And the plan of Zeus was being accomplished.
HOMER: The Iliad
Getting it together . . .
I rejoined Cynthia in Columbus to await the pretrial hearing. That fall and winter we helped restore some rental property her mother Erna owns in German Village. In addition to renovating The Place, I had converted a barn into my home in the Berkshires and transformed a loft into an apartment in Manhattan. A capable man, I am also versatile. I could do odd jobs to earn my keep along the way in America, but I seriously doubted that would be possible in places like China, Afghanistan or other countries Id be walking through. To purchase food, lodging and the necessary equipment, I needed the money from that insurance claim.
In November the hearing was postponed until May. To spare me the expense of traveling to Puerto Rico, Kenneth attended without me. The judge said that since the two parties were so close to an agreement, they should continue to negotiate and not waste the courts time. For the next few months Kenneth kept trying. Due to the reluctance of the insurance company to part with any money until they were forced, the trial was scheduled for October, a month short of three years after the accident. Talk about the swiftness of justice.
Spring arrived and I was anxious to get moving, even if it did mean I would have to travel with a begging bowl. Then Dame Fortune offered a gift.
Richard Hurwitz, a musician Ive known since we were teenagers, called me from L.A. When I told him of my planned journey and the trouble I was having getting the money to finance it, he said, "You mean you havent applied for your pension yet?" He told me I was eligible for the early retirement plan from the Musicians Union. I immediately called the Pension Fund. They sent me the necessary papers, which unless one was a lawyer and/or a CPA were totally unintelligible. Richards brother-in-law, Jules Chaikin, a producer, music contractor and life-long friend helped me decipher them. Eventually I received enough money to buy the equipment I needed, plus a small cushion to return to Puerto Rico for the trial in case an agreement couldnt be reached.
Cynthia and I had rented equipment and taken a couple of trips that fall. But over the winter I'd lost all the muscles I had so painfully built, my tan was gone, the calluses on my feet were gone, and I had stuffed myself like a Toulouse goose and now weighed 190 pounds. My handmade boots, moccasins, and the stove I had specially ordered finally came. With Cynthias help I set about getting myself back into shape. In June we took another trip to field-test my new equipment and myself as well.
We packed our gear into Ernas old Buick and headed south. On the other side of Circleville we cut east over to the Hocking Hills, then through Wayne National Forest and past New Plymouth. The map wasnt really clear on where we were to turn to get to the trails entrance. Right before Carbondale, we realized we were lost.
Spying a couple of scary-looking bikers busily stripping down an old clunker in a field beside the road, at Cynthia's goading I reluctantly stopped to ask directions. They said wed gone too far, but if we followed the old logging road they pointed to, "Youll git there jist as fast. Mebby een faster. Heh! Heh! Heh!" We thanked them. Then, not wishing to offend them in any way whatsoever, we unhesitatingly followed the direction their dirty digits designated and plunged ahead on the rutted road through the woods.
After bumping along for what seemed eternity, cussing and swearing all the way, we eventually wound up in the parking lot at the beginning of the trail.
"They were right!" I exclaimed in astonishment.
"You can always trust bikers," Cynthia said. She had owned a motorcycle in New York and had ridden with a bikers club. Still, I was doubtful. Im not sure you can equate a group of dancers and musicians on Hondas, who called themselves The Artists and Riders Motorcycle Club, with the Harley-riding Angels from Hell.
We unloaded our backpacks from the trunk. Cynthia had gotten one after I told her that shed have to schlep her own food, water and sleeping bag. I locked the car, but I didnt want to carry the key. To avoid the added weight and to guard against losing it on the trail, I looked for a place to hide it. Thinking that the springiness of the rubber flap would hold the key tightly in place, I foolishly tried to stick it between the window and the rubber molding. My high expectations dropped as rapidly as the key. It clanked down to the bottom, inside the door.
"Shit!" Bob exclaimed in disgust. It must have been his idea: Robert and I dont do stupid things like that, and Bob is always finding new ways to screw up.
"You can say that, again." Cynthia added to the already overcrowded argument.
Sheepishly, I dropped down to my knees . . . and felt around . . . to see if . . . by some small chance . . . I could retrieve it. I was in luck! The door was rusted out at the bottom. Now-if-I-could-just-get-my-big-paw-through-the-
"Here," Cynthia said, wearied by my contortions. "Let me see if I can get it. Your hands are too big." She knelt down on the tarmac and, in a matter of moments, managed to liberate the recalcitrant object from its rusty receptacle and deposit it in her reticule.
Mission accomplished, we put on our packs and walked over to a sign at the trailhead to see if the map there jibed with ours. It showed that there were two campsites, one about three miles away and another at the twelve-mile mark. The same trail led to both, with an optional loop between the two that added a few more miles.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"Well, why dont we hike to the three-mile camp and see how we feel? Theres water there. If we feel up to it and its not too late, we can go on."
