Mile Wilderness.

1. "Southbounders" tells the story of Olivia, a spoiled rich girl who sets off to hike the trail the wrong way, and largely fails: she falls down a lot, is pestered by an annoying fat man, and awkwardly romances a scraggly guitar-playing hipster with douchey facial hair. Taken as pure cinema, the film is sadly mediocre, neither entertaining nor emotionally or thematically uplifting. As an anthropological study, on the other hand, the film serves as an astonishingly accurate portrait of the atrocious, abominable southbounder. The trailer can be seen here.

2. About that hiker's box: apparently, most southbounders abruptly quit after finishing the 100 Mile Wilderness, and Shaw's is where they go to rest, wash up, and suffer their inevitable nervous breakdowns. That they leave behind most of their uneaten food—and sometimes their non-consumable possessions as well, like stoves, trekking poles, and sleeping pads, amongst other swag—is only icing on the cake. So, thanks, Shaw's, for your hospitality. And thanks also, southbounders, for being awful and quitting.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chapter 142: Atonement

As we reach the end of our journeys, and thus our narratives, it is only natural for us to reflect. On all we've seen, and on all we've done. The pain we've felt. The exhilaration. The friendships made, and broken. The iron bonds of fellowship forged in toil, tragedy, and triumph, that no amount of time or space could ever tear asunder. The people we've hurt along the way. The good times we've had. The bad. The times it rained. The days when when we just wanted to stay cocooned inside our sleeping bags forever, listening to the raindrops fall, and the world pass us by. Those few joyous occasions when we could celebrate a reunion with long-lost friends, then congregate around a camp fire swapping stories, watching the sun set, and uniting in shared admiration of a giant bag of M&Ms...

Speaking of pain, I now consider myself extraordinarily lucky that—in the entire course of my travels—I never suffered a serious injury. Don't get me wrong, shin splints are plenty painful, as are burst blisters, and that weird problem I was having with my right (or was it left?) Achilles tendon that, well... But that's besides the point. I was lucky. Period. Nothing ever happened to seriously threaten my hike. Miller Time fell and broke his leg coming down off of The Priest in Virginia. Cotton brazenly wore blue jeans in the Smoky Mountains and froze to death. Robo-Vader and Runny Bottoms caught giardia, twice. Alphabet got homesick. Veggie got an infected spider bite. That southbounder in Gorham had an infected spider bite. Heck, sometime after leaving Stratton, a spider had bitten me. It never got infected, though.

Anyway, and with all of that in mind—and I do mean all—here is my registry entry from the Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to:
August 18,
Everything is fun and games until you "accidentally" steal some day hiker's/trail maintainer's food, fall on your ass, and then knock over someone's dinner.

I have a lot of things to be sorry for, and no better time than now to atone.

I'm sorry to that day hiker in the Shenandoah's whose food I stole. Rest assured your Camelback® Electrolyte™ Drink Mix© and Carnation Instant Breakfast did not go to waste.

I'm sorry to whomever I stole those candy bars from yesterday. I hope the 0.4 mile walk back to the parking lot wasn't too your day wasn't ruined.

I'm sorry to my sister, for making her hike around 18 miles a day through Maine.

I'm sorry to all the people I've written mean things about in registers. I'm sorry to Fredo, for not loving him the way he wants to be loved. I'm sorry to Freeman and Strider, for leaving you behind. I'm sorry to all my other trail friends who have already finished, that I couldn't be there for your summit days. I'm sorry to my friends, my family, and especially Megan for disappearing for 5 months to go on this crazy adventure.

I'm especially sorry to that spider, for taking a shit so near you that you felt compelled to bite me in the ass. It hurts, and I have yet to develop super powers.

Chapter 141: Pancakes

On the morning of August 17th, 2010, I awoke to a strange, unearthly grumble. Sitting up, I eyed my sister suspiciously, but—somehow—it wasn't her surprisingly sonorous snoring. Emerging from my Tarptent into a thick, soupy fog, I quickly deduced that it wasn't Fredo, either, as his hammock was strung up a conscientious and considerate twenty yards away. Nor was it the spectacularly reverberating apneas of all those snotty, southbound section hikers who had so courteously occupied all the space in the nearby Pierce Pond Lean-to the night before. The family of loons bobbing along serenely through the mist on the adjacent lake were similarly guiltless.

