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.