During a long distance hike the body begins to crave certain things. The obvious longings are hot showers, soft beds and fast food. However one of the more understated desires is the need for human contact. Hikers with significant others can resolve these wants with a phone call home or a quick rendezvous off the trail, but unattached hikers don’t have such luxuries. The key to a successful hike is not to let such vices dissuade you from attaining your wilderness goal. The summer of 2002 I struggled with this concept.
Six weeks into my hike I came across an alluring entry in the shelter’s notebook journal: “Spent the morning picking dandelions around the lake…getting a little lonely on the trail, sure would like some people to hike with…” The entry was written in big loopy handwriting with purple ink and was signed “Violet”. Instantly I was in love.
I read her journal entries at the following shelters; each time picturing a tall blonde skinny hippie hiker girl. The more I read the more I realize we were fated to be together. She likes to hike, I like to hike. She wants a hiking partner, I want a hiking partner. It was as if she was my romantic pen pal. All we had to now was meet. I would catch up.
By the dates of her entries I could tell she was 2 days ahead of me. Doing the math in my head I figured if I hiked 26 miles a day instead of 18 I would be able to meet up with her in four days. The next days I hiked from sunrise well into sunset. At the start of the hike my goal was Maine, now it was just to meet her. I missed a care package at the Post Office when I came through town a day early on a Sunday. My father worried when I missed a day calling home so as not to slack on miles.
But it didn’t matter, I had her journal entries to keep driving me North. On Saturday she complained of running low on fruit, so I decided to save my store bought apples and oranges for her. On Sunday she dreamed of taking a hot bath. She didn’t know what that visual did to me. On Monday she wrote she had contemplated quitting the trail because “it’s not fun anymore.” I wanted to yell “Hold on, I’m coming!” but instead I hiked five miles more that night.
On Tuesday afternoon her purple inked couldn’t have been 3 hours old. It was Tuesday’s date and she planned on: “staying at the next shelter but looking forward to making a crown of dandelions on the way there.” ‘That’s my girl’ I thought obsessively and raced down the trail. The next six miles to the Apple Mountain shelter flew by as I kept running through every scenario in my head. What would I do if we were alone? What if the campsite was packed? How do you pick up girls in the wilderness? I came to the intersection for the shelter and could see a silhouette sitting down on the stoop of the shelter. I threw on the clean shirt I was saving and coated my body in deodorant. It was game time.
I realized we weren’t going to be alone when I saw the silhouette turned out to be a bearded man in his forties whose skin was stained black with dirt. He was sitting on the stoop picking some black junk out his big toe with the toothpick end of his Swiss Army Knife. I asked him if he saw a girl today hiking through. He grunted back in a voice encrusted with years of cigarette smoke, “Naw just some goddamn mowsqeeters.”
He stuck out his hand for a shake and then that’s when I noticed a chain of dandelions hanging from his backpack and purple pen folded in the journal “The name’s Violet. You gonna eat that apple?”
I reached out to shake his hand realizing this rush of disappointment was akin to when my mother told me the truth about Santa; absolutely downtrodden. The only thing I hoped to conclude from the debacle was that it was the last time in my life I would have a crush on a man who looked like Willie Nelson.