April 1, 15.9 mi
Morning coffee was made and shared over the last burning brands of the fire. Voltron, a man who must have been fifty at least, told us about the time he'd been dubbed with the name he here used on the trail.
“I was at a golf course with the same friends I'd had since forever, and we were all drinking, having a good time. All at once I get this idea to run headlong into the giant waterfall in the middle of the course. I ran over all the decorative barriers and stuff straight through the thing. I stayed behind the sheet of water for a minute, feeling stupid, so there was no other way than but to come out with a bang, so I screamed the first thing that came to mind and jumped back through. 'VOLTRON!'
We all sort of laughed.
I secretly noted how the Italian past participle I'd chosen for my trail name in '10 sounded similar to “Voltron.” “Coinvolta,” the past participle of the reflexive verb “coinvolgersi” meaning “to be involved.”
Voltron admitted that he'd had a drinking problem back then, but he'd been sober for 15 years. “A drinking problem” was probably an understatement. Voltron just looked like a guy who'd been drunk for a few decades straight. But now he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Admittedly, we were all hiking, but “Hike your own hike!” isn't just a bumper sticker for tolerance on the back of some amiable's car, years and states away from actually dealing with a bunch of crazy people on a daily basis. It can mean that miracles are attainable. Other states – in the spiritual sense. Voltron stood up straight, hale and energetic, and I deeply respected the effort it must have took him to place one sober foot in front of another.
I took the cigarette that Wobbles offered me. I'm pretty sure that Cackles was drunk right then. Maybe more of that moonshine was changing hands. She also took hits from her chiln instead of eating any breakfast. I steeled myself against the day, eating some of Voltron's m&m's. Kind of nervous.
“So, which one of you was in the army?” I asked. I'd heard Squatch and Cackles talking about how there were a lot of ex military personnel on the trail. Sticks, a woman who'd stayed in the shelter last night and who'd given me a tuna packet and some granola bars, had been in the Navy. And there was someone else somewhere.
“I was.” Wobbles.
“You know,” I said, “I was thinking about joining the army. The marines, actually. The army wouldn't take me. And-”
“Don't do it,” he said.
“Why not?” He leveled me with a look but didn't say another word.
Blue eyes. Curling, close beard. Either very calm or sad. I couldn't tell which.
OK then, I won't enlist. I may have gone through some trauma during the months that it was in my mind. Illegal body enhancement, eyeball replacement surgery. Something.
“GANG RIGHT!” Running as one by the lake through trees in the dark. One arm length's distance from the person ahead. Arnette, the only other girl in the DEP, running next to me, pacing me.
“Just a little farther, Haaser.”
I can sprint, no problem, but when we're talking running for miles in perfect formation after stepping the entire length of the parking lot in squats followed by bear crawls up steep hills, it's difficult to keep going.
And afterwards, always more. We squirmed elbow and kicking legs through inches of slimy mud in the rain that had come on around eight in a downpour. Up the hill on our arms, thrashing our feet behind us to propel forwards, and back down as fast as we can, because--
“DO IT AGAIN!”
We made use of whatever space Columbia could offer us. We grasped tall, metal training bars with one hand, swinging our bodies into an upward trend as the height increased in jagged increments. Did 130 degree situps on an angled wooden plank, someone else holding us at the knees. Mad dash (in perfect formation) through the lakeside dining plaza, where we laughed at the couples eating their sushi. Our mudslide training had been in someone's back yard.
Next day, plank pushups until I dropped to the grass, hoping no one would notice.
“What's your name?” Oh no...
“Haaser, lance corporal SIR!”
“And hold the plank, what's the matter with you!” Revenge for skipping out on football practice beneath a full moon. Towson match coming up. “But I'm not officially DEPed in,” was the excuse I made to myself. I'd gone for a run around the park instead, snaking into the woods.
I got back to the linked batter's cage in the field where they'd been practicing but the corporal they'd got to train us this week was yelling out some information. My friends stood at attention with their feet evenly spaced, arms crossed behind them. Shy but wanting to hear what he was saying, I made sure I was within range.
This guy's M.O.S.detail apparently involved desk work and answering some phones, but he made the strongest members of our group look like idiots. He was fast. Spry as hell he'd flanked our slow columns running uphill then raced ahead, derisively. He wanted us to see the way that he moved. He was tall, cut. Perfect. Of lethal intelligence. He screamed out at us:
“We're going to make monsters out of every one of you. Even the women.”
Being on the Appalachian Trail, while under some degree of duress and extreme weather conditions, it was actually pretty easy in comparison. You can bet your ass I wasn't drinking or smoking anything while I was training with the marines. That would have been impossible.