Some time has passed, that is for certain. Here is a little mental picture of where I am at. (Insert dreamy music, and fade into deep memory)
I have well over 3000 miles under my belt. My 75LB pack cut out the carbs and got itself down to a full load, less food, of 13.6 pounds. My old hiking boots have turned to Huarache sandals if i wear anything at all. My luxuries now consist of a toothbrush with NO holes (albeit cut in half) and a solar charger to keep my phone up to date so that I can contribute to my new found love of photography as I hike. My head stays up when I hike now and my heart takes much longer to become lonely. I feel more at home in the woods than I do at home and I find more appreciation in the changing of a leaves color than I do in the election and civil rights movements that are taking over the country.
Anywho, my point is….. I am a bit past my first 106 miles and hiking no longer brings “problems” for me as much as it does “opportunity.” I am pretty comfortable on the trail these days. I dont hesitate to put in night miles, or take off in the rain. Sub zero temperatures just means a slightly different routine when I set up and break camp and my values have become much more simple. I hate money more than ever, and cherish silence as most would their last meal.
Something else I have learned…. happiness is only true when shared. Who or what you share it with falls under the euphemism “to each their own.” That being said… this story is not about me at all… but if it was not for who I was, and not for the things I loved, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the story about the last time I saw a tortoise with Rigor mortis.
I know by now you are thinking…”what in all hell is this whacked out scallywag muckin about??” Well……
The fog rolls across the lake like a modern day smoke machine appeasing the dance floor masses. The sun has yet to wake up and we are 3500′ feet up on our way to breakfast. If we push hard enough we can have our food ready by the time the sun shows its face, and if all works well we will set ourselves up for three summit’s today.
The rock is slippery because in late September the night brings a light dew. The roots are covered in mud from the hundreds of free souls that came before us. The kicked up rocks trail with crashes and bangs as they roll out from under your feet down over the hundreds of meters of ledge below. The trees saturate your clothes as you brush up against them. The spider webs, with their morning dew glistening in the late moon, look like vertically strung trampolines for the small. The grouse above kicks dirt at your feet as you pass to close to her nest and dark amplifies every sound.
Then in the distance you hear a gruff mans voice…. “fuckin jesu….son of a mutha…. you co… fu… bastar…. assho…..”.
I can’t lie… these kinds of things stick out a bit when you haven’t heard another person speak in two days. Honestly though… I giggled once I interpreted and assumed the lack of fear and worry in the far away rant. Sound travels atop a mountain in a way that you would only know had you been one of two boats on a lake in the middle of the calmest of evenings. My giggling however had nothing to do with his troubles… but everything to do with already liking the guy. “Hell, this guy sounds like someone from home.” I thought. “Shit, he talks just like me.” Upon wondering what the fuss was all about, I picked up my pace. Inside the mile I started to come up on a ratty back pack….. long gray waving hair half tucked into a sun a hat with a matching beard….. a gray t-shirt and old knee brace and some khaki shorts. There was no doubt in my mind, from 100 feet away that THIS was the man that had a contradictory way with words.
He heard me coming… or so I assume. He spun around as if he heard the blow of a charging moose. Apparently, with my grace (or lack of it) its hard to sneak up on a man.
“Hey good morning!” he said.
Hmmm… that was far to kind of a greeting to be the voice that had me laughing moments before.
“Morning… how goes it?” I asked.
“Jesus fucki… son of a bi… god fuc….” he replied.
Well, I had the right guy. This was something I was now certain of. Usually however, my greetings bring a much more positive response. I mean really, i’m a pretty happy dude. I don’t think I’m necessarily offensive looking to say the least, and I definitely don’t know him. Which naturally causes his “greeting” to kick in my curiosity.
“Rough day friend?!” I replied
“Na! Son, the sunrise is going to be a beautiful one and I cant…FUCKIN CO…ASSHO…DICKHE… I am sorry.”
Tourettes of course! That is what I expected him to attribute his french to.
“No need to apologize” I said in assumption of his condition.
