This is the first of three part series. Really, the series is just my top three moments on the trail. This is only #3. Number two is in the works and of course #1 will be the last. But you will realize that all of these have to do with people. They're not about beautiful vistas or even sweeping moments of feeling at one with all of the universe. There was a lot of that along the trail, but in a day to day sense, I would have shriveled and died if I had only those to work off of. People are there with you no matter the weather, no matter the terrain, and even no matter of the current state of your heart.
Top Three Moments on the Appalachian Trail: #3
Whiskey in the Wilderness
It was the first time we had spoken of things such as these in a group of this size. They were heavy things. Things about our vulnerability in relationships, the compulsive flaws we saw in ourselves and felt helpless to change, and the tendency to accept less love as a result of these things. Things that hadn’t come up in the last 2,000+ miles and five months of hiking with one another.
It must have been the whiskey.
Mudmouth and Yardsale had the foresight to include in their mid 100 Mile Wilderness food drop a bottle of Maine’s finest local whiskey, that was still sold for less than $20, of course, as by this time all hikers have learned to have a good time on a budget. Gonzo and I had failed to perceive the opportunity in the ‘drunkard friendly’ terrain of the 100 Mile. Weaving between ponds and lakes, you rarely felt you were exerting yourself with the lack of elevation change and thankfully our hiking partners had realized this would prove to be the perfect stretch for intoxicated hiking. This was, after all, the last hurrah of the entire trip and celebration in any way was a must.
We reached the road where our food was to be tucked away, under some brush, in two five-gallon buckets and began sorting through our loot. By having a food drop we had avoided carrying seven full days of food straight through, meaning a very heavy backpack for each of us over a long stretch of trail. We traded in our trash for a new food stash and ate a late lunch. Yardsale and Mudmouth transferred the whiskey into an empty Gatorade bottle and we set out to a shelter only a few miles up trail.
For quite some time we had been putting in a very slack amount of miles. We had been at it for months on end and now that Kahtahdin was in sight we threw on the brakes. Partially to aid in taking in as much of the beautiful Maine north country as possible and partially in hopes of it never ending. This day was no different, but we did realize we needed to hit a daily quota to finish by the day our ride home was to arrive. So when we reached the shelter we took a vote among us: either stay and start drinking the whiskey or hike on and fulfill our desired mileage. None of us felt very ambitious towards the goal but we knew it was best, so in typical hiker fashion we decided to make a less appealing situation more fun in any way we could. This time that meant whiskey. We combined our two options by passing the plastic bottle round for a few swigs each and then set out for a campsite that was right before a road, named Jo-Mary, marking the halfway point of the 100 Mile Wilderness. If we reached this point, it would be a momentous accomplishment for Gonzo, who had previously hiked the part of the trail that still lay before us. If we could reach this point, he would have traversed the whole trail. All of us were excited for this feat.
As we hiked, each time we stopped for any reason, the bottle would float around the circle and it seemed we all kept finding reasons, valid or not. Finally, someone announced they had to pee. It must have sounded like a great idea because our bladders collectively fell like dominos and all four of us stepped off the trail in various places to do our business. We reconvened where we had thrown down our backpacks and took a seat as we did. When the last of us arrived we simply didn’t stand up to keep hiking. A conversation had started right in the middle of the trail.
We shared woes that we had carried, like the gear on our backs, for as long as we could remember. Poor choices that has been made and near misses that we now, in our wiser, older states, realize the gravity of. We expressed gratitude for one another. For every time one of us had been another’s life line. We offered up encouragements to the group and ourselves as we once again, for the second time in half a year, were about to change our lives in a 180 degree about face, this time back to the “normal”. All these things, for all this time had lain dormant among us, despite the wildly tight bonds that had been built between us. Nearly an hour passed as we sat on our backpacks, blocking non-existent traffic, with the rapidly setting sun lowering itself behind the trees.
As Twilight became more evident we eventually brought our attention back to the task of completing our miles. Even if we hadn’t of hiked in a tipsy haze in which we paid little attention, we still had no way of knowing how far we had come. We just knew we should keep walking. By this point we had finished off the contents of the plastic bottle as we sat and decided that the next reasonable campsite we saw would be where we set up camp.
We hiked on and found a spot as dusk was turning to darkness. It was a little clearing nestled by a rushing river with ample space and a fire ring already built. We pitched our tents and hung our hammocks, forgetting the need to reach our checkpoint. In the morning we awoke, broke down camp in our usual manner and set out for a new day. Fifty yards up the trail we came across the road. We had made it after all.