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Opinion

Appalachian hike brings unusual strangers

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April 28, 2011

I woke up in a drafty lodge called Cooper’s Hut in Killington, Vermont. This shelter was mired in graffiti, odd but childish murals and with open windows that let in the clouds. On top of the other rotting bunk was a hiker named Gadget. He carried excel spreadsheets of his itinerary and a turban-like mask to keep out the wind. We were on top of Mt. Killington, the third tallest mountain in Vermont at ‘4,226. That day I planned to hikethe Appalachian Trail 22 miles to Wall Street’s house. Wall Street, who was another hiker, happened to be from Wisconsin.

Like the night prior, I walked up the .2 miles to the peak where there was a weather tower before setting out on the day’s grueling hike. While walking around the crown of boulders, I came upon a boulder that had a sepia colored photograph taped on that was scorched from the sun’s exposure. On it was a middle-aged man with a khaki-colored lab sitting like a human with its paws swaying aimlessly.

The walk was boring for most of the day before I rounded a magnificent lake and I ran into a beautiful falls that the trail was rerouted to. I took several black and white photos of the mist that banked off the jutting rocks. Before ascending Quimby Mountain (Simpson fans unite!), I ran into a little seven-year-old boy with his mom and brother who asked me what I was I was doing. I told him I was going to climb that mountain to the north and he became frightened and said it was dangerous. He asked his mom if she could give me a ride. She gave that proud but awkward smile that mother’s give in the event of their offspring’s spontaneous curiosity with strangers.

I had climbed four mountains when I descended into the valley below where Wall Street’s house stood on Chatageuy Road. When I was walking in a switchback style down the mountain I heard in a guttural rasping yell “Get her!” ring out audibly. This was followed by multiple gun shots. This sounded like a scene from Deliverance and I thought to myself, “What kind of rape-fest am I getting myself into.” With the failing light this didn’t seem like a good idea.

As I attempted to call Wall Street with no avail a convoy of nine Jeep Wranglers pulled up on this undrivable road. I knew this couldn’t be the source of the noise from before, but my instincts in self-preservation are not that good to begin with. This posse of Wranglers made up the Green Mountain Crawlers club.

I asked them where proper Chatageuy Road was. Although this road was Chatageuy, it had the consistency of recently dried volcano crust, hoping they would be more aware of their surroundings then I was. The leader and I had a drawn out conversation where he would walkie-talkie the other drivers on occasion to clarify what was the hold up. It felt like getting my teeth pulled out, but he finally gave me some concrete advice on where to go.

After this exchange I walked for no more than ten minutes when I found the source of the yelling. An engine read Ford F-150 slowly approached with five guys and one girl in the crew cab. One guy was perched on the window like he was getting into the General Lee. The driver yelled if I wanted a ride and to eat some mushrooms. This felt too much like East Tennessee for my comfort. I declined quickly with a curt nod hoping to get the hell out of their sight when the guy sitting on the edge of the window stood up at attention and yelled “Hail Hitler,” driving away with wafts of marijuana smoke billowing out of the windows.  A little after that, I found a clearing with heaps of junk and many shotgun shells strewn about. It seemed like a dodged a bullet on that one.

The road after that turned into a small river. The mash-up of the concrete and dirt looked like the outcropping of a field of dried-up volcano sledge. The river constantly forked and left high walls next to the road, making it a formidable challenge to staying dry.

The golden hour came and left without meeting Wall Street on the road, which I had finally managed to contact. The twilight sparkled over a surprise swamp that almost swallowed the dirt road as I walked deeper into the valley. After a couple miles of this terrible road I began to walk past some ghost houses with boggy swamps for fences. I pondered knocking on these houses, but cringed away each time knowing I wouldn’t like the answer. Then I saw headlamps welling up in the distance and I saw Wall Street smiling broadly.

“What took you?” We jinxed each other.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.