"Sounds good to me," I said. "Were in no hurry."
It was good that we werent. The trail proved far more difficult than any other we had hiked and neither of us were used to carrying such a big load. Also, her pack wasnt riding well. After a few hundred difficult yards, she said, "I think I made a bad choice."
"It doesnt have a sternum strap like mine." After all the reading and shopping I had done, I was finally learning the lingo. "Lets stop for a minute and I'll try to rig up one." While purchasing my tent I even found out what shock-corded meant: It's an elastic cord inside the hollow tent poles that keeps the pole's segments together. With enough practice you can hold on to one end of the pole, toss the rest away from you and they all snap together like a magician's wand.
I took out a strap that I carried as backup in case one broke. Colin I had read his book so often I felt I was on a first name basis with him says you should always carry spare parts and a repair kit in the wilderness. He was right. After much fumbling I finally managed to jury-rig a sternum strap. It was tricky because of women being built different than men.
"There! How does that feel?"
She bounced up and down and took a few steps. "It feels a lot better but its still not great. Dont worry about it. Lets go on."
We traipsed off again. I took the lead, Cynthia trailed along behind.
"Cant you move any faster?" I asked. "It tires me out walking this slowly."
"You dont have to wait for me," she huffed. "Go on! I can find my way."
I was almost out of breath myself, so I knew that she must have been really hurting. Although I was in much better shape than on our last trek uphill at Lake Delaware, I was using her slowness to cop a little extra rest for myself here and there. "No, its all right," I shouted over my shoulder. "Colin says we shouldnt get too far apart."
"Screw Colin!" she wheezed. She drew alongside where I rested on a log that had fallen across a bend in the path. I ignored her curt comment, but I couldnt ignore the fact that she was looking pale. It wasnt surprising. The temperature was in the upper nineties. Not a bit of breeze was blowing.
"Have you taken any water lately?" I asked. "Here, sit and rest for a while and take a few sips. You really have to be careful of dehydration you know."
"I know that!" She grumpily dropped her pack and sat beside me, took a few pulls from her squirt bottle, then lit up a cigarette.
"Its no wonder youre out of breath," I chided, lighting one myself.
What a wonderful advertisement wed make for Winston or Marlboro: A sweaty, overweight middle-aged man and a younger woman in approximately the same condition, both sitting on a log in the middle of nowhere blowing billows of smoke into the pristine air and wheezing their lungs out between puffs. Enticing, dont you think?
"How much farther is it?" She snuffed the cigarette and dropped the stub in her bag.
"We should be there soon," I said, following suit. At least we dont litter.
We saddled back up, or whatever one does with a pack. Saddled says it best we surely felt like beasts of burden. Comforted by the belief that we had not much farther to go, we slogged on up the trail. After a couple of more respites we dragged into camp and dropped our pack-laden sweat-soaked bodies down in the dirt. Orson Welles description of Miss Hayworth aside, we were definitely not glowing. Steaming would be more precise.
Eventually, I revived enough to remove my pack and took off to look for water. After a long search I discovered the location of the pump shown on the map. A black pipe with a handle stuck up from the ground. "Damn!" I muttered to myself. "Im not sure I have the energy to pump it."
I pulled up on the handle fully expecting to expend my last bit of energy pumping the precious liquid all the way up from the bottom of the hill. Almost immediately a whooshing sound issued forth from the pipe's pouting mouth. Soon the sound was followed by a gush of water. It spewed forth, splashed over the ground, ricocheted up and damn near drowned me. God, it felt good.
"Cynthia!" I called. "Youve got to come see this! Bring the water bag!" I had brought along the canteens but forgot the five-gallon water sack. A moment later she showed up with it. Then we spent several ecstatic moments splashing about in the crystal-clear nectar that man and nature had so thoughtfully collaborated on to deliver. Now we were glowing.
"Oh! This feels great!" she said.
"Youll feel even better after weve had something to eat." I gathered up the water bag and canteens and like Jack and Jill we squished back to our site.
Anxious to get lunch going, I quickly unpacked the stove. I had tried it out in the backyard when it first arrived, but the damned thing hadnt functioned properly. This time I was hoping for better results.
Its a ZZ Zip Ztove, manufactured by the people who make the fire-starter stuff. I had read about it in Colin Fletchers book. He describes it as looking like a Monty Python prop, which it does. Essentially, its a twin-walled metal canister with several small holes in the inner wall. There is a larger hole in the bottom of the outer wall. A small fan and a battery-operated motor mounted on a base comprise the guts. All this is housed in a six-cup cooking pot topped off with a lid. When taken out of the pot, screwed into the appropriate mount in the hole on the bottom and switched on, the fan acts as a supercharger. The stove is said to burn anything flammable: paper, twigs, pine cones, charcoal, dried yak dung, almost anything one might find lying about a campsite. Supposedly, even damp things.