“No really I am sorry.” he said. “My buddy left this morning and he had the only two beers we brought… im pissed off, in pain, old, and I want my god damned beer. We were supposed to save it for the end of the trail but i’m fucking thirsty and I want the damned thing.”
I could not help it but i broke into laughter. I appreciated this old man. I could tell he had a sense of humor, because his emotion was not over the top but in the same sentence it was genuine. He really was angry, but he was just ok with it. He was dealing with it in a way I might, so in hopes to lighten him up i just said “fuckin rough day my friend… but if you want your beer you are going to have to swear a little louder. You were only audible for the last few miles!” and i gave him a wink.
He held his hand out… “I am tortoise. Soon though, im going to be tortoise with rigor mortis.”
“Tortoise, I’m Cheers….and pretty soon im going to be Cheers ……..” my voice trailed off with a lack of whit. Tortoise did not really seem to be looking for the punch line fortunately for me. In the moment he had found a half cut stump and sat down. The world seemed to escape him for a minute.
In an over emphasized whiny voice he sighed and said, “I just want my fucking beer. I cant die without a beer. That is unamerican.”
I am not much of a drinker but I understood Tortoise’s point. He was tired… beat… sore… and he just wanted a moment of peace. Hiking to him was not what hiking to me was. We were not there for the same reasons by any means, and we didnt get there in the same time. One thing is for sure though…. we shared a like minded outlook . It wasnt but two days before this I just wanted to go home. I get that way sometime in between the first and second week of hiking. I miss my daughter … my bed… hot food. I just get… over it. In moments like those the only thing that keeps me on trail, is that usually im 150ish miles from where I started, in which case my shuttle back to my car is likely a bit closer at this point. So usually I will just push on. I move on from those feelings, and they are generally shortly lived, followed by a peace and a serenity that only knowing the feeling of loneliness allows you. But there is no doubt, I know what its like to feel the way Tortoise did that day. The fact of the matter is he didnt care about his beer. But his beer did give him a modern day luxury to remind him that life wasnt that far away, and sometimes when you are miles away form home… battered, bloody and bruised… a real life reminder of home is all you need.
I tend to do a ton of reading of people… its part of my job really… and at this point, I knew Tortoise was gonna make it. He was just throwin a little fit before he did.”Hey Tortoise… what you think? He’s gonna throw that fuckin’ thing from the top and it’s gonna land in ya lap?”
“Sounds fine to me.” He said, as his face showed nothing but seriousness.
“Well personally, I dont like my beer shook up… and as far as I am concerned, I have been itchin for a good brew for 100 miles. I’ll let your buddy know you send your wishes and that he owes you a beer when ya’ll get out. Until then my friend!” I told him.
“Owes me one? After this he will owe me ten!” Tortoise mumbled
“Maybe so… but he is definitely gonna owe you the one that i talk him outta!” I laughed as I walked away.
All of a sudden a ruffling and plethora of adjectives grumbled behind me. “Ta fuck you will, you son of… mother fu…. god damni…. here we fuckin go again.”
As Tortoise stood up though, I could see the barely visible grin he had hiding under his choice words and mangy beard. I could also see the sense of humor Tortoise had, not to mention the one of a kind personality that I could already see allowed him to enjoy life. Differently than we might, maybe, but he didn’t mind it.
“There ya go old friend… hell if i’d known it woulda taken a ransom note and a missing beer to get you off your ass and stop your complaining I would have called ahead for a case and a pen.” I joked.
“Son, i’ve killed men for less.” He replied. Although this time i feel like i believed him a bit.
“Where you headed anyways.” He questioned.
“Home i suppose. I just have a few hundred miles in between me and it. But ultimately, in the end… that is where I am going .” I told him.
“You want some company?” He hesitantly said.
Now normally I tend to be quite the stickler about hiking alone. I have been known to leave lean to’s at 9pm and head for the next tent spot 10 miles out. In the end though, he seemed pretty damned entertaining so what the hell.
“Well, in that case… I’d say we best get moving… you lead the way.” I told him.
“No, no, no. YOU lead the way… I hike slow!” He said with a lack of confidence
“Tortoise, you just asked me if I wanted company… well my idea of company is not hiking ahead of you a few miles…. Besides I need you to point out the guy with the beer when we see him.”
