Tag Archives: backpacking

Simple, but Not Easy

This is the fifth installment of a new series about the Mountain Dude.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I walk into Grandview, a tourist town that’s seen better days. There are abandoned mini-golf courses and abandoned shooting galleries, perfect for a Scooby-Doo mystery. There are still tourists, but they are not looking for quaint pastimes. Why play mini-golf when you can play games on a phone in an air conditioned car? Sad. How will kids ever learn to reduce their siblings to tears without trash talking and gloating at miniature golf?

The abandoned golf courses move me, maybe because they represent the death of the past, a childhood gone forever. Or maybe because they’re just sad and represent a bygone era for us all. Or maybe I just backpacked for a week through some serious mountain terrain and I’m a little bit lonely, a whole lot weary, and a little bit teary.

I should write a country song.

Oh yeah, I’m hungry as hell, too. First things first.

Burger. I crave burger. And beer. But mostly burger.

There’s a place with a patio. Good news for me and the people who may be inside. I haven’t bathed for ten days or so and no one wants to be in close quarters with me. No one. I prop my pack against a fence post and sit down at one of the tables. I’m half expecting to be kept waiting and then for a manager, not a waitress, to be deployed to suggest I move along. This happens sometimes, mostly in the East and Midwest, those bastions of supposed tradition, values, and worry. But this is Colorado where they see a lot a wandering folk in the mountain towns and they don’t much care if you’re dirty or deranged or damaged. Plus they’re generally friendly and curious. At least curious enough to see if you have the money to pay for lunch. So out comes a waitress.

“Hi there, can I get you a menu?”

“Burger,” I say. “And fries.” Did I mention I haven’t spoken to anyone since the lady near the lake and after a week I’ve slipped into mono-syllabic caveman mode? Delightfully, she plays along.

“Man want burger? Man want cheese?”

“Beer too?”

“Many kinds. Man want list?”

“Girl choose.”

And off she goes.

I count that among the best interactions I’ve ever had with a person. She brings a pint and smiles. “Did you just hike through the park?”

“Yeah. It was fantastic.”

“I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve done a lot of loops but never all the way over.”

And then I get the flash of feeling, the ESP, or whatever you call it. (I call it the sense. The book, of course, will be called “The Sense”.  Or maybe “The Sensing”.  Has that been done before?) Anyway, this golden blonde long legged beauty of a twenty-something Colorado girl, serving burgers and beers at a pub in a mountain town, is simply a very happy person. Unlike most people, there is no hidden sucking pit of despair and fear inside of her.

“What’s your secret?”

“For what? Hiking the park?”

“No. For being comfortable in your skin. For being content.”

“Wow that’s a little deep. Maybe I’m sad on the inside,” she says and smiles. A couple walks over from across the street and sits down so she moves away with a raise of the eyebrows, promising a return with food and maybe an answer.

When she returns with my burger (large, with cheese and bacon(!) and a heap of fries) she says, “It’s not a secret. I just decide every day to be free and grateful. It’s simple, but not easy.”

“I try to do that. But the baggage…”

She looks over at my pack leaning against the hitching post. “Looks like you put it down over there.” She looks back at me. “Enjoy your food,” she says.

And indeed I do. Gratefully.

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Swamp or Bog?

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Lila asked, “What’s the difference between a bog and a swamp?”

“No idea. Standing water in a swamp?” JJ peered out over the cattails from beneath the brim of his cap. Early afternoon in sticky late summer.

They lounged under a tree on dry ground above a bog in New Hampshire. Or was it a swamp? It smelled like a swamp. But, everything below the mountain ridges smelled swampy and fetid in the humidity. The shade was good, especially if you stayed still. Dragonflies hovered and darted, like technicolor futuristic bi-planes. JJ thought dragonflies to be living proof of God. What a creature! Of course, God also created the mosquito, so hold the applause.

“That sounds right. Standing water. Pools of water in a swamp. Spongy ground in a bog.”

“Either way, it’s nice to be up here above it all. High and dry.”

“High and dry,” she murmured and dozed off into a boggy half-sleep. A murky continuing of a dream from the night before. A variation on the chasing dream. She is being pursued through a mazelike series of scenes from her life. A camp where she used to be a teenage counselor. She hurried through the arts and crafts cabin and overturned a bin of perfect oak leaves for tracing and art projects, and felt a surge of sadness. Then she was in Boston from her college days, pushing through tourists at the public gardens and disrupting wedding pictures on the bridge above the swan boats. The wedding party all looked at her without expression as she rushed through. She fled the gardens and emerged on a street in Paris, where she always wanted to go but had never been. She somehow found a bike and sped down the Champs Elysees like a figure in an Impressionist painting, more panicked now because she speak French at all. Weren’t they snotty if you couldn’t speak French?The-Champs-Elysees-Paris-xx-Georges-Stein

Who was the pursuer? Who wouldn’t just leave her alone? She never got a clear look. Sometimes she would turn and just get a glimpse of a figure wearing a dark hoody walking after her, unhurried and relentless, not concerned at all that she could get away, biding his time until she tired and fell or just stopped.

“Lila.”

Paris broke up, her dream bike wobbled, the image faded, the fear remaining.

“Lila,” JJ whispered and shook her shoulder.

“Hmmm?”

“Let’s get moving. We have to do another 5 miles before dark.”

Oh yeah, backpacking in the heat, in New Hampshire.

“You know,” she said. “Let’s go ahead and invite Carl for a few days.”

JJ was quiet. “I thought we decided about this.”

“I know, but he was really weird when we called the house. That tornado…a close call…”

JJ sighed. “Okay. I guess it’s the right thing to do. Especially with his marriage all messed up again.”

“We’ll call when we get back tomorrow.” Don’t seem too eager, she told herself.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

“You go ahead,” Lila said. “I’ll follow you.”

“Ha,” JJ snorted. “I’ve been following you since yesterday.”

“My turn to chase you,” she said and hoisted her pack.

“Who’s chasing anyone,” JJ said and hoisted his own.

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