I think it was the novelty of the gadget that sold Bob. The yak dung convinced Robert: "We are planning on going through the Gobi, arent we?" It was definitely the lightness and ease of operation that appealed to me. After all, I was the one who was going to have to carry the Rube Goldberg contraption and cook on it.
Though the fan had turned all right when I first tried it, the breeze didnt reach the flame. With the pot on top the stove wouldnt draw properly. It choked on its own smoke. When I blew into the flame the problem cleared up. But I didnt want to waste my time doing the job the fan was supposed to do, so I had brought the stove along to test it further. Maybe it would work better in a wilderness setting. That's what it was designed for.
I reread the directions on the side of the stove. This time I saw the mention of a damper if your model has one. I looked carefully at the motor housing. Voila! Right above the fan was a sliding plate, with a hole about half the size of the blades. I pulled it out. Wonder of wonders! It doubled the opening above the fan.
Fired with excitement over my discovery I screwed the doohickey into the framus, opened the thingamajig, dropped a lighted piece of ZZ Zip Ztarter and a few twigs into the whatsis, flipped the switch and watched in awe as the flames gingerly leapt forth.
Both the stove and I now afire, I put the half-full pot of water on top, added a few more twigs to the blaze, squirted some clarified butter into the water, put on the lid, then watched in amazement as it came to a boil in just a few minutes. Next I removed the lid, dropped in the ramen noodles, some sun-dried tomatoes, a few pieces of fresh ginger and garlic, a few morsels of dried morel mushrooms, replaced the lid and turned off the fan to allow it all to simmer. After adding the seasoning packet and stirring a bit, we were dining on a gourmet feast. All that in less than twelve minutes! I was very pleasantly impressed.
"Boy, that was really good," Cynthia sighed after we finished our meal. "I feel better already. Whaddaya think? You wanna go on to the next camp or what?"
"Well, considering how long it took us to get this far, maybe we should spend the night here and get an early start in the morning." I was feeling better, but not that good. My expectation of achieving a hundred miles a week was rapidly vanishing, especially if those last three miles were any indication of what lay ahead.
"Fine with me." She sounded relieved.
That settled, while she cleaned I began pitching the tent. Though I had set it up before in the back yard, this was the first time I had tried doing it in the wild. As simple a task as it was, I discovered that it was a lot easier to do on the well-watered back lawn.
"What should I do with the wash water?" she asked, as I tried . . . with great difficulty . . . to drive the last peg into the hard . . . dry . . . ground!
"Pour it over the remains of those ashes in the fire-ring," I huffed. (I hate being interrupted when I'm entertaining frustration.) "The charcoal should filter it before it seeps into the ground." We were using biodegradable camp-suds, but one cant be too careful. I knew that gray-water was a major source of destruction to the environment in parks. Although I hadnt read anything about pouring wash water over charcoal, it seemed to make sense. Charcoal acts as a filter, doesnt it?
Finally finished with the chores, fatigued by the hike up the hill and somnolent from our midday meal, we stretched out on the ground for a siesta. Wed no sooner settled than the sound of someone coming up the trail startled us. We sat upright.
A tall, thin, bearded young man with an enormous pack on his back came stumbling through the shrubs surrounding our campsite. "Hi," he said, wiping the sweat from his brow. "You know where the water is around here?"
I told him it was just a few yards farther down around the bend. "Follow the white blazes and you cant miss it." I had, but he seemed more experienced.
"Sure is hot today," he panted. "You spending the night here?" We told him we were; we planned to continue to the twelve-mile camp tomorrow. "Well," he said, "I think Im gonna see if I can make it up there by tonight, leastwise now that Ive found water."
Awed by the enormity of his load, I remarked, "My god! Is all that stuff really necessary?" I knew I still had a few more things to buy, but his pack was twice the size of mine.
"Well," he chuckled, "I keep tryin to lighten it up, but this seems to be the least I can safely carry for a weekend hike."
A weekend hike? I was planning to be gone for heaven knows how long. It was obvious that I could replenish supplies along the way, but this was ridiculous! And he considered these the bare necessities?
" I guess I better get going if Im gonna make it by sundown. See ya."
Looking like an overloaded camel strayed from the caravan, off he trudged.
"Do you believe all the stuff he was carrying?" Cynthia asked in amazement.
"I know what you mean." I was dumbfounded. It was the first time I had seen a full-fledged backpacker in his natural habitat.
"Are you going to be able to carry all that?" It was Cynthias first time, too.