Who—or what—was causing this ungodly noise?


Okay, so I could continue on in that vein, explaining in my typically florid way that the "strange, unearthly grumble" was just my stomach growling. (Ha ha, what a funny joke!) And how Hot Sauce, Fredo and I eventually enjoyed a "lumberjack breakfast" at the Harrison Camps that morning, to satiate my growing hunger. But I won't. Because who—except possibly food fetishists and hipsters with internet cooking shows—really cares about that sort of thing, or wants to hear about it in such exhaustive detail? (FYI, the lumberjack breakfast was a stack of twelve gigantic pancakes with blueberries, strawberries, and whipped butter, smothered in maple syrup, with a side of fried eggs and more coffee than any of us could ever drink. Not that we didn't try.)

I could also tell you about our momentous crossing of the Kennebec River, which involved getting a canoe ride from an obese mountain man in tattered sweat pants who seemed to have an entire family of birds nesting in his beard, and may have been a serial killer. Or at least a not-so-distant relative of one. But I won't do that either.

I could tell you about the trail magic we encountered later, just south of US201. Actually, I will: we found a cooler beside the trail containing an assortment of candy bars and soda and even a couple cans of Keystone Light®. For whatever reason—but probably because he's a selfish bastard—Fredo took all the beers, then giggled sadistically when we ran into a couple of SOBOs later on who were looking forward to getting some. Naturally, we didn't tell them there weren't any left, but cruelly sent them on towards their inevitable disappointment.

I could tell you how I may or may not have accidentally stolen some trail maintainer's gorp at the Pleasant Pond Lean-to. (I mean, who leaves a giant stuff-sack full of delicious, delicious trail mix unattended and expects it not to get stolen?) But I certainly won't do that. (Too unbelievable. Like I would ever do such a thing.)

I could even tell you how Fredo, Hot Sauce and I first met Matterhorn—an annoyingly spry and well-equipped section hiker from Switzerland—and stayed with him at the Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to after hiking up in the dark singing John Legend songs.

But my heart just isn't in it.

Instead, I'll leave you with excerpt from Rutledge Sandybottom's excessively, er, florid, probably pretty bad Repressed Desire:
It's late, and we're on a long drive to nowhere in the dark. Your headlights sweep past eerily familiar street signs, long rows of seemingly empty houses, bereft of any signs of life. The silence between us fills with bittersweet reminiscence, regret, and longing—both for past glory, and for a future that might never be.

I catch you glancing at me from across the car. You look away quickly, abashed. But I'm the one who should be ashamed. I'm the one who's staring.

Before, I might have felt the warmth of your breath on my cheek, your hand tugging on my shirt, and the brush of your lips against mine, as I leaned into you, pushing you back into the door of your car.

But no, I lacked the courage. To touch you. Instead, I just stood back and watched as you searched through your purse for your keys. Admiring your figure in the soft glow of the streetlamp overhead. Alone together in the parking lot, intoxicated by your closeness, by the way the your dress clung to your body from the sweat.

The sweat of the dance, the drinks, the laughter... The furtive looks, shared in secret, across the table, through the crowd.

And my memory of all else fades, crushing into a swirling vortex of you. The twinkle in your eyes, the crooked curve of your smile. And suddenly I'm back in the car, short of breath, pulse pounding in my neck.

Meeting your eyes, seeing your breasts heave with every breath, I wonder if you've felt the same.
Ew. Best leave that there.

Tomorrow, a special treat, and back to the business at hand...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chapter 140: Major Chafage Returns

Which will aim to be just like "The Dark Knight Rises"—or whatever's the hot sequel du jour as you're reading this—only way more epic, awesome, and ultimately tragic.
August 4th, 2012

Well, I'm back on the A.T. again. Admittedly, it's only a single night engagement1, so maybe it doesn't deserve all the above pomp and circumstance...

And it's not gone well.

Megan and I have met three NOBOs—Sling Blade, Tantrum, and, erm, Other Guy—three SOBOs—I didn't catch their names, for some reason2—about a thousand mosquitos—all of whom loved to make our acquaintance—and more than our fair share of wayward, clueless day hikers.

