Let me first apologize for the lack of pictures from the weekend hiking trip (see Part 1). My digital camera, though a mere 5.7 ounces and fits in any pocket, was quickly spotted by Friend #1, determined to be an unnecessary addition to the load, and was tossed into the trunk of my car. “That shit adds up, man,” he explained as he transferred yet more crap from his pack to mine in the parking lot of Vogel State Park.
Despite boasting that I was probably in the best shape I’d been in for 15 years, I soon realized that the equation changes when you become a human mule carrying 30 pounds of jerky at 2500 feet above the carpeted living room where you normally perform your silly hops and buttock pinches. Not to mention the trails themselves. Although not specifically mentioned in the trail guide, Bear Hair Gap Loop and the Coosa Backcountry Trail were apparently designed by Dutch artist M.C. Escher, i.e. no matter which direction you choose, you’ll be going up.
I also discovered that under such conditions I develop a temporary sort of Turrets syndrome (for any Turrets sufferers or sympathizers out there, I’m not making fun of the affliction, just myself, so don’t get your panties in a bunch). Within the first 30 minutes of our ascent toward Slaughter Mountain, and the close-by but no less comforting Blood Mountain, I noticed that I would blurt out some winded nonsense like “hoooowaaaah” or “ussshhhhoooooga.” At other moments, perhaps when I got hungry, which was about every three minutes, I’d say “BAM” as if channeling the human ewok Emeril (thanks to Anthony Bourdain for that description) and on another occasion exclaimed “manna from heaven!” when I saw a skink slither up a chilly stream that crossed the trail.
We had carefully read the warning signs about bears and shared other various assumptions we brought with us, all of which suggested that the best way to survive a black bear encounter was to fall to the ground in a fetal position, something I assured my friends came naturally to me. But nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered.
Not far in, we heard noises behind us. This god awful noise got louder and louder, closer and closer, until the sinking feeling in our pits gave way to recognition. It was French.
“Shit,” I said. “Or should I say ‘merde.'”
For some reason I decided this was a good time to take a pee. About mid-stream, Friend #2 gave me the waving hand sign, which I was pretty sure from having watched Top Gun a million times in high school meant “turn left,” which I did. Now facing back down the trail, I saw what looked like a teenage girl bouncing along through the edge of the trees, so I had to stop and quickly zip up.
I can honestly say I had no previous animosity toward the French. But this family of four sounded like ten. As they passed by, the father and son started shouting “Setanta!” at each other. “Setanta! Setanta! Setanta!” As I now know through Google, this isn’t French at all. For some reason, they got great enjoyment out of yelling this word, which is either the name of an Irish boy or of a European soccer channel. Next time I go to a bibliotheque (that’s a library) in Paris, I will be sure to return the favor and shout “Seamus! Seamus!” or “ESPN! ESPN!”
We did everything we could to get away from them, but without success – we took detours, let them pass, sped up to put distance between us. But they lingered like a fart in an elevator. Finally we gave up, picked out a camping spot, and began setting up for the evening, and only then did they disappear.
That evening we built a fire, more because I like to burn stuff than anything else. But it also got us talking about how different our lives were the last time we got together without a child or spouse present. “It’s a strange thing, life,” I said trying to be profound while lying almost prostrate like a snow crab, stretching out my cramping right quad that was pulling my groin half way down to my knee.
After a sleepless night thanks to 25+ mph winds, we packed up and had to get back to civilization, meaning duty and family. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, I’d trade the French. Jesus, those people!