"If I do, Ill never even get over the George Washington Bridge," I quaked. Exhausted by the prospect, I lay back down and dazedly drifted off.
from our nap, we did some exploring. There were a few more campsites in the thicket around
us, yet somehow we had unwittingly selected the nicest. In our ramble through the
surrounding woods we came across a large mound of sticks and twigs built like a Navajo
hogan, though it was considerably smaller.
"What do you suppose lives in that?" Cynthia asked. "A beaver?"
"No, I dont think so. Theres no water around, and it seems to me they usually build their homes around rivers, lakes, streams and such."
Her eyes grew big. "Maybe a bear?"
"I dont recall that bears are noted for their architectural skills," I replied. "Seems to me they live in caves. But whatever it is, it sure must be big. Look at the size of the entrance."
Deciding it might be imprudent to poke around inside or wait about for the denizens return (Cynthia didnt feel like starring in Goldilocks' saga) we took our ignorance with us and wended our way back to camp.
evening we dined on freeze-dried food I had picked up at Sabos, the camping supply
store where I had purchased much of my gear. The food wasnt bad, though not as good
as the ramen. It was also far more expensive and far less filling. Too, the packaging
wouldnt burn. And who wants to carry around a mess of empty bags until they reach a
trash receptacle? I imagined that trash bins would be rare on the Appalachian Trail. The
freeze-dried dessert tasted more like carob-flavored chalk than it did chocolate ice
cream. Also, it left a lingering layer of grease on the tongue and palate. I could see
that Id have to search farther. Other than water, I had come to realize that food
would be the most important thing I would carry.
Unlike most people, I never really equated food with fuel. Despite the warning from saints and philosophers, I live to eat, not vice versa. Most of my adult life I have eaten only one meal a day, or two at most. Those tended to consist of several small courses because I prefer dining to feeding. However, I was never tired. I always had plenty of energy. So I was astounded when I read in the Complete Walker III that I should expect to ingest approximately two pounds of dried food (about 5,000 calories) a day.
How could anyone possibly eat so much? I wondered when I saw the awesome list of foodstuff Mister Fletcher carried and consumed. Now I was finding out. Whereas my work before had been mostly mental, now that I was hauling better than 220 pounds around, up and downhill, I could feel the difference in my energy level after munching a bit of trail fodder. And that fuel burned up pretty damn fast.
We awoke early the following morning, had breakfast, struck
camp and loaded our packs. After remembering to fill our canteens, we set off on the next
leg of our journey. All that was done in slightly over an hour and a half. I still
couldnt understand how Colin managed it in a half-hour. Maybe he lied.
It was another hot, humid, breezeless day. The going was even rougher than the day before. Now it was up and down around a treacherous mountainside on a rocky, pebble-strewn path that here and there had washed away.
I was tremendously grateful that Cynthia had given me a walking staff. Not only was it useful in breaking the spider webs stretched between trees across the trail, it would have been impossible to negotiate some of the turns over the slippery moss-covered stones without it. She was straggling along behind, struggling to keep her balance, aided by only a hand-hewn staff that had belonged to her grandfather a remarkable man who had lived almost long enough to celebrate his hundredth birthday.
"Im getting blisters," she complained. She drew up to where I was resting against an inclining pine.
"Lets see," I said. She dropped off her pack, letting it thud heavily on the ground. Then she held out her hand. The palm was an angry red. The large blister was already broken. "Is that from your staff?" I asked.
"Yes, and Im getting one on my heel too." She sat and removed her boot. "These boots arent worth a shit for hiking."
I told her Id see if I could fix her up.
For quite a while I rummaged through a pocket on the side of my pack. Smiling sheepishly, I zipped it back up and tried the pocket on the other side. Finally I found what I was looking for, my first-aid kit. Thank god I wasnt searching for my snakebite kit.
I took a needle and burned it with a cigarette lighter. Then I squirted her heel with some alcohol from the little squirt bottle that I carried to keep my feet cool and dry, and pricked the blister at the edge. After gently squeezing it dry, I cut off a piece of moleskin that I was carrying for such an occasion figuring that there would surely be many such occasions and applied it to the blister. I admonished her to be sure to keep her stockings pulled up.
Next I worked on the hand. I got out my Swiss army knife and, after only a few tries, managed to locate the scissors. After trimming away the useless skin and cleansing her palm with an antiseptic hand-wipe, I applied some ointment and a gauze pad. That six weeks of medical training I had in the army finally paid off.
The final task was to eliminate what had caused the problem in the first place. Taking a length of the elastic bandage that I had been using since my accident, I wrapped it around the handle of her walking stick. Unlike mine, her staff was bare wood.
"There. See if that feels any better."
She tried it and affirmed that it was. "Thanks Dr. Kildare," she said (though I doubted her sincerity). "Lets get on with it."
