Friday, November 14, 2014

50. Running Into Hikers You Haven't Seen in Ages

The trail has an absolutely magical way of bringing you back to people in your hiking class who you see once, don't see for weeks, and then suddenly run into again. Just due to different hiking paces, sometimes you can lose track of someone for almost the entire trail, and then find them again days or weeks or months later. To illustrate this beautiful phenomenon, I want to tell you the tale of The Stallion.


One late evening, in the Shenandoah Mountains, Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck and I were getting ready for bed. The sun was down, and it had rained all day. We were set up for camp about 100 feet up a hill behind a shelter that had been empty before the sun went down. As we were settling in, a gentleman in his 30’s trotted up to us in the dark, and introduced himself.

We couldn’t see his face very well, but we all chatted for a little while before going to sleep. We learned that this hiker’s name was Elias, and he was just planning on hiking for 10 days before he had to head into New York City for a new job in business. In addition, he told us a series of absolutely true, completely insane life events that led up to him hiking the trail… none of which are appropriate or family friendly, but all of which was hilarious. Some of it was sad, but told through the voice of a relentless optimist, a true hiker spirit. Eventually he bade us goodnight and went back down the hill to sleep in the shelter. 

In the morning, as we were stretching our tired bones and packing up our bags, Elias came back up the hill.

“Hey, uh… I made a little bit too many noodles. Anybody want any noodles?”

“I’ll eat some noodles!” Dumptruck offered, and stumped off down the hill behind Elias, as Elias chatted animatedly about this or that. At the bottom of the hill, he found that Elias had accidentally made enough teriyaki noodles for breakfast to feed a small army. As he and Dumptruck ate and chat, eventually there was a moment of natural silence.

“You want a cigarette?” offered Elias.

“No thanks,” smiled Dumptruck.

“Cool,” Elias nodded, thinking for a minute, and then offering, “You want some bourbon?”

Elias (his backpack is on the ground just behind this)
Elias was not being pushy, he was only doing what we found that he was best at: sharing all he had. If you invite someone into your home you might offer them a drink or some snacks. In the woods, at Elias’ tent, there was soggy noodles and bourbon. At 7am.

We came to find out that Elias had a backpack that weighed nearly 70 pounds, and in all of that, he did not have a map with him. His backpack was gigantic and red, and had several pots and pans hanging off of it as though he were Samwise Gamgee. He hiked with us for 2 days, and although we didn’t mean to hike faster than him, we naturally had a quicker gait, as we’d been hiking for months and he had just started… with a backpack the size of a 10 year old child. 

Several times Whistle would stop suddenly on the trail and whip around to the sound of thud thud THUD CLANG CLANG CLANG as Elias literally sprinted down the trail to catch up with her, his enormous backpack bouncing around as he hurtled down the hill.

What a smile!
“You don’t have to run, you know, I’d be happy to wait for you,” Whistle would say, smiling at Elias as he caught up to her, panting for breath.

“No way!” said Elias cheerfully, “You’ve gotta hike at your own pace! It’s up to me if I want to try and keep up.”

Eventually we did have to lose him, only because he was planning on only hiking 10 miles a day or less, as he was just on a short adventure and had a job to get back to. We hiked with him for about 2 days and then said goodbye, figuring rationally that we’d never see him again.

Fast Forward to Vermont (months later).

Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck, Catch, The Hunger and I were already settled in our sleeping bags in a shelter just north of Manchester Center. After a nice campfire and dinner with several other hikers, everyone got into their bags, turned off their headlamps and let the sound of the crickets filter in. It had only been dark for a moment, when there was the sound of two more hikers making their way into the shelter. It sounded like a man and a woman, and the man's voice sounded strangely familiar, like the echo of a memory. I felt like I'd heard that laugh before, but in a different life.

I rolled over and whispered to Dumptruck, "Does he sound familiar?" 

"Oh my god, Elias??" Dumptruck suddenly asked, turning on his headlamp and looking up just as the two hikers marched into the shelter. The man had a scraggly beard and was wearing, incongruously, a 3-piece suit, with the sleeves of the suit jacket and shirt ripped off at the shoulders. The tie was still in a nice knot around his neck.

"Holy S---! Dumptruck!" he cried, throwing his hands in the air and laughing in that particular way of his.

"What happened? I thought you were in New York City for work?" asked Dumptruck.

"Well, I left Virginia after those 10 days, but I was having so much fun... I really didn't want to go. I went into the City, bought myself a suit, and went to my first day on the job. Halfway through the day I was just like, eff this! I'm going back to the woods! so I just walked out, got on a train north to Bear Mountain, and I've been hiking north ever since!"

"Is that the suit you bought for your job??"

"Oh, yeah. I figured, I spent so much money on it, it shouldn't go to waste. But it was way too hard to get anything done. So I ripped the sleeves off."

This was the third time we found The Stallion, after we summited Katahdin. But it's a pretty
good portrait of his suit.
"That's awesome, Elias," said Dumptruck with a grin.

"Oh, it's The Stallion now."

"How'd you get that name?"

The Stallion responded with another very true, very family inappropriate story.

"That's perfect," we all agreed.

"Well it's so great to see you again, Stallion!"

Suddenly, he went black in the eyes... and for the first and only time in my entire friendship with this person, all the joy vanished off his perpetually joyful face. He looked right at Dumptruck and said in an even voice just above a whisper,

"It's The Stallion."

"Gotcha, The Stallion," said Dumptruck immediately.

"Thanks, man!" The Stallion grinned.

Here are two of my favorite The Stallion quotes:

"Bears? Oh yeah, I seen a bear. I whipped out my jam box and started pumpin' some Primus and that bear ran away."

"I've never been arrested with my shoes on."

Clever Girl

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