Also, I believe Megan is plotting my imminent death.3 More on this in a moment.

Rest assured, loyal readers, it is very likely that I will not survive the night.

Let me count the dangers:

1) I have an inexplicable, pounding headache. Am I having an aneurism? Is it a tumor? Blood clots? Or has Megan poisoned me, sneaking arsenic into the peanut butter and Nutella bagel she (rather suspiciously) offered to make me for dinner? Or is it...

2) Those fucking bugs, beetles, birds or whatever the fuck they are making that incessant CHEEP-CHEEP-CHEEP noise just outside my trusty Tarptent?

3) Or maybe it's dehydration.

4) Megan insisted on eating a candy bar inside the tent, and is now in the process of sprinkling my side with crumbs. Is she laying bait, trying to lure a black bear to eat me? She remains mute on the subject, but I have my suspicions.

5) I have to pee.


UPDATE: 06:41, August 5th, 2012

Megan has "accidentally" elbowed me in the face about 50,000 times during the night. She blames the cramped quarters of my (come on, it's practically cavernous!) Tarptent. I blame her sinister, probably homicidal machinations.

My nose may be broken, but my spirit remains undaunted.

2nd UPDATE: 10:26, August 5th

About 200 yards from the parking lot, I tripped over a pebble and fell straight on my face, breaking my right foot, my left knee, both my elbows, and nearly every other bone in my body. However, instead of running to the car or to get help, Megan insisted on photographing the incident for posterity. I think she may have pushed me.

One last note: my 2012 northbound brethren have made the seemingly spontaneous decision—en masse—to call southbounders "Shortbeard[s]," which is both fantastically clever and somewhat annoying. In that I didn't think of it myself.

Also, whilst relaxing atop Bear Mountain, enjoying the view and some well-earned spoils, Megan and I overheard a SOBO telling a day hiker that "[I]t usually takes people four to six months to hike the entire trail. Old people do it in six months. Younger, actually fit people—who aren't old, decrepit cripples who should probably be sent straight to the ovens—do it in four."

See what I mean? Evil to the core. SOBOs ruin everything.

Oh, and one last, final note4: There are those of you who may wonder why I have not continued with the adventures of 2010, relating in exhausting detail how Fredo, Hot Sauce and I trekked from the Little Biggelow Lean-to all the way to the Pierce Pond Lean-to some 17.3 miles away. Where we were driven out of the shelter by some dastardly section-hiking snorers and forced to put up tents by the water's edge in an ethereal mist as loons sang hauntingly to us from across the water, blah blah blah.

There's a simple, probably pretty feeble reason for that: as my narrative reaches its inevitable conclusion, so, in a sense, does my journey. I really feel that as long as I'm not done with my story, I'm not done with the trail. As long as there's more to write, I have an excuse to travel back in my mind, to revisit those blissful days...

Or at least that's how I felt yesterday morning. Now I'm not so sure. One of the SOBOs we met—okay, he may have been a flip-flopper, given his conspicuous knowledge of trail conditions further south—was in terrible shape. His shirt and shorts were plastered to his body from sweat; he winced noticeably with every other step; and he carried a pair of soiled, grime-encrusted socks in a bungee cord on the outside of his pack, a very (horribly) familiar sight. And he was wearing the very same (horrible) Vasque boots that I started the trail with. Except for that he was evidently a southbounder—who are, lest we forget, the very worst type of person in the world, even worse than Nazis, religious fundamentalists, terrorists, bankers, and oil executives, if they can even be considered human beings—my heart ached for him. And I had no more trail magic to give, all the plums I had brought already given out to the NOBOs we had met earlier. Of course, I hated him, too. How could I not? But did I hate him merely because he was a SOBO? Or did I hate him because he so reminded me of myself?

Later that night, as Megan and I rolled into camp, bickering like an old married couple, drenched in sweat, surrounded by a cloud of hungry mosquitos, each smelling worse than a dead orangutan's ass hole, I had an epiphany: Who in their right mind would go through all this voluntarily? Again. And why? Were the fleeting moments of solitude, of physical and spiritual release, of emotional uplift, of communion with nature—and one's fellow traveler—really worth all the associated aches and pains, the itches, the bitter dissension, the petty jealousies, the panicked sprints into the undergrowth—trekking pole in one hand, toilet paper in the other—while trying to push from one's mind the overriding fear of shitting one's pants?

It was, once. But now?

I don't know.

1. Either as preparation for or in anticipation of a backpacking or maybe kayaking trip later this summer, Megan agreed to accompany me on a one-night camping trip to Bear Mountain, CT. We aimed to retrace my steps from Salisbury, CT to the Race Brook Falls campsite in Massachusetts, a seemingly unambitious 12 mile day. We got a late start, however, and for a variety of other reasons, which I will never speak of, only made it 4.2 miles to the Sages Ravine Brook Campsite, just across the state line.

2. Oh, that's right, I didn't ask.

3. This should not come as a surprise for those of you familiar with our earlier adventures in Europe. See my as-yet unpublished memoirs, "Memoirs of an Adventure," for further details.5

4. Really, this time. I promise.

5. Oh wait, you can't. (Yet.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chapter 139: Losing the Thread

One of the great things about hiking the Appalachian Trail is that, each day, one is working towards a concrete goal, e.g., the next 15.3 miles to the shelter, the next town to resupply, Katahdin. Every day has its purpose. Each step one takes is one fewer towards one's final destination. Which, when it comes, is both a horrible and wonderful realization all at once.

No wandering is aimless, no meal less than a feast, no vista anything less than dazzling, unforgettable, or utterly unique. While certain aspects of one's daily routine—the packing and unpacking, the making of meals; the sobbing quietly in the bushes, etc.—could devolve into monotony, one can always be cheered by the thought that, one day soon, this would all end.


Years later, I'm sitting in my (comfortable) apartment above the city, gazing at the grey clouds outside, feeling a cool breeze roll in through an open window, and wondering where I'd be if I were anywhere but here. Virginia, rollicking alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway? New Hampshire, looking South across snow-capped peaks? Colorado, waking up each day to the spectacular unknown? Somewhere in California or Montana, where, um... Nah, probably not those latter two.

I hear your angry groaning from the other room, yanking me from my reverie. I could ask you what's wrong, offer you comfort, or support. But you would push me away, claiming I don't understand. But I do. It's like that time I had shin splints. Or, as Bandito and I used to joke on the trail, whatever's ailing you, there's a simple solution: stop.

"Hungry? Stop hiking. Starving to death? Stop hiking. Shin bones sticking up out of where your kneecaps used to be, blood spurting everywhere? Stop hiking. And, uh, maybe call an ambulance."

That sort of thing.

But I know you would dismiss my hard-won wisdom as hokey, or overly simplistic. The frustrations and pitfalls of the real world cannot be so simply ignored, or avoided. And there is no end in sight, no ultimate goal as clearly identifiable as a plaque on top of a faraway mountain. And so my mind, if not my spirit, drifts away from these dreary thoughts, dons my (by-now tattered) Dragon Scale parka, and floats out the window into the rain. Across the rooftops, over the trees, beyond the endless strips of car-strapped blacktop. Towards the mountains. Towards peace. Towards home.


Oh, and, by the way, on August 15th, 2010, Fredo, Hot Sauce and I left Buckeye in Stratton—he was waiting for Veggie, and his beloved Ohio State bandana—and hiked 15.3 miles to the Little Bigelow Lean-to, a.k.a. "The Tubs," where we got some trail magic from some overnight hikers. Thanks, overnighters.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chapter 138: The Half-Gallon Challenge, Part II

In these trying times it's important to remember that for every low, for every time you feel lost in the wilderness, alone, bereft and hungry, sobbing quietly over your last package of Frosted Rainbow Cookie Sandwich PopTarts™, there will be a corresponding high, when you'll emerge from the trees, the fog will lift, and the sun will rise before you like the unseen face of God.


Like the Trail, life is full of ups and downs, MUDS and PUDS1, triumphs and tragedy.2

At some point during my childhood, I learned how to tie my own shoes. Triumph.