We took off again. Several minutes later we came to a high clearing. A breeze was blowing so we paused to take advantage of it. While I rested against a boulder, Cynthia walked over to a historical marker near the edge of the hill.
"Look!" she said. "This sign says the old railroad tracks to Moonville are down there." She pointed below to where the abandoned tracks were barely visible through the dense foliage. "Wanna go see?"
"I dont think so, Baby. Weve still got some way to go. And if what weve passed over so far is any indication, it is going to be rough enough without any side trips."
"Yeah, youre probably right." She said it without much disappointment. "Besides, the legend says theres a ghost down there."
I joined her at the signpost. Sure enough, the legend told of a drunken brakeman who around the turn of the century accidentally stepped in front of a speeding locomotive. He was attempting to flag it down with his lantern to stop it. Evidently, on nights of the full moon hes still trying or so the residents of Moonville say.
The breeze had dried us off some, so we took off again. Onward and upward, downward, inward and outward, we wended our way through turkey management areas and Indian ceremonial and burial grounds. We passed a mine, abandoned long ago, and a crumbling charcoal-burning smelter.
Part of this trail was a road that originally ran between Marietta and Chillicothe. Once it was a well-traveled thoroughfare used by Indians and pioneers alike. It had been abandoned since the 1870s when the railroad, now also long unused, came through. We were treading down the aisles of the past. But either those aisles were carpeted when our predecessors slogged through or our forefathers were considerably more hardy folk than we.
While edging my way down a steep and slippery portion of the path, a silvery spider web distracted me. Not noticing the damp boulder that should have been avoided as my next step, I swung my staff up to clear away the web. I soon found myself landing with a resounding thud a few feet below in the dry creek bed.
Instantly, all the pain in the world that ever is, was, or will be decided to settle simultaneously in the anatomic region known as the patella. The most execrable expletives known to man couldnt ease the awful agony. Not even the invectives Arabs are so renown for inveighing. Which is how Cynthia found me when she finally caught up dazedly gazing at the rocky creek bottom, prostrating myself like a Moslem facing Mecca.
"What happened? Are you all right?" she asked anxiously.
"I just felt like taking a little rest face down in the bottom of a creek is all." Why is it that people always ask such a stupid question when they can obviously see that someone is not "all right?" "Of course Im not all right, dammit!"
"Well, what happened?" she asked. Theres another one. As if it would help ease the excruciating pain I was so enjoying if I were to take time out from my suffering to tell her.
"What in hell do you think, happened? I fell! Thats what happened!" Ive never been a particularly patient patient.
"Do you want me to help you up?" Heres another wonderful cliché from the human repertory.
"No," I answered. "Im going to drag my pack-weighted body, on my belly, over the stony bottom of this creek, to that boulder over there. Wheres my staff?"
"There it is," she said, spying it lying on the ground a few feet away from where I lay.
I waited. She stood there. "Well do you think you could bring it to me? Pleeease?"
Disgruntled by my attitude, she snatched up the staff and brought it over. After I wriggled out of my pack, she helped me to my feet. I limped over to a boulder imbedded in the bank, sat and pulled my pant leg up to view the damage. There was no blood, only a slight reddening of the skin over the kneecap. I was relieved. The pain was diminishing. With the past and future part having departed, I was left with only my present share.
"Let me see," she said, while reaching out to feel it.
"DON'T! . . .touch it." I caught her just in time. Why is it in times of medical crises every woman thinks shes Florence Nightingale? It must be in their DNA.
She pulled her hand away, but was still eyeing my knee as if she might attempt again. "Is it broken?"
"No," I said while carefully moving it about, "just bruised, I think." I kept a wary eye on that healing hand of hers. "Do you suppose you can get my pack over here by yourself?" I asked nicely.
She stood the pack up where I had laid it, grabbed it by the shoulder straps and tried to lift it. "God, thats heavy!" It was, but somehow she succeeded in dragging it to me.
After rummaging around in the pack pockets, again, I managed to come up with the mate of the elastic bandage I'd used for the handgrip on her walking stick. I stood up and walked around. The feeling of nausea had subsided, and the leg was functioning fairly well. "Why dont we have some lunch?" I suggested. "Then I think I can move on all right."
She didnt seem convinced. "Are you sure?"
"We dont really have much choice, do we? Were over halfway there, so its closer than turning back. Ill be all right."
We made do with beef jerky and trail-mix for lunch. I really didnt want to take time to fire up the stove and cook. Our meager snack was washed down with some powdered Gator-Ade I brought along to try. Its beyond me how professional jocks can stomach the stuff. Panther piss would be more palatable.
My knee was stiff as we headed back uphill. By the time we reached the crest and the trail leveled off, it loosened up. Now the pain was no longer centralized, it had spread to every muscle in my body separate but equal.