He obliged and headed down the trail.
Tortoise and I first got to the summit. This was a real treat on its own. Now the sun never shined through, and we could spit further than we could see, but it was worth it. We sat down to take a quick break after finishing our 3600′ climb. At this point Tortoise was pretty cheerful. Cracking jokes the entire way up, and throwing in pun after pun. His whit was unmatched by most and his humor was dry . To the point that in order to know he was joking, he would have to say “im joking.” Personally, I have a similar humor, so i just never took him seriously. If you had, i think he would easily offend most folks.
(Tortoise on the right waiting patiently for his picture on our second summit)
“Im gettin fuckin’ thirsty young man.” He moaned
I just got up and started putting my pack on, picking up his poles for him as I did. On we went.
(Tortoise up next for a summit photo)
Skip ahead 7 miles and we hit the lean to. We ended up only getting in a little over 12 miles that day and I had planned another 20. The company however had me pretty entertained, and I had a couple days to spare and planned to take a zero the following day anyhow so it was what it was. I just planned on skipping my zero and getting in a 20 mile day to make up for it. We had not yet come to the lean-to when he started in…
“You stupid fucking cock sucker, where the fuck… do you know how fucking… you son of a bitch… ive been swearing your name all day you piece of fuckin….”
A head popped out of the lean to that only one back pack lay against.
“Tortoise you miserable son of a bitch, I could hear you bitching half the day! What in all hell is your problem?” The man hollered.
“You, you stupid fuck. You took the beer with you!”
“Tortoise, those are our celebration beers! ”
“Yeah well give me mine so I can celebrate not killing you!”
I expected a stutter in his step. A smile to glisten. SOMETHING! Tortoise though… not much changed on him I had noticed. He did in fact get his beer, but he just put it in his backpack stale faced.
“Tortoise” I said. “All day long I have listened to yap and yap about drinking that beer and now that you have it, you done put it in your fuckin pack man?!”
The man, who I would briefly come to know as “O” just started laughing. “That miserable old fuck does this every time we go hiking. He doesnt even like that beer, he just likes to bitch. He does it constantly. He just likes to see who will listen.” Which hindsight, I already knew. I knew it the second I met Tortoise. He never cared about the beer.
Tortoise never replied. He just smiled. It was that moment I completely understood Tortoise. We were one in the same, just had a few years worth of a split going. I tend to do the same thing… i entertain myself in some funny ways. One of which is being argumentative even when I KNOW I’m wrong. I think the fact that I never took Tortoise serious put me on his good side. I even did a little bitching of my own a couple times after losing my footing and hindsight, he enjoyed it. I always wondered why his shoulders shook a little when i got to swearing.
To say the least, we had a good night at camp. Never did drink the beer but we got to know each other fairly well.
I got up early the next morning. Sadly I knew I was not going to be spending the day with my new friends because I had to get in at least 22 miles to get myself back on track, which would be fine, but I would have to run with the sun. (and later that night the moon.) I tried my hardest not to wake anyone up before I left. Honestly, I really wanted to wake up Tortoise to say goodbye. I am not known to be the sentimental type, but I wanted him to know I appreciated his character and that I would look forward to seeing him again. I decided to write a note and slip it into his pack.
“Tortoise… next time i see you… have two beers… and dont be whining like you did yesterday, I can only take so much. I say heavy hearted and genuinely that it was good to know ya and Ill see you on the trail. Do me a favor and accept this as a token of my friendship and good luck. The ductape is for “O” ! -Cheers” I wrote on a torn out page of the log book. Crumpled up in the paper I had left a penny for luck and a small piece of ductape intended as a joke to be put over Tortoise’s mouth. Off I went, wondering how Tortoise made out and if “O” got the duct tape joke, Or if he had died beside me and lived well up to his new name. Toirtoise with Rigor Mortis.
And THAT my friends, was the last time, sadly, I saw a Tortoise with Rigomortis.
(Featured photo: Photo Cred: Tortoise / Picture of me heading off the summit)