It probably took me longer than most other kids, though. Just one of the original contributing factors in my life-long bout with low self-esteem. Tragedy.

In the sixth grade, I played the drum set during our school band's performance of "Gonna Fly Now," the theme song from Rocky. Triumph.

On the first day of school in seventh grade, I came down with appendicitis, barfed all over myself in front of the entire cafeteria, and almost died.3 Tragedy.

However, during my recovery, my aunt introduced me to a life-changing invention: the VCR. Oh, and also the comedic stylings of Mel Brooks. My life would never be the same. From that moment forward, I dreamt of becoming a writer. Triumph.4

In the eight grade, I asked out Amber Castle, and she said "sure." Triumph.

Three days later, she dumped me. Tragedy.

But then we went to Homecoming our sophomore year, made up, and made out. Nice! My first kiss. Triumph.

Except for not, because I may have accidentally chewed on her face and given her a fat lip, and why did I bring this up? Also, I'm a jerk. Tragedy.

Senior year, I started dating this girl who turned out to be kind of a whore. Tragedy. Wait, what am I saying? Triumph!

Terrorist attacks. War. Natural disasters. Tragedy.

I used the line "We should do this again sometime" on a girl without wanting to kill myself. Triumph.

A few years later, I found out that, unlike Frank Sinatra, I couldn't make it there. Goodbye, New York. Tragedy.

And on August 14, 2010, I successfully ate a half-gallon of ice cream in less than an hour. Triumph.

Yeah, I bet you were wondering how I would bring it around to that!5



That morning, Fredo, Buckeye, Lutricia and I broke camp, hiked over North and South Crocker Mountain,6 and then hitched a ride into Stratton to stay at a motel.

The motel, a fantastic establishment that should be frequented by everybody—or at least those who don't suffer from acute arachnophobia, but that's another story—was, by happy coincidence, located right across the street from a supermarket. Convenient. Realizing that this might be our last opportunity, Buckeye and I spontaneously decided to re-attempt the half-gallon challenge. Or in Buckeye's case, attempt for the first time. Our flavor of choice? Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip. Fredo got a strange Grape Nuts® flavored ice cream. But then again, Fredo wasn't so keen on the whole challenge. Naturally, he wound up losing.

The rest of that afternoon/evening was a blur of cooking—the four of us collaborated to make an elaborate burrito dinner—drinking, and watching "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace" on VHS.

Although it was the first day I'd spent on the trail with my sister, it was, ironically, almost be the last we would spend as a foursome. Buckeye had arranged to stay behind the next morning to wait for Veggie—long lost Veggie!—who was bringing him his beloved Ohio State bandana. (He'd left it behind in a shelter a couple days before.) So, perhaps it was only appropriate that we shared this last supper, toasting each other with bottles of Bud Light Lime.

While contented, it was with a certain amount of melancholy resignation that we all turned in that (fateful) night. For some reason—there either weren't enough beds, or maybe there was just one too many snorers—I ended up sleeping downstairs, sharing the couch with my regrets, my secret ambitions... And a giant, angry spider.


1. According to the Thru-Hiker's Guide to Whatever, MUDS is a handy acronym for "Mindless Ups and DownS." In the same vein, PUDS stands for "Plintless Ups and DownS." Did this warrant its own footnote? Probably not.

2. The trick is being able to differentiate one from the other. That's called "wisdom." I looked it up.

3. Of embarrassment.

4. Or is that a tragedy? Jury might still be out on that one.

5. Weren't you?

6. Actually quite a steep climb, as both peaks are certified 4000 footers. Although the summit of North Crocker Mountain—at 4,228 feet—isn't even above tree-line. For comparison's sake, the South Branch of the Carabassett River, where we'd camped the night before, was only at 2,100 feet.

Bonus triumphs, as per Liana's request:

It was a cold winter night. I lay on my back, watching the snow fall through the halo of a nearby street lamp. Everything was peaceful. Still. And quiet. And then she appeared above me, her face blocking out the light. "What are you doing?" she asked, her face inscrutable. Was she amused? Confused? Maybe a combination of both? ... Later, we made a snowman together, and threw snowballs at the stop sign on the corner. Not wanting the night to end, I invited her to go for a walk, but she declined, demurely. It was getting late. Uncertainty. Excitement. I watched her go. Then my dad came outside, and the two of us trudged down to the reservoir and back in the dark... I wonder if I'm the only one who remembers this. Triumph? ... Triumph.