We slogged on. The heat was unbearable, the humidity even worse. Several times we missed the orange blazes that designated which trail to take, and we had to backtrack to find them again.
As the day dragged on we were getting dangerously short of water. Cynthia had suggested refilling our canteens from the one tiny trickle in the creek where I fell. But I didnt yet have a filter and I was afraid of giardia or whatever other parasite might be lurking therein. Its hard to know which is worse, thirst or disease.
long before dusk, on the verge of exhaustion and dehydration, we finally arrived so
far as I could tell from our map at what should have been the camp. What we found
instead was a signpost case with the glass window broken out. Whatever had been inside the
case was gone. There was no indication of an entrance anywhere, nothing to point out the
location of the water pump. I was tired, thirsty, befuddled, angry, and starting to panic.
Cynthia was in as bad shape, if not worse. I remembered reading about exhaustion,
dehydration and electrolyte depletion. Though I recognized the symptoms, knowing what the
problem was didnt help.
Anxiously, I searched the trees on the right side of the trail. Several feet ahead I found the orange blazes. "Lets go on. The campsite must be around here somewhere."
We staggered up the road for a mile or more. Still we found nothing. It would soon be dark. We were in serious trouble. All because some stupid son of a bitch who should have been terminated before birth thought it would be fun to steal the sign.
As we rounded a bend through the deep woods near the top of the mountain, Cynthia wheezed, "I cant move anymore." She dropped her pack. Then gasping for air she collapsed on a fallen log by the side of the trail.
"You stay here," I said. "Ill keep searching. I can move a lot faster without this on though." Dropping my pack down beside hers, I started up the road.
"See that patch of gray rocks, up there?" Pointing to a spot a few hundred feet off to the left, she shouted, "That looks like it should be something!"
I hurried to where she pointed and scouted around. There was nothing. I grew agitated. We could pitch our tent anywhere, but without knowing exactly where the campsites were there was no way to find water.
I trotted back to where I had left Cynthia and dropped beside her. "There was nothing there except the boulders and a fallen tree," I panted. "There were no blazes orange or white leading up to it."
"You sit and rest awhile. Let me see what I can find." She took off in the direction from which I had come. A few minutes later I could see her scrambling around the gray boulders in the distance.
"I found it!" She screamed. "I found it!"
She came back running and breathlessly said, "I found it. Its right on the other side of the rocks."
"Why in hell didnt I see it?"
"You probably didnt go far enough," she gasped.
We slung our packs on and, feeling much more buoyant than before, made our way back up to the boulders. Sure enough, right on the other side of the fallen tree was a path completely obscured by brush. As the brush had obscured the path, trees and thick shrubs had hidden the campsites.
Quickly checking the map, I figured out where the water must be. There was another path going off in the opposite direction that should lead to it. "You stay here and unpack. Ill go fill the water bags."
I raced along the path. Suddenly and inexplicably it came to a dead end in the brush and trees only a few yards away. Though it was growing darker, there was still enough light left to see that there was no pump. Panicked, I elbowed my way through the dense undergrowth and soon emerged onto the main trail, right next to the vandalized signpost. We were near the right place all the time! Thanks to the brush that obscured the unkempt path, coupled with the bastards who broke the glass and stole the sign, we had unwittingly taken that extra three-mile loop and come in from the opposite side.
"God will get you, you malicious, malevolent momsers!" I screamed though not exactly in those words.
I followed the white blazes on the opposite side of the trail, then went down a few feet through the trees. In a clearing stood the object of my search. Nothing ever seemed more inviting. And it had been right within reach hours before.
When I returned with the dripping water containers and told her what had happened, Cynthia was as furious as I had been. "You mean we were here all the time?
"Shit! I dont believe it!"
I started a fire in the stove then rapidly set up the tent while the water came to a boil. We needed to get some hot food in us as quickly as possible. Although it was still warm out, I was worried about hypothermia and hypoglycemia. Without much in the way of lunch, drenched with sweat and on the verge of exhaustion, we had greedily consumed too much water, too quickly. I was starting to feel the first symptoms. Cynthia was already shivering severely. "Put on something warm and keep moving around," I warned her. She did as I suggested and donned a sweatshirt and sweat pants. Then she began a lively jig and watched while I made the final preparations for dinner.
In an attempt to lighten my load, I had brought no warm clothes. It didnt take long to realize that was a serious mistake. Though the temperature was still in the mid-60s, now that the sun had set the mountain air cooled fast. I had changed my wet T-shirt, yet I soon was covered with goose bumps.
"Do you want a sweatshirt?" Cynthia was still jogging in place, eagerly awaiting the outpouring from the steaming pot.
"D-d-do you have an-n-nother one?" I asked through chattering teeth.
"I brought an extra one just in case," she replied. "Do you want the pants too?"
