This story was written by Cody Quinlan
“Fuck, my feet could use a break…” I exclaimed, as I found a nice rounded stone to sit upon. It was day five out in the woods and the first morning that rain wasn’t coming down on us. Springer mountain was a downpour that continued all the way into the eve of Deep Gap. My feet were covered in blisters. In fact, it looked like I had webbed feet, only the webbing was swollen. It was the kind of misery that really slowed a man’s pace. What the hell though, we weren’t in a hurry anyhow.
“Wanna do a J?” Dirt said as he dropped his pack beside me, taking a seat himself on the nice bench shaped stone to my left. We had packed plenty and made it a practice of stopping every few miles to “check in with Yahweh” as Dirt sometimes called it.
I removed my boots and peeled off my socks. After 78 miles of hiking with wet boots, there is nothing more glorious than that first kiss of wind on bared feet.
I learned a trick for dealing with blisters too just before I had left. You want a small sewing needle and some cotton thread. Get a piece about 6” long in your needle and just sew it through your blisters, just one pass through. Trim the thread on either side so it hangs out about ¼”. This allows the fluid to drain slowly without disturbing the skin. There is nothing worse when hiking than a blister popping, leaving you with that constant irritating, burning sensation. I decided to put it to the test. Dirt passed me a joint, then he placed one in his lips and lit up.
Dirt was a quiet character. An ex-witness turned vagabond. A true American drifter. A real dirtbag, but with class. He was a small, muscular fellow. Dark hair and beard trimmed close to his face. He wore thick framed glasses and looked well educated, which he was. He always tucked in his shirt, said a real man tucks in his shirt. He was a clever gypsy, chose his words wisely and was always unassuming. Always down to travel, a great petty thief and charming with the ladies. We met on a farm in northern Washington several years earlier and became like brothers.
All it had taken to convince him to tag along for this Appalachian excursion was the exchange of 2 emails. The first one I sent just said something along the lines of, “hey man let’s go hike the Appalachian trail.” He had at first declined, saying that he was working a real easy gig in Montana and chasing around two cute Norwegian farm girls. Classic Dirt. I figured I wouldn’t try to sway him but one more time. All I could come up with was, “hey man, think about all the beautiful girls along the way. Besides you know it’ll be more fun than working, lets fucking go!”
To my surprise, I received a phone call three days later. It was Dirt. He told me he was on a Greyhound bus and would be in Muncie in two days time. Downtown station. That was Dirt for ya.
So here we were, five days in, 80 miles down and approaching the tallest summit south of the Smokies. Just as I was starting to wonder what I had gotten us into, and just before I would probably start complaining again about how I packed too much shit, well, this group of young backpackers came lumbering by with packs as big as them. They looked ridiculous and miserable. Hunched over and fighting every step. They seemed pretty chipper though. They even stopped to chat, must have noticed the smell of weed. They told us that they were hiking up to camp on top of the next mountain. They invited us to join them, tempted us with whiskey and steaks. How could we say no? We had been debating on staying right were we were for the night and settling for another can of kippers with a side of peanut butter. Not bad fare, but pales in comparison. So, we hoisted our packs across our backs and trotted onward and upward.
I noticed that the guy in the rear had a rather large cast iron skillet hanging off his pack. Dirt and I chuckled, “How much does that pack weigh with that skillet?” I asked, trying to be a bit sarcastic. “Oh, I’ve got cutlery and all the seasonings and fixings too! Even a gallon of wine and some beer!” he proclaimed. “Fucking hobbits...You guys travel like hobbits!” “God bless these hobbits” “Yes, indeed, God bless them, Dirt” I said.
After achieving the summit, they began to spread out their wares like some type of mountain top bazaar. They had packed an entire kitchen. Turns out that they were only out for the weekend and wanted to live large. Some type of extended school break.
This tiny, wiry little fellow, started setting out cups and filling them with a generous portion of red wine. “FUCK BUCKETS, that’s my name out here, HERE YOU GO!” as he handed each of us a cup. I laughed at the hilarious name, it was perfect. You see out here on the trail a lot of people adopt a trail name. It’s usually some generic hippie or native sounding bullshit like, Sunflower or Sitting Bear. With a name like Fuck Buckets though, I knew we were in good company.
The rest of the group consisted of two other fellows and two gals. One of which was particularly beautiful, long, curly, dirty blonde hair that she had tied back in a ponytail. She was very fit too. I could see the mischief and excitement in Dirt’ eyes as he sparked another joint.
I took a few moments to investigate the terrain and check out the scenery. We weren’t above the timberline, so there wasn’t much of a view, except to the southeastern face. There was a bit of a step down to a ledge. It was halfway hidden by small shrubs, kind of sketchy to get to. It was a very small platform, enough for only one person to stand before it rolled abruptly right off the side of the mountain. The rest of the peak was flat and bald, speckled with grass and lichen. A hundred feet perimeter I would guess. It was a perfect spot to camp.
