March 27, 12.1 mi
Moose, Mooch, and Butcher caught up with me very easily. It turned out they were all rowers. I decided to give up on preparing hot meals after I saw Moose's setup. The small tank of fuel and snaked cord might have been expensive, and maybe it was advanced, but there is no way to determine these things. It looked heavy.
Prioritize: What is necessary on this hike? What will help me?
Realize: I've come such-and-such miles today. Fact.
I slept in my tent again, in front of the shelter, while the crew braved the hard boards and potential bug bites. Wild snarling and eerie calls kept me awake for about two hours.
“What is that?” I asked whoever was awake on the platform above.
“Probably cyotes,” Butcher said.
“Oh.” I writhed in fear on the ground, unable to help myself.
March 28, 8.1 mi
In the morning I set out to follow the girls but they were soon too far ahead, it didn't merit my straining myself. I took a break from sun and hiking by sitting down and applying some sweet-smelling sunscreen lotion encased in a mint green pill box a woman named Poco a Poco had given me. Butcher found me easily set on the slightest of flat stones, bare legs straightened across the trail, barring the way.
When I saw him staring, I lifted my chin an proffered a smile, hopefully fetching yet – as I've come to realize lately – rather wolfish. Yes?
“I walked about two miles an hour faster than I'd planned all the day before yesterday, just to catch up with you,” he said.
March 29, 7.4 mi
It turned out that Butcher had gone to Loyola for school. I have an obsession with Jesuits loosely based on James Joyce and specifically on young men who've been taught in the Jesuit way, so I let him hang around and tell me stories about other jocks turned thespian playing in their production of Rocky Horror Picture show. The images I got from his descriptions were perfect and I began to feel turned on as I walked. I suggested we make another stop.
But when I leaned towards him with the intent of kissing him, Butcher turned his shoulder to block me and looked the other direction. My salient pride here became unbearable, because all I could feel were its barbs and his slight, imagined by me to be nothing but malicious. “How inconvenient!” I thought. “I spend all my time breaking myself in with this person, and now they won't even make out with me?” All sensitivity to wavelengths alternative to those basically sexual in nature was gone from me. We walked on together after sharing some chocolate chips and cranberries, but all I felt was awkwardness and resentment.
We passed a heavy woman in a light blue, ill-fitting tank top rummaging in a bush to the side of the trail. Her stuff was spread out everywhere, just trashed. I couldn't focus on her stuff or realize what it was because she took up the entire frame. She was just so strange. She greeted us, cigarette hanging limply out of her mouth, and Butcher returned a curt hello. The woman talked on at great length, swaying chaotically from side to side, about how she'd gotten a late start that morning.
“My husband's picking me up soon at the road. Do you know how to get to the road, that road around here? My husband can wait. We've been married a long time. He can wait. Besides, I'm on drugs."
I was about to question her further when Butcher murmured at me quickly without turning his head or looking at me, “Let's get out of here.” The seriousness in his tone got me to follow him immediately. Without thinking about it too much, we just walked away. Walked on through lightly-colored fallen leaves up one gentle rise, then steeply downwards. Past a shuffling zombie figure in tattered pants with a bright orange plastic square pinned onto his exterior frame pack. Caution. I'll never forget the sunken tunnels leading to his black, dead eyes. His striking, beautiful face. A demon! I almost fell down the way staring. There was very little footroom for us to pass and he was dragging himself so slowly that he looked like he was about to collapse, just propped up by his legs. How long had he been walking?
Without saying anything, Butcher had taken on an official role. He was pleasant, as far as cops go. He shared his food with me when I said I was hungry and he was smooth sailing, no placating involved. I knew I owed my safety that day to him, and I don't think there's anything I could have done that would have ruffled him. Absolutely nothing. So, I got a little frustrated.
Later I was sitting down at Deep Gap Shelter's picnic table with other hikers eating food, reading someone else's trail journal, and listening to Ryan talk. He was so appealing to me after that very long, trying day that I actually began to shake and had to cross my arms on the table. He'd been a musician at Peabody he said, sable locks falling into his eyes. I focused on his lips moving, telling me he was an adherent of AA. He hitched to Helen, GA “to take pictures.”
However little I knew about the area through which we'd been hiking that day, everyone had told me that Helen was a boozer's paradise in mock German style. I felt seriously ill. I got up from the table.
“Where are you going?” Ryan asked me, following.
“Hiking.” Get the hell away from me before I...uh...just go.
“At least take my knife!” Butcher actually ran after me with it. What the drat do I want that for!? I ran. "I guess women don't have souls!" yelled Butcher.
I didn't get a hitch to Hiawassee, GA, though I don't know what I would've done there anyway at three in the morning. I settled for a few cigarette butts and the thought that, one day, I'd find some crazy, mutant hick wandering around and I'd steal his meth. Or drat him for it. Our heavenly father forbid!
Up out of the gap I climbed, scaling mountain after mountain in the cool night air. Finally I stood still, tired, and breathed deeply in and out for a few minutes. Then I scanned my flashlight around me.
Huge boulders lay all around, as if they'd been recently thrown there by giants. I was on a slanting surface with the travelled AT footpath being the only level ground. Split pine trees rarely blocked the path but I remember a few huge ones spiking out violently near me in the dark. It was completely silent. Stars, all the stars in the sky, were out. And I could see them.
I felt fine, if remote. This rabble ravine, far away from every human being, was at the lowest point between two huge mountains. The path I was currently on meandered at the level of the forest floor as if it were a small brook. If anything did happen, if a giant bear smelled my food and attacked, I would not be able to defend myself or get help. But I felt so at home in the dark wild that my thoughts only temporarily dwelled on danger. I set up my tent directly on the trail, flashlight in my teeth, as it was the only flat space I could see, threw in my pack, unclicked my mat and rolled it out, then lay down for what would be an untroubled sleep.