"N-no, thanks. The t-t-top should do." The woman never ceases to amaze. Quickly I put it on. The shivers subsided about the same time as the simmering of the pot. I happily announced, "Dinner is served!"
We dined by candle light under the twinkling stars. More accurately, we fed; we were too voracious to dine. The stars, soon joined by the waxing moon, threw considerably more light than the candle lantern I had brought. I made a mental note to add even more equipment to my already too-heavy load.
"When do you expect to leave?" Cynthia asked.
"Now that the trial has been delayed I dont have to be back here until the beginning of October. So I thought I might leave toward the end of July. That way I can spend a couple of weeks with my daughters and friends in New York, then leave right after the girls birthdays." Morgen would be twenty-three on August eleventh. Destiny would celebrate her twenty-first birthday a week later. It was time to stop calling them girls.
"From 'The City' to Columbus is only about six hundred miles," I continued, "and I can do a hundred miles a week. At least, I hope I can. After today Im not sure. It will mean celebrating both their birthdays on the eleventh, but Im afraid to delay until Destinys. I dont think shell mind. I certainly hope not."
"What do they think about you going?"
"Like everybody else, they dont like the idea. They think Im crazy."
"Well, arent you?"
"Maybe so. But I have to do it. You know that. And if I dont start soon Im going to be too old. This way, I can make the trial and still have a fifth of the way in the USA behind me when its over. Otherwise, I wont get started until next spring. I definitely dont want to walk during the winter."
"Youre right," she sighed. "Its just that Im going to miss you."
"I know, Baby. If I thought about it, Id miss you too. But I cant think about it: That would make the trip much harder. Judging from the shape Im in its going to be hard enough already." I said it half in jest, hoping to lighten her mood a bit.
"Well, Ive decided what Im going to do," she said.
"Im going back to school."
"Thats great! What are you going to study?" I was surprised, but only slightly. She dropped out of school at age fifteen to become a dancer with the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall. After a lot of hard study though, she recently received her high school equivalency diploma.
"Ive applied to Bliss College. Its a business school. Im going to take a secretarial course."
That really surprised me. "Is there any money in it? I mean, you can make more money as a waitress or dance teacher than as a secretary, cant you?"
"I dont want to do those things anymore," she said. "Im sick of teaching. And I dont want to ever have to serve another drink as long as I live. Besides, I feel like studying again and doing something different with my life."
"Thats wonderful, Love. If thats what you want to do."
"Ive got to do something to make a living. One of us has to have a job when we move to New Mexico," she joked. "You are still thinking about it arent you? I mean, when you finish your walk?"
"Yeah, its as good a place as any to live, and we both love it there. I dont know that I care to spend the rest of my life in Columbus."
"Me either. Anyway, thats why I want to go back to school. Besides itll give me something to do while youre walking. The course is only a year and a half. By that time you should be finished with this country. Maybe I can join you in China or someplace."
"You can join me anytime you want, Sweetie. You know that."
After sating our appetite for food, we hurriedly cleaned up the residue of the meal and ensconced ourselves in the tent. Our appetite for food was the only appetite sated that night. Exhaustion quickly caught up to us and the sandman did his daily deed.
last two weeks in Columbus were spent tying up loose ends (it is amazing how many there
were to tie), buying more gear (I managed to add a few more pounds), purchasing my airline
ticket and travelers checks (Serge said theyre the only way to travel), and
saying goodbye to family and friends. In my meditations I continued to question, "Why
me, Lord?" I tried the tarot, chucked the I Ching and read the runes. The answer was
always the same: Do it!
Cynthia was resigned to my leaving but was still bothered by it. She even consulted a psychic, an English woman who practices in Columbus, to see why I was going. "What did she have to say?" I asked when she returned.
"Well . . . I asked her about your trip. You know, why you were doing it and all."
"And. . . ? Im curious. I mean, I dont even know why. Maybe she knows something that I dont?"
"She said, Let him go, Luv. Everything hes done in this life has been done for others. First his parents, and then his wife and children. Then you. Now its time for doing something for himself. Besides, youll be too busy to notice hes gone. I asked her why? She told me, Youre going to be a famous author, Luv! Youll be too busy writing your books to even care. "
"I didnt know you had any interest in that area?"
"Neither did I. But thats what she told me."
"So what do you make of all this?"
"Well, Ive decided not to worry about you anymore," she said with resignation. "After all, Im going to be too busy studying and writing books. We already know Im not much of a backpacker."
called my daughters to tell them of my plans. Despite my reason for coming to NYC, they
were overjoyed. We hadnt seen each other since Morgens graduation from Bard
College the previous summer, so we were really looking forward to a reunion. I also called
my friends Jim Butler and George Hoover to make sure I had a place to stay.
