May 6, 2011
I am soon to meet the hikers who have been just ahead for the last hour or so in our spread-out group. The walk up Walnut Mountain is a perfect ending to a long day: laborious. On the way up I pass a man about my age carrying a very large pack. It looks to weigh far too much to me. Many trucks and cars were parked at the foot of the hill at Lemon Gap, and there are pack-free, buoyant day-hikers springing past me as I trudge up the hill.
The top of Walnut Mountain is open. I walk across the open area and enter the trees on the other side to find the Walnut Mountain Shelter about 100 yards away and sitting just a few feet off the trail.
Tall-guy is there with Dink. A younger hiker with the Husky – mentioned in the last post – is there. A young couple has pitched a tent on the other side of the bear cables. Eventually, heavy-pack guy shows up and drops his pack. It will be a lively evening of conversational entertainment.
Heavy-pack guy introduces himself as “Musher.”
“How’d you get the name?”
“I was hiking behind some people who were going slow and I kept telling them to get moving.”
I couldn’t tell if he was pleased with himself for earning the name. I suspect he was.
Musher kept speaking to the younger guy with the Husky and called him “Frenchy,” and indeed, he spoke with a distinct French accent.
Dink snarled at the Husky, feeling more like a little brawl now that the hike was over. Frenchy and Tall-guy took turns loudly scolding their animals, both of whom seemed completely indifferent to the scolding. A puff of odd-smelling blue smoke from where Frenchy sat in the shelter signaled the start of the conversation.
Tall-guy: “You can’t trust Huskies around children, they’re far too dangerous. They’re barely out of the wild.”
Frenchy: “Huskies are great arund cheeldren, my dahg woodn’t eeven nip at a child.”
Tall-guy: “I’m telling you, they’re just barely evolved from wolves, you can barely trust them.”
Frenchy: “How ken yooo say that? Yoor dahg nips and snarles at every animul that walks by eet. How ken yoo say my dahg cannot bee trusted?”
Tall-guy: “Dink is great around people. He’s never bit anybody. He just has to assert himself with other dogs because he’s a born alpha.”
Frechy: “Thet eez nonsense, yoor dahg…blah blah blah…”
And on it went for 15 or 20 minutes.
Finally Frenchy dismisses the situation, “Yoo don’t know my dahg or his personality. Yoo may az well stay hohm and watch TV, ffffuuuuuu(k).”
Tall-guy and Dink have only hiked 13 miles today, so they’re feeling fresh and want to get to Hot Springs tonight.
“You’re leaving at 5:30 to hike another 13 miles to Hot Springs?”
“Yeh, I think I will.”
The obvious, “You know you’ll be hiking until midnight?”
“Yeh, that’s cool. I wanna make sure I’m in town in the morning. The post office is only open for two hours in the morning and I have a package to pick up.”
Tall-guy and dink take off. I look down the hill where there is a marginal water source about a quarter of a mile. The problem with quarter mile water sources is that it ends up being a half-mile walk. I decide I have just enough for dinner and a few sips in the morning. I’m going to gamble that there will be water on the trail ahead before I’ve hiked far enough to get genuinely thirsty.
Frenchy: “Yoo should go get some water. Yoo kent risk not haffing enuf.”
“No, I’ll be OK, I really don’t want to walk to the bottom of the hill and back.”
I fiddle with my burner and get 16 of my last precious ounces of water heated. Said casually to anyone who was listening, “Cooking is my least favorite part of hiking. I really don’t like food preparation.”
Frenchy, another puff of blue smoke, “Yoo het going for wahter, yoo het cooo-king, you het everytheeng, yoo may az well stay hohm and watch TV, ffuuuuuu(k).”
The evening is cooling off and I can see that I’ll be in the sleeping bag soon just to stay warm.
About that time the couple I had leap-frogged all day walked by on the trail. He never looked left or right, but just powered by. She was a dutiful 20 steps behind and smiles a greeting to me as she passed.
Frenchy: “Whut iz weeth them? They are not very social! Hikers should at least acknowledge each other. There’s no point een being unfriendly. They may as well stay hohm and watch TV, ffuuuuu(k).”
I’m starting to see that Frenchy has a single formula for all problems.
Settling in for the night, Frenchy is on the far wall with Musher in the middle. They exchange barbs. Frenchy is rolling some leaf-like substance in thin paper, rolling it into a long, long cylinder. I brace myself for the onslaught of raw wisdom which I know is soon to follow.
“My dahg weel sleep next to me and we won’t haf eeny problems with mice or bears.”
His statement reminds me of a third-grade riddle we used to ask each other: Why do elephants paint their toe-nails red? So they can hide in cherry trees. Addressing the skepticism: have you ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?
Proof by infallible logic.
I suppose if mice don’t bother me tonight and I don’t get eaten by a bear, I’ll have to concede Frenchy’s point.
Through the evening I hear about two men who went to the North Pole in the dead of winter and found open water where it should have been frozen, hence an impending global warming disaster. But they were dauntless explorers as they jumped in the water and swam from pack ice to pack ice.
I learned about the guy who circled the globe at the equator, crossing whatever terrain was in the way. How he sneaked from one hostile country to another, crossed mountains, deserts, learned to sail a small boat single-handed to cross the Atlantic and Pacific, and all to prove the limits of human endurance.
I learned that there is a registry of dogs who have thru-hiked the trail, and that when he makes Maine in four or five months, his Husky will set the record for being the youngest dog to make the entire journey (minus the Smokies, of course.)
Then I heard about how much Frenchy hates know-it-alls who think they know everything about dogs, but who don’t know anything. I heard how he hates to be told garbage about his own dog when he knows better. Frenchy summed up his annoyance with tall guy in a single expression, “He may az well stay hohm and watch TV, ffuuuu(k).”