We pitched our tents and built a fire. It was the start of a glorious evening! Fresh mountain air spiked with the smell of birch smoke and searing beef. We socialized over a communal feast. Trading stories of who we were and where we came from. The wine flowed freely and the whiskey went down smoothly, as the night cool crept across the mountain top.
We became drunk and boisterous. Prancing across the mountain, yelling at the valley the bellow, the sky above, old gods, new gods, and nothing at all. One of the guys got a little close to the edge and slipped. He went down quickly, but I happened to be right behind him and grabbed his arm. He spilt his beer, I told him “hey, that’s alcohol abuse buddy!” We had a laugh, even though as we made eye contact it was understood how serious that could have been. He thanked me with another brew and we stumbled away from the edge and back to the fire.
The girls where dancing around, Dirt was fixated. The other fellows were talking amongst themselves. I knew he was going to try and make out with one, maybe both. I knew he’d be successful too. Since I didn’t know these fellows too well but enough to know those gals were their girlfriends, I wasn’t sure how they’d react, I just yelled, “Everybody in my tent now!”
Now this was a ridiculous thing to request because there was seven of us and I had a small two man tent. We piled in anyways. We were packed in like sardines. We passed the bottle of whiskey and Dirt rolled up some more of that Devil’s Lettuce. It was hot in the tent with us all packed in there, so I took off my shirt. The girls took it as an invitation and did the same. Dirt and I were both grinning now.
We hotboxed the tent until everyone was an obscured silhouette. The wind outside seemed to pick up and the temperature was dropping. We got out of the tent and huddled by the fire, which was blowing sideways, spitting embers like tiny projectile missiles. It started to rain, just a sprinkle. It sent everybody back to their feet, laughing and shouting.
I sank into the moment, I thought what a dream. Here I am, sitting drunk on top of a mountain somewhere in North Carolina, eating steaks, getting stoned, and watching girls prance around topless in the rain. All while some poor bastard, down in some town, fighting traffic to get home. Probably eating a frozen dinner and bologna sandwiches for lunch. The stress of the bills, probably arguing with his wife, instead of making love to her. Just for some paycheck. Society does strange things to folks…
The rain turned into a downpour and the wind became violent. We all ran for our camps without any further words. Now I had a pretty good tent, so I wasn’t worried about the rain. The wind though, it roared across the peak as if some giant was trying his damnedest to blow us off it! I was too drunk and full and comfortable to care.
I rolled over and the lights went out.
I suddenly awoke to a loud blast, like a bomb and I jumped up. Blue flashes illuminated the silhouettes of trees against my tent. White bolts cracked across the sky followed by a din of thunder. It ripped the sound barrier and rattled the very rock we slept on. We were caught in a thunderstorm. A marvelously, horrifying thunderstorm.
I thought of packing up and heading down into a safer region, below the trees. I’d be drenched in seconds I thought. I’d be like a wet, fleshy lightening rod, but then again so might my aluminum tent poles. “Fuck it” I said to myself and laid my head back down. If I am meant to die in a lightening storm on top of a mountain then so be it. Its better than returning to society, finding some dead-end career path, collecting possessions and debt, then dying old.
I was too drunk to walk down the mountain in the dark anyways, that would really be the end of me.
Either way, it’s a gamble.
I laid there and contently listened to the storm, even thanked to universe for the opportunity to witness such a natural splendor.
I began to feel the warmth of the morning sun, slowly heating my tent. I thought, well shit, I lived! I turned to my side, terrified to see another human face almost pressed against mine.
“Hey! It’s just me, old Fuck buckets. My hammock flipped in the wind and filled with water, I didn’t know what to do and figured you wouldn’t mind if I crawled in here.”
He had curled up on the ground underneath the rain fly, but still outside the tent. Our faces were only separated by the screen tent door. Man, it scared the shit out of me.
“I’m just glad you felt comfortable enough to climb in and out of the rain brother,” I said as I laughed and rolled over.
We packed up camp. Drank coffee leisurely. In awe of the nights storm and that we survived. They would be making their descent down the same side we came up yesterday. Dirt and I were northbound. We thanked them, bid our farewells, kissed the girls on the cheeks, and parted ways.
What a wild night, what swell folks. You certainly don’t find that type of hospitality in city limits.
After getting to the bottom of the mountain, we came across a group who were just breaking down their campsite.
“One hell of a storm last night, eh! You guys get caught in it?”
“Sure did, on top of that mountain.”
“HOLY SHIT! Are you serious, you camped up there last night?” One guy said.
“Yessir, camped up there all through it”
“You know what that mountains is called don’t you?” he Asked
“Standing Indian, right?” Dirt said, “Yeah, you know why they call it that? ““Nope”
“Some Indian chief was up there and got struck by lightening and died! You guys are crazy! And lucky!”
Dirt and I looked at each other and laughed, “Was hoping to get luckier,” he said, as we walked off laughing.