Misery Trails

2 Sep

 

And Jon Ritter said, “Who are you?”

The man said his was name was Carlyle and he was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on one leg and was happy to make Ritter’s acquaintance. He hopped back on the single leg and gave Ritter a cool, appraising eye. It was the kind of look that Ritter usually found off-putting. Shit. His boss, Moran, often gave him that face, a kind of challenging look. But on this hot, dry day high in the Sierra Nevadas, Ritter was just too dog-tired to really give a shit. The seven hours he’d been on the trail on this July day were really destroying him. And then this guy had skipped up behind him, seemingly out of nowhere, greeting him in an unmistakable British accent, “Top of the day to you,” causing Ritter to nearly jump clean out of his hiking boots.

“Look. I’m just hiking. Okay? I’ve got a lot of miles to make by Friday.”

“Friday?” the man said. “Ha. So, you’re not a thru hiker.”

Ritter groaned. So, it was going to be that again. He was apparently one of them—a hiking snob. These guys and gals (increasingly there were more women on the trails these days) who labeled you a kind of wimp or tenderfoot. They figured it wasn’t worth hefting it along on these jaunts of several days. They were thru-hikers, giving up months of their lives for these marathon jaunts. Criminy. They let it be known they couldn’t be bothered with anything less.

“Er … no. I’m not a thru hiker.”

“Short hike or not,” the man said with a smug grin. “You’ll never make it like that?”

“Like what?” Rutter said.

“That pack. Bloody hell. What have you got in that thing? A piano?”

“Er … just my provisions for the next several days. Food, blanket, sleeping roll, pocket knife, my paper back copy of Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.”

“It looks awfully bulky to me,” he said, hopping forward on his leg to look more closely at it. “How much weight are you hauling Jack”?”

Jack?

“Never mind. I’m fine sir.”

Ritter turned to go.

“Wait.”

Ritter stopped.

“Would you mind terribly if I hop-scotch along with you? I haven’t really had much company the last few days.”

The fella’s tone had softened. Jesus. The poor guy was lonely.

“Fine,” Ritter said.

“I’ll go slow too.” He hopped up and down on one leg smiling at Ritter.

Damn it, he thought. Who was this dude?

And so, they walked. This guy, he had to be about sixty-five, was a small, compact fella, agile and spry. In fine shape too. Jesus, he sure could move on just one leg. It was all Ritter could do to keep up with him. Occasionally, he turned to see if Ritter was still there—the bastard. At one point, he lit up one of those e-cigarettes, the vapor trailing him and blasting Ritter in the face as he hopped along. Smoking? God. It was too much. And he talked. God did he talk—about politics, European soccer (about which Ritter knew nothing) and hiking. To hear the guy tell it, he’d hiked everywhere, all over America and Europe, even the Himalayas. He claimed to have scaled Mount Everest too. If that wasn’t enough, he apparently was some kind of bird expert too, gesturing with that damn e-cigarette at different species of birds that came into view, emitting these weird cackling noises to communicate with them.

It was Ritter who suggested they make a stop—at the outcropping of rocks near where the trail turned.

“Ah … too tired to go anymore Jack?” the man said.

“Fuck you,” Ritter whispered, but not loud enough for him to hear.

They stopped. From high above, they could both look down and see the water from the snow-melt thundering down the mountain.

Ritter threw back his head and looked to the sky, taking in the sound of that roaring water—the finest sound in nature. Yeah. This was what made all the walking and the sweat and the toil and the humdrum of putting one foot front of the other, worth it. Jeepers. Best decision he ever made in life was taking up hiking all those years ago. Even skiing or getting drunk with Reuther wasn’t this good.

This is great, he thought. He found a tree and sat with his back against it just taking it all in. God, it felt good to be off his feet. He had all but forgotten about his annoying temporary one-legged hiking companion from across the pond when he heard talking. He looked over to see Carlyle with a phone pressed against his ear. Okay, fine, he thought. A lot of hikers brought their phones along any more. He had learned to accept that. Apparently, he was able to get cell service out here.

“I’ll ask my hiking companion here,” he heard Carlyle say.

And then he was gesturing with that damn e-cigarette to Ritter. “Say. Some of my friends are up the trail not far from here. They brought grub. I think Sebastian said something about steaks and beer. You’re welcome to join us.”

Damn. He was hoping to be rid of this guy. But steaks and beer? Jeepers.

“Er … thanks, but no. Gonna try to do another few miles.”

“Yes. Sebastian? It will just be me. Tell Yvonne to simmer my steak over the fire to well done. Jennifer and Misty are going to be there too? And Constance? Ah … splendid. I do hope the beer is cold.” He brought the phone down from his ear and smiled. “Well … cheerio,” he said, giving Ritter a farewell wave as he hopped around the bend of the trail.

Steaks and beer and women? Ritter’s mind reeled at the possibilities. Jesus. Maybe it was time to rethink this.

“Hey wait,” Ritter screamed.

Advertisements

One Response to “Misery Trails”

  1. mreuther September 2, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    Reblogged this on mreuther.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: