I Thought YOU Packed the Water Bottles

Due to the stupidity revealed in this story, our names have been changed to protect our identities. My husband, Ed, will henceforth be referred to as "Herb," and I will be "Sally." Herb and I are experienced hikers. We've read A Walk in the Woods. Deer along the trailWe've camped in a wildlife management area (not realizing it was the first day of hunting season)and woken to the peaceful woodland sound of BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Afraid we'd be mistaken for deer, we sang loudly as we hiked back to the car. "99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer…" Hunters like music as much as anyone, right? And of course real deer are probably attracted to singing, so the hunters out that day must've bagged a record number of bucks. I'm sure that was one happy bunch of hunters!

We've gone on a long hike on rocky mountainous terrain in new sneakers that raised huge blisters in the first half mile and had to hike the rest of the way barefoot. We've gotten lost hiking in the snow. So, see? We're experienced. We know what we're doing. Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip… It started on a beautiful, warm fall day. A really warm fall day. It just got warmer and warmer. Okay, it was a hot fall day. We had plenty of water and snacks for a five-mile hike. The trail marker said five miles to Exhaustion Peak. "Five miles," I thought. "That's a good length." "C'mon, Herb, let's do this trail," I said enthusiastically.

And poor, trusting Herb said, "Okay." So off we went. We had already hiked at least a mile to get to this point, but my brain just saw "five miles" and accepted that the hike would be five miles. It didn't even think about the five miles return trip to this point and then the extra mile to get back to the car. That makes…. my brain still has trouble with this… more like twelve miles.

The first hour was fun. The second hour was fun. The third hour our conversation went something like this. Herb: "I bet we're close to the peak." Sally: "That looks like the top." Herb: "Hmph. I couldn't see this part of the mountain a minute ago." Sally: "Yeah. That last rise looked like the top." Herb: "Maybe this one is the peak." Sally: "I bet it is." Herb: "Hmph. That sure looked like the peak. How come we're still going up?" Sally: "This mountain is awfully tall." Etc.

We picked and ate blueberries as we walked. We got hot. I wished I'd worn regular shorts instead of short overalls. At last - triumph! We had reached Exhaustion Peak! We sat down to rest and admire the view. That is when my brain cells began to dimly stir and nudge me. "Oops," said my brain cells. "We hate to mention this, but we've already hiked six miles, and… gulp… WE STILL HAVE TO GO BACK. Aaaaarrrgghh."

We were hot and out of water and snacks. We'd told our daughters we'd be back by 7 pm. We had no choice but to start hiking back. An old leg injury was starting to act up. It had been nearly all uphill to reach the peak, and it was all nearly uphill to get back to the bottom of the mountain! Now that just didn't seem fair. We began to look more desperately for blueberries. We were thirsty. We ate sassafras leaves. We started to doubt our landmarks. "I don't remember that fallen tree. Do you?" The sun was going down. We kept hiking. Slower. And slower. And slower. "I see the trail marker!" I said. Herb saw it too. We were so happy! Until we were only a few feet from it, and realized it was a mirage. A thin tree stump had used exhaustion and dim lighting to disguise itself as a concrete trail marker. We heard thunder in the distance. We kept trudging. My leg hurt with every step. Our pace was down to one mile per hour. Herb heroically produced a few blueberries he'd been saving in his pocket. We finally got back to the car just before complete darkness fell. Hooray! Next stop: the visitor's center where we could get FOOD and WATER and call home.

When we pulled into the parking lot, the visitor's center was CLOSED for the night. But lo, a star appeared over a nearby shed, and a light shone forth from within. We followed the star to the shed, and Glory in the Highest! VENDING MACHINES! And a telephone. So you see, the story has a happy ending. Herb and I spent the next couple of days being extremely grateful for sofas. This summer we're planning a 100-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. Herb is buying all kinds of cool camping gear to make our packs heavier, and I'm gaining weight, so I'll have plenty of body fat to draw on if we don't pack enough food. See you on the trail!

Hiking from Your Armchair: Books about Walking

As Far as the Eye Can See: Reflections of an Appalachian Trail Hiker by David Brill.
David Brill's classic account of his 1979 hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine has stood the test of time--and thousands of "thru-hikers" since--as one still treasured by those who love great writing about nature and the outdoors.
(Book jacket)

A mountain stream Walking the Appalachian Trail by Larry Luxenberg.
A collection of accounts by trail thru-hikers, presented by topic, offering the reader immediately useful information. Includes… stunning color photos by Mike Warren.
(Publisher's commentary)

On the Beaten Path: An Appalachian Pilgrimage by Robert Alden Rubin.
Of the "thruhikers" who set out to walk the entire Appalachian Trail, about one in every ten actually makes it. Robert Rubin's chances did not look good. Thirty-eight years old, dispirited, and burned out by a job he'd once loved, he dreamed of leaving mortgage and wife and cul-de-sac life behind for a journey that could take half a year - or perhaps never end. On the wooded ridges Rubin found himself part of a strange vagrant culture of pilgrims and dropouts, a world with its own rules and rituals. With eloquence and humor, he recounts his trek - the people he met, the landscapes he passed through, the spiritual and physical endurance involved (despite a diet heavy in Snickers bars and macaroni & cheese, he lost seventy-five pounds along the way). On the Beaten Path is a wise, witty look at one of the few remaining pilgrimages in our ironic disillusioned age.
(Publisher's commentary)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.
[Bill] Bryson … plunges into the wilderness and emerges with a consistently comical account of a neophyte woodsman learning hard lessons about self-reliance... Most amusing is his cranky, crude and inestimable companion, Katz, a reformed substance abuser … The uneasy but always entertaining relationship between Bryson and Katz keeps their walk interesting… Bryson completes the trail as planned, and he records the misadventure with insight and elegance.
(Publishers Weekly)

Reasons to Stay Home: Scary Fiction about Hiking Hello, Mr. Black Bear

In the Forest of Harm by Sallie Bissell.
An assistant DA returns to the North Carolina mountain country of her youth in Bissell's hair-raising camping-trip-gone-wrong debut thriller. Gory scenes abound in this punched-up female version of Deliverance, but Bissell is particularly good in describing how Alex, Joan and Mary's friendship sustains them and is strengthened over the course of their harrowing adventures. Even though the three women pop up cartoonishly each time they are felled, and their pursuers are supernaturally crafty, the tale compels with its depiction of desperate camaraderie and descriptions of gorgeous mountain scenery.
(Publishers Weekly)

Tracked in the Whites by Tom Eslick.
Buchanan is a science teacher at a New Hampshire boarding school, which opens every year with student-teacher hikes in the White Mountains. This time, the hike brings trouble: a prowler ghosts the campsite, and Dee Tyler, a famous rock star's daughter, disappears. With Will the prime suspect in all the mayhem, he sets out to clear himself. Offering realistic characters, striking autumn mountain scenery, a fast pace, and a clear, strong plot, this first novel is fresh and accomplished. Further, Eslick's story is superbly confusing and filled with so much paranoia and deception that readers will not sort out friends, foes, and killers until book's end. (Booklist)

The Walking Tour by Kathryn Davis.
In some unspecified year in the 21st century… Susan R. Rose hides away on Maine's coast, in what was once her family home, reconstructing the events that led to her mother's disappearance and certain death during a walking tour through Wales, when Susan was 13. Equipped with letters and cards sent by her mother, a famous painter; a stack of unlabeled photos; a transcript from a wrongful death suit; and a laptop notebook her mother's oldest friend (and deepest rival) kept, Susan pieces together the spats, jealousies and sudden couplings of the tourists on a pilgrimage.
(Publisher's Weekly)