Blood and Bone and Bits of String

Preface: I haven’t braved the Great Outdoors since I left Alaska in the Spring of 2007, and typically I did so with two good friends, Eric and Amy, both seasoned outdoor types.  I always felt a bit of a Special Cousin around them, but I asked a lot of questions and tried to learn from my mistakes.  I am generally very optimistic under adverse conditions, and refuse to give in.

28SEP09 – Back from a soggy weekend of camping.  The first day was fine.  A gorgeous autumn drive.  Great weather, no worries.  Once on site, the tent went up in a hurry and the fire, after some trial and error, was soon blazing away.  I was anticipating taking some macro shots of the various species of caterpillars and spiders that surrounded the camp site with my new camera, and getting a crash course in medicinal herbs from Cassandra, my camping partner, who’s extremely knowledgeable in this area.  We spoke excitedly about hiking and exploring the local waterfalls the next day.

The next morning, we awoke to pouring rain.  Despite setting the tent on a level surface, the ground cloth had herded the water toward the center of the tent, which was sopped up by the high-tech biscuits of our sleeping bags.  We dried the bags, and enjoyed hot showers at the camp store.  Cass re-staked the tent, I cut dead logs for the fire, and we cleaned up the camp.  Our mood restored, we discussed the pros and cons of what had happened, what piece of gear to bring next time, and which pieces weren’t as useful.

The second night was wonderful: a perfect fire, good company, and a great meal (kebobs, hobo packets, and S’mores for dessert!)  Again, we talked of hiking and exploring the trails as we poked and prodded at the coals, and sipped coffee-flavored vodka from my flask.

The next morning brought more rain.  Worse than before, and negatively impacted our mood.  Conclusions were reached.

See here: I don’t want your second-hand, dry and comfy armchair critique of our painful decision to abandon ship.  “Well, I would have done this…, Well, I’m sure I would have done that differently…, Well, I would have simply persevered, I, I, I…”

No.  Shut up.  You wouldn’t have done any of those things.  You’d have pulled stakes just like we did.  Time and money were spent, and a lot was riding on this trip.  But rain is rain; misery doubly so.

“It appears the Shenandoah simply doesn’t like you.”  This was a direct quote from my less-than-thrilled Camping Partner as we wrung out our gear, packed the car and headed down the mountain.  Silence reigned.

At last we emerged from the mouth of the park and entered the Land Before Time, seeking to purchase petrol for the motorcar from a convenience store which advertised, among other things, coffee.  I had The Need, as I’d developed a migraine strong enough to make a horse squint.  My hands were shaking as I fumbled with a packet of Advil outside the store, and I probably looked like a tweaker; a four-day growth of beard, no socks, camo pants, soggy Keens.  Plus, I reeked like a house fire.

Inside, the ATM was out of order and the place looked like a sty.  There were no cups, there were no lids, and the only coffee had been boiled into pure black LaBraeness in a filthy pot that hadn’t been properly cleaned since Christ was a messcook.  The woman at the register seemed incapable of running any of the four cards we offered her:

Clerk: “We don’t take Discover.”
Cass: “But, the sign says you do…” (pointing at the sign)
Clerk: “I don’t know…” (dips head, looks away from sign)
Me: “It’s cool, I’ve got it.”
Clerk: (runs my card, shakes her head) “No.”
Me: “Uh, okay? Try this one.”
Clerk: “No.” (It is then that I realize the clerk is mentally disabled. So was the guy in line behind me, and the overly-friendly guy who’d held the door open for me. We exchanged looks, and carefully backed out.)

Time passes. I am able to do laundry, Metro/bus/walk home, dry my gear and restore order to my universe.

Back at the Project now, Monday morning.  Coffee for breakfast, hot and glorious. Listening to the Talking Heads, Tunng, and Chroma Key.  Nearly 100 emails in my box, but the only voice mail waiting was the weak and terrified voice of an old woman who’d phoned late Sunday afternoon: “Hello…?  I’ve been trying to reach the veterans hospital for more than an hour now. Hello?”  There was a heavy, defeated sigh before the line went dead.

I called back at the number she’d left.  (I’m such a fucking a boy scout, right? I’m not the veteran’s hospital, and following up random crazy phone calls isn’t my job, but I felt concern.  Something about the waver in the woman’s voice really got to me.  Besides, someday I’ll be scared and deaf and confused, too.  At some point, the world will cease to make sense.  More so.)

An old man answered the phone: “Hello?”  His voice was a creaking shout of uncertainty.

Me: “Good morning, sir.  I received a call from this number from someone looking for the veteran’s hospital, and I guess I was just calling to see if everything was OK..?”
He: “What?  There’s no one here!”
Me: “Yes, sir.  But I received a call from this number from someone looking for the –.”
He: “No, we don’t want any!”
Me: “That’s great, sir, because I’m not selling anything.  But I did receive a call from this number asking about –.”
He: (frail shouting) “What do you want?  I can’t understand you!  Speak English, for crying out loud!”
Me: (slower, louder, more patient) “Sir, I received a telephone call from someone at this number looking for the veteran’s hospital –.”
He: “Leave me alone!”  *click*

I don’t know how else to end this entry, so I will.



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