Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chapter 146: The Final Present Tense

The days have long ago begun to bleed together.

The landmarks mentioned in my Handbook no longer bear any significance; they are merely items to be checked off a list, the last obstacles to be overcome on our long trek to Katahdin.

I read "East Branch of Pleasant River (1210') ford" and instead of thinking, "Ooh, water! Gosh, I want juice" before sobbing uncontrollably for twenty minutes, all I can see is that I have 67.5 miles left, and that I might have to get my feet wet.

"Little Boardman Mountain (1980') left 100 yards to summit" says to me that I've got 64.3 miles to go, and that I definitely won't be getting to see any rewarding views, nor gleaning any real sense of accomplishment, because there's no way, at this point, that I am going to hike that extra tenth.

"Crawford Pond (1270') sand beach." My stalwart companions. My friends. My backup singers. My partners in crime. The angels, and devils, on my shoulders. Storytellers. Jokesters. Only 62 miles to go, then we part ways forever.

"Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to (880') sleeps 6 (1956) swimming." I thought about staying there, once, before my sister's plans changed. She has to get to White House Landing early tomorrow to get a shuttle to Millinocket, where my parents are picking her up. Duty—or, more accurately, gainful employment—beckons. So we press on. 59.7 miles.

"Jo-Mary Road (655') Cooper Brook" isn't even a road, more a disheveled dirt path. Meanwhile, who's Jo-Mary? Why does she have a road named after her? And what kind of name is Jo-Mary anyway? People from Maine are weird. 56 miles.

"Antlers Campsite (500') right 300 feet, vistas." Another possibility, passed up like so much day-old garbage. In this case, I'm at least tempted to take a look, if only for the opportunity drop my pack for a while, its stays creaking with my every step, straining beneath the weight of so much dried sweat, humiliation, and uncooked oatmeal. Plus, is that a picnic table? But no, we have to press on to the Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to, leaving us with only a short, less than three mile hike into White House Landing in the morning. 51.8 miles.

"Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to (710') sleeps 8 (1995)" sounds groovy. And new! I wonder if that means it'll have running water and air conditioning. Or at least more than three walls and a fire pit. Nope. 48.3 miles to go.

"Wadleigh Stream Lean-to (685') sleeps 6," at 38.2 miles out, is where we'll stay tomorrow, after Tricia catches her ride at White House Landing, and we fill up on half-pound burgers or whatever. Beyond that, we've got the Hurd Brook Lean-to (18.6 miles), then either "The Birches" Campsite (5.2 miles) or Millinocket, and then Katahdin itself (0 miles)... And then what? Food? Sleep? Finally listening to that "Alejandro" song Fredo keeps raving about?

Tonight, I will dream of drinking a cold glass of lemonade, of an endless series of rocks and roots and trees and bugs buzzing around annoyingly, of the Peaches being trampled to death during the night by a herd of rampaging moose, and of Katahdin.

Even after all this time, the dream is still as vivid: I take the final step onto the tableland, and the summit unfolds before me. There's the sign marking the northern terminus of the Trail, and the end of my journey, and there she is beside it, waiting for me. Waiting for me with a box of pizza, a bottle of birch beer, and a smile. Ready to welcome me home.

Back in reality, I linger by the fire, staring at my Handbook, my journal, and clutching my secret treasure: a few ounces of precious metal, crystalized carbon, and aluminum oxide. A family heirloom, brought to me by my sister. How will the dream end? In fireworks? A hero's homecoming? Wrapping her in my arms. Crying, probably. And eating that damn pizza...

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