So I’m sitting on the cold concrete at a pub called the Devil’s Backbone, 5 miles off the trail, 18 miles south of Waynesborough, charging my phone like an electron-obsessed gnome and typing to you because you are so great. (You are. I promise.) The real reason I am here, Best Beloved, is because they have a $5 hiker breakfast and every single southbound hiker I pass has told me of it. ALL OF THEM. I am, honestly, also slightly distracted because they have a really good playlist on inside and the voices in my head are singing along. Anyways….
I was sleeping next to a campfire on the eve before All Hallow’s Eve, having scoped out the campsites, decided the guy seemed a little odd (as one does), petted his fluffy dog, and stuck my pack somewhere else. Then we had cheddar broccoli soup with bacon, and trail magic sodas, and stretched a single packet of hot chocolate into a glorious concoction with Nido (dry milk) and a melted snickers bar, and thus was a great trail alliance formed and great joy and much caramel peanutty hot chocolate was had by all. Yays. That morning had been the second coldest morning I’ve experienced on the trail (Winter?? That’s fake news) and you know those days when you do everything wrong; and all you think is wrong; and everything you say sounds wrong; and you trip over rocks a lot and are sad in your own head because you can never do anything right? Yes. It had been one of those days. (I have made a game of asking people what their worst days on the trail are; and they inevitably begin something like, “Wellll…. this one time it was raining…”)
The thing about sad trail days, though, is that they hardly ever stay sad. I’m at about 1250 miles, now, and asking about miserable days is very hard because too many of them end with things like snickers bars hot chocolate and sleeping by the dying embers of a warm fire, and then you wake up in the morning and devour a shared bacon and cheese and salami bagel breakfast sandwich melted over the fire that you turned into blazing glory from the almost non-existent remnants of the fire you slept beside, and drink the best coffee you’ve had on the trail so far, and wait for the apple bread to finish baking because there were apple trees, all right, calm down, and after all Mother did send the extra pizza dough flour with my flute, and somebody’s gotta. Besides, it’s Halloween. APPLE BREAD.
What I mean to say is that even though I might do many things wrong, if you fall asleep knowing you are exactly where you ought to be every night… finding that place is worthwhile, and a very wonderful thing. It was there when I was teaching; and also it is here, like on the mornings when you climb to the mountaintops, and there is the sky; and there you are. Wind-touched. Standing on the bones of the earth, with sunlight streaming through your fingertips and your heartbeat in your ears, and your breath quietly misting in the air in front of you.
Hum, I mean… It is all right.
These past hundreds of miles have been full of firsts and many other great things. First time sleeping in a shelter with only thru-hikers. Wow. Best apple ever eaten in my life. First time baking wonderful apple bread in a soda can. Best story about carrying a forlorn crested trail rooster 42-odd miles, or something. (OVER FORTY-TWO MILES, BEST BELOVED, WITH A LOST CHICKEN IN YOUR ARMS. This is truth. I met this one; she is one of the ones that you meet and wish you were going in the same direction because we would totally be friends and it would be so great. She was so cool.) First time waking up on a mountainside high over the clouds in the valley below, underneath a full moon, surrounded by a herd of deer. Longest time living out-of-doors, now. Best bacon ever cooked in my cookpot.
Longest (I suppose this also counts with some of my favorites, so add “best”) trail conversation- that was this afternoon, best beloved, from 11am to 3pm, which is long enough for the day hiker you met briefly right beforehand to come back from their successful hike and offer you a ride to the local brewpub. We stood there, then eventually sat there and ate spoonfuls of Nutella and talked about many things, like hiking, and Avatar (Korra, and The Last Airbender, both) and bjj, and sunshine and rains and looming snows and different hikers. I also haven’t showered in about 110 miles (longest time without a shower?) but an old couple walked by during our conversation and asked where we were headed (She: Um, Georgia. Me: Err… Maine) and then they stared at me and said, “Well… you certainly look… fresh… for having been on the trail for so long.” Silence, dubious ones. Someday I will get rid of my respectable nerd glasses and nerd ponytail and grow a beard. We all live in hope. Also obviously they have lost their noses, I think.
RIGHT. Flute. Did I say flute? I meant baroque alto recorder that is mine because of a dream*. It is in my pocket right now and also I may or may not sleep with it at night… But this is only because it is wooden, and freezing is bad for good instruments. Shh.
*The story behind the recorder is that I have a friend who taught with me who attended school at someplace he never mentions, because it is Juilliard. Anyways, one of his professors had a dream that this beautiful old instrument that he had on a shelf was being played over the Badlands in South Dakota (where we both were)… So his professor, naturally, sends him the instrument so it can be played over the Badlands in South Dakota. Since I sometimes pretend I can play alto recorder, or something… er… Long story short, I ended up with the recorder. And instruments like that one should be played. (O truly it is beautiful, dear reader.)
So now I have music; and the mountains, and you, my people. Stay well, and know that my thoughts and prayers are with you wherever you go. Eat much bacon for me!