Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bugged Out In Virginia: Part 10: The Marginal Man

I was sitting on the side of the two lane old road by a bridge. There was some kind of gravel parking lot with a few cars in it, and every once in a while a backpacker would cross the road and head up the trail. You could hear people splashing around in the water under the bridge, but I didn't even feel like going over for a look. It was hot and humid and I felt like I hadn't had a shower in a week...well, that was pretty much true. It is a thing that I disliked, but still didn't feel inclined to go jump in that 30 degree water in the creek.  I had my mind on more important things, like what was the first thing I was going to do when we got picked up...if our ride ever showed up. Paul and I weren't doing that much talking any more. We had called ahead from the top of the mountain, and our pickup driver had warned us that cellphone reception was spotty down by the parking lot. Paul was walking around holding his phone up, looking for service. I wasn't sure if that was to check on our ride, or if his business was still running or if his stuff was laying out in the yard in front of his home. Yes, he had more important things than food to think about, but I had lunchtime on the brain in a big way.
Even with all of the dreams of food in my head, I was still fascinated by something that I guess I can trace back to my early days in college. Back then the rage was studying society, and I was a huge fan. I can remember thinking how cool it was the way we could just have long hair, and everybody would know we were cool and smile...I mean other young people. The older people would just scowl, and say 'damn hippies!' under their breath. But, that initial Flower Power feeling didn't last as long as I would have liked. I started running into guys with hair longer than mine, that were just mean old rednecks with long hair. And the girls could dress like a flower girl and still be all stuck up.
In front of me now, was a group of through hikers sitting in a semi-circle, and you could really tell it was a closed group. It is the modern day hippie thing, you're in your twenties, nothing to lose, and decide you're going to spend 6 months in the woods with other cool people just like you....only it turns out they are not so cool after all. Most of us find that the mere act of setting foot on the trail with a pack and the intention of spending the night in the woods, is enough to have joined the fraternity of friendly brothers and sisters....but not so fast. Because if you're an old guy or girl, you must be a section hiker, and therefore get marginalized. It would be like a runner waving hello to somebody walking done the street...that doesn't happen. To a runner, walkers are a lower lifeform. And that's how it is with section hikers. These guys in front of me treated me pretty much the same way I got treated in Hawaii by the locals. You ask a question and they look at you as if their hearing aid battery is dead. They speak to each other in low gutteral tones, punctuating the shorthand conversation with occasional looks my way and the a short laugh would follow. It's not always like this, but you recognize the situation when it happens. The trail belongs to THEM, and how dare some old folks or anybody else that doesn't seem cool, try to invade this sacred place. Then an attractive punk-looking young girl walks up, and I suddenly realize that they can hear AND talk. Then another young girl walks by looking more introverted and normal, and they totally ignore her. Wow, I thought, pack membership exists in the woods as well as in high school. I thought about it for a moment and felt glad that I wasn't back in my twenties, trying to fit in with the cool smelly guys. All I really had to worry about was when our driver was going to pick us up and deliver us to the campground with the world's best hamburger.

In the meantime, Paul had found cell reception and had contacted the campground. When I called from the top of the mountain, I had asked the important questions: what kind of food they had, how soon could I get it after she picked us up, and did they really have milkshakes? And if they had milkshakes, what were the flavors?  I got all of the positive responses I could wish for and then began the mountain descent in earnest. She had estimated it would take us 2 hours to reach the base by the bridge and I was hoping she was factoring in our age and the fact that we were flatlanders. I probably made the best time ever on that downhill run, dreaming of all of the wonderful things that were in front of me. You see, that is what backpacking does for you. It reminds you of all the things we have around every day that we can't always have if we were away from civilization.  I was really in the zone until we found ourselves waiting next to the other hikers that made me remember that even backpacking has a class hierarchy going on.
As long as they understood that I was first in line when we got to the campground diner, we were going to get along fine....

1 comment:

  1. Have experienced the very same section hiker prejudice. From arrogant thrus who weren't 40 miles into their hike yet. Bozos.