Jim is a publicist for ABC-TV. We met in the seventh grade right after he moved to L.A. from Tennessee. He wrote a short story for the school newspaper that I thought was the funniest thing Id ever read. And though hes never confessed to it, he may be the person who wrote those predictions in the school yearbook.
George Hoover is also a publicist. He's done P.R. for ABC, NBC and CBS. George and I first met at a party in 1953. He and Jim were in the journalism department at L.A. City College, where George was the editor of the school newspaper. I had just returned from a road trip with Chuck Cabots band, and George was running for student body president. "Hi! Im George Hoover," he had said by way of introduction. "Wanna drink?" I think he was trying to buy my vote, but I had already dropped out of school.
They, too, were happy that I was coming. Both assured me of a place to stay. I planned to spend a few days with Jim and the rest of the time with George. They only live a few blocks from each other on the Upper West Side, but George has a terrace that I thought might be good to spend some time camping out on. Get used to the outdoors, so to speak.
Then I called Stuart Scharf to see if I could stay with him a few days before taking on the Appalachian Trail at Delaware Water Gap. He said, "I dont know, Bow. My place is kind of small. Why dont you call Dorough? His place is a lot larger, and Im sure he wouldnt mind. That is if hes forgiven you for not having him at your club in Puerto Rico." In addition to being a great jazz pianist, composer and singer, Bobby Dorough is also Stu's partner. They arranged and produced several albums for Spanky and Our Gang, among others. I explained what had happened. Bobby wrote me expressing a desire to play The Place. That was when we were in the throes of Hugo, the fire department and the street closing. From moment to moment, I wasnt sure if there was going to be a club for him to play. "Well, maybe hes forgiven you by now. Anyway, give him a call. Im sure hed be delighted."
I called Bobby. He was delighted.
My next call was to Jerry Proctor in Pittsburgh. I met Jerry in 1959 when George and I were sharing an apartment on Riverside Drive. He and George had been friends since high school, so when Jer moved to New York he roomed with us a few months before George got married. We've remained close. I told him I was getting ready to leave soon. Sometime in the middle of September I would be passing through Pittsburgh on my way to Columbus. "You mind if I spend a couple of days?" "Well, sure!" I mean, of course I dont mind. Im still commuting back and forth to DC on the weekends . . . but sure!" Not wishing to disrupt his weekend travel plan, I told him that Id try to get to Pittsburgh early in the week.
Now I was all set. Robert thought I might need some places here and there along the way to break up my trek and rest a few days. He would prove to be right.
I disposed of all my earthly possessions other than the things I would be carrying on my back. Unsure how long I would be gone, I saw no need to clutter Cynthias space with useless objects from previous lives. Things I thought they might find worth having I sent to my daughters and friends. The scores and tapes from my life as a composer were deposited in the trash barrel along with old receipts, letters and income tax records. With nothing left of earthly value to leave for anyone, there was no point in making a will. The lawyers and probate court would take the bulk of it if there were.
I had arranged to have my ASCAP royalties and pension checks deposited directly to my checking account, and I'd named the beneficiaries in case, god forbid, something should happen to me along the way. I recall Serge saying "God wouldnt send you out on a journey like this if He didnt intend for you to complete it." But though I believed him, Robert C thought one cant be too cautious.
The psychic had given me another good reason for taking the trek to add to my list. I was grateful for it. My friend Harvey Jacobs, a novelist with ancient Judaic wisdom, always told me to have at least a dozen good reasons before doing anything important I was still short quite a few.
Still missing a few good reasons (and possibly a few marbles as well), late in July I loaded my pack into a cardboard box. (I had read horror stories about how airlines treated backpacks, just look at what they do to normal luggage.) So with my debts paid (I hoped working nine months for Erna would adequately pay my share of the note Cynthia and I owed her from The Place); no will to make; my affairs settled; my father, daughters and friends to be said goodbye to along the way; being a free man and having filled all of Thoureaus requirements (even if not all of Harvey Jacobs), I was at long last ready to begin my odd, world odyssey.
Erna and Cynthia accompanied me to the airport where only a few months before they had picked me up. We said our farewells at curbside. Erna pleaded with me not to go and, as mothers will, dutifully warned me of all the dangers that lay ahead if I did. Cynthia put up a brave front and was doing her best not to weep. Misty eyes are hard to hide.
"See you in September," she said, sniffling slightly. "I love you."
I kissed her goodbye. "I love you, too."
Heavy of hand, though suprisingly light of heart, I lugged my load to the check-in. A few minutes later Bob, Robert and I boarded a plane for New York and embarked on a worldwide adventure.
Mama Wouldn't Let Me Join the Boy Scouts
Daddy Wouldn't Let Me Join the Girl Scouts
© Copyright 1999 Robert Bowers
This page was last modified May 7, 2001