Also, the first "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" movies came out within a month of my 18th birthday. Nerd triumph.

Chapter 137: Hot Sauce/If Memory Serves

The summit of Spaulding Mountain is quietly ensconced in a dense thicket of alpine evergreens. Nearly constant foot traffic has eroded the trail, leaving it as little more than a narrow, shin-deep trench, winding its way through the trees. The shrubbery on either side isn't exactly oppressive, but the year-round canopy of pine nevertheless does its best to stifle the wind, silence all sounds, and blot out the sun. Or maybe it's just overcast.

I walk, or rather swim, through a soupy mist, unable to see more than ten feet in front of me. And it is quiet. A carpet of needles lines the trail, muffling my footsteps. If someone were to approach me, from either direction, I probably won't see or hear them until they're nearly on top of me.

All of which is just an ale borate way of saying, the summit of Spaulding Mountain was an extraordinarily poor place to have to dig a cathode.


If you're from New England, and you thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, there's a fairly good chance your trail name will be Boston. If you're remotely from the Boston area, even more so. If you happen to speak with a Boston accent, your trail name will definitely be Boston. If you wear, or even just carry, any piece of Red Sox paraphernalia, your trail name invariably will be Boston. On the other hand, a Celtics cap or jersey will probably earn you a different, more colorful nickname. Like Celtic.1

Needless to say, you can expect there to be at least four or five thru-hikers named Boston on any given year. You can also expect all of them to be nearly indistinguishable. But that will be pure coincidence, as none will claim to know the others—or even acknowledge their existence—let alone admit to coordinating outfits.

I have met several Bostons on this trip. On our way towards the Carabassett River, Buckeye, Fredo and I catch up with one in particular. Which one? I don't know. The fourth one? I'd last seen him in New Jersey or Pennsylvania or Virginia or wherever. Or maybe Massachusetts? Anyway, our reunion goes something like this:


"Oh, hey. It's you."



Fording the Carabassett is a harrowing adventure in and of itself, requiring deft leaps of literally several inches, as we... Okay, so it's not so hard. The water is cool, but we barely get our feet wet, as there are enough rocks and boulders strewn about the riverbed for us to safely make our way across.

Boston decides to camp a little ways away, downstream. Fredo, Buckeye and I make a fire. I scout out the Caribou Valley Road, a tenth a of a mile away, thinking that my sister, Lutricia, might get dropped off there by our parents. But no, the "road" is an almost impassable mess that would be hard to drive with a trail-rated Jeep, let alone a Honda Civic hybrid. I make some rather primitive signs pointing towards where we'll be, then return to our campsite and hope for the best.

The three of us stay awake long past sundown, congregating around the fire, as is our wont. As the minutes turn into hours, I grow increasingly worried and impatient, but there's little I can do but wait. Eventually, the snapping of twigs and appearance of a lone headlamp peering out of the darkness signals my sister's arrival.

It's too late for celebrations, and my sister too tired to do more than introduce herself to Fredo and Buckeye before turning in. The rest of us soon follow suit.

One of my ever-considerate companions—probably Buckeye—decides to see if one can extinguish a camp fire with urine. Turns out you can, but it smells terrible.

I don't dwell on it. I lay awake for some time, but not because I'm too excited or relieved by Tricia's arrival, or feeling some indescribable mixture of conflicting emotions, tinged with melancholy. No, I lay awake mostly because my tent, although generously described as "1+" in its literature, is decidedly too small for two people to fit in, unless they're both lying on their sides, and my sister is sleeping on her back, snoring like a Freightliner downshifting on the interstate.

196.2 miles to go.

1. The same rule holds true for any other professional or collegiate sports team. If you wear an Indians hat, your trail name will be Cleveland. Or Chief Wahoo. If you wear a Mets cap, your name will be New York, if only because Laughingstock has too many syllables. Alternately, if your Ohio State bandana is your one piece of indispensable clothing, your name will be Buckeye.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chapter 136: Waiting For Hot Sauce

All right, I'll be the first to admit, not every day on the Appalachian Trail is interesting, humorous, or filled with incident. Sometimes climbing a 4,000 foot mountain can seem routine. Sometimes playing endless games of "Marry, Boff, Kill" is all one can do to pass the time between breakfast, snack breaks, and making camp.

Also, sometimes you're just not proud of that shelter log entry you left in which you called out "tour hiker" Loud Mouth for being an arrogant, insufferable ass while cheerfully inviting everyone on the trail to punch him in the face. Yes, the less said about that the better.

With that in mind, here's an excerpt from my upcoming memoirs, Memoirs of an Adventure II: Memoirs Harder:
Chapter 30: I Am Become Death, The Destroyer Of Carry-On Luggage

Imagine a post-Apocalyptic landscape. Or the streets of New Orleans after Mardis Gras. Pretty similar concepts.

No people. Just the burnt-out hulks of old strip malls and fast-food joints, trash strewn about, beads collecting in the gutter.

Now imagine floating along amongst the clouds—either as some disembodied spirit, or perhaps as a passenger on Delta Flight 2006 to LaGuardia—alone with your thoughts, your melancholy remembrances of a life gone past too quickly.

Fleeting memories flicker before your eyes in an endless, inexorable stream, like so much bilious vomit forcibly expurgated into a curbside garbage bin, leaving behind naught but the bitter aftertaste of regret and Bud Light Lime.

Imagine all the faces of all the friends you've made and lost, all the opportunities you've seized and forsaken, the sum total of all your choices in life. Do you like what you see?

Or are you apathetic, exhausted, like you're about to slip into a debilitating coma of indifference that you would otherwise have found excruciatingly inconvenient if you weren't already dead...
Wow. Exciting/depressing stuff! Anyway, now that I've successfully distracted you from my unfortunate history of raging misanthropy, let's get back to the narrative at hand.


When I first started this grand adventure, one of my intentions was always to hike a little ways with my big sister. She herself had once harbored the desire to thru-hike, so it only made sense for me to try to involve her as much as possible. Initially, we had planned to hike together for at least a couple of months. She was leaving one job, and had, ostensibly, about three months free before starting another. The idea was that she would come down and meet me, wherever I was, whenever that was, and that would be that.

Plans change, however, and a couple months turned into a couple weeks, which then turned into just about ten days at the end of the summer. Down also became up; I had come so far so quickly that she would now need a ride out to meet me. I was further away from home than she was.

That said, finally knowing that she was meeting me at this road at such-and-such a time had a terrible effect on my ambitions. I knew I only had to do 8 or 9 miles a day in order to make our prearranged rendezvous. Which, on the outside, really doesn't seem like that much of a problem. Except Buckeye, Fredo and I had been hiking fifteen to twenty miles a day, easy. Doing just eight or nine was so... boring.

And with that in mind, here's another interlude, this time an excerpt from Wolfgang Amadeus Derkadur's A Taste of Sadness:
A backyard party. It’s getting late. Mellow music plays. Most of the revelers have dispersed for the night, splintering into smaller groups or going their separate ways. Yet some stalwart friends remain, sitting around a roaring fire spitting sizzling amber embers into the onyx sky.

A happy drunk, she lays languidly across his lap, cradling a half-forgotten beer. She throws her head back in a giant, joyful laugh, her hair tickling his nose. He dares not move, nor join her conversation, lest he disturb their repose.

She rests her head on his shoulder. He is furniture.

Still, he thrills—secretly, silently—at every sensation: her quiet breaths, her warmth, the perfume of her shampoo, the quiver of her body as she laughs…

As if sensing his gaze, she glances up at him, some implacable yearning in her eyes. A tacit question lingers between them, hanging heavy like the smell of woodsmoke and the encroaching darkness. They both know the answer, can feel it in the sudden thudding of their hearts, but can’t seem to put into words...
After a scant 8.9 miles, Fredo, Buckeye and myself settled in at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to for the night. Tomorrow, we had an ambitious 13.1 miles planned, to the South Branch of the Carabassett River, where my sister would be waiting.