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Adventure Creative Nonfiction

Five miles in and I'm tired already but I feel the buzz of a new adventure moving through me. I set the purple backpack on the picnic bench and take a deep breath before opening it. Day 1 on the trail and I have a turkey and cheese tortilla wrap ready for me. Fresh food. Yum. I've already lost my appetite after two bites. I continue to chew, slower now. I look at the engravings and pull out my phone to take a picture. "Bill Bryson is a . . . " I read and then look down at the picture. That's right. He didn't finish. At least he tried. At least he tried. How many people give up before taking one step? 

I see the hat first. Tan cloth appears down the trail, hovering above the greenery, bobbing along. It's a man, in his late sixties, walking alone. I shove my things back into the backpack and move it so it only covers half the picnic table. He bends over, leaning over the half water fall a hundred feet from the shelter. I pull out my balaclava and make sure it covers my nose and my mouth. I hold my breath for a moment, acknowledging that the trial is closed due to Covid. This stranger is not supposed to be backpacking but neither am I. Welcome to COVID world where even the outdoors is restricted. 

I finish my wrap and pull out my water bottle. I've drank only half my smart water bottle in five miles so with three big gulps, I finish off the other half. The old man walks toward me, with his button down shirt open and, sweat dripping down all the way to his gray belly hairs. I look away but not quickly enough. 

"Hello there." He says. 

I nod and look over his shoulder at the trail ahead of me.

"I'm Joe. They call me Blue." 

"I'm just hiking for five days." I say, shrugging. 

"Do you have a trail name?" He asks. 

I pause, "Sunflower." I whisper. I point to the backpack, decorated with a fake flower and then to the hiking poles sporting sunflower stickers.

He slings his pack over the bench and lets it smack onto the wooden table. From there, he pulls out six snicker bars. 

"I'm stopping in Waynesboro." He says. "Need to restock." He eats half of a candy bar in one bite.

"Are you a thru hiker?" I ask. 

He nods. "You?"

"Oh no." I shake my head vigorously. "I'm hoping for five days." I look down and rub the edge of my wrist. The skin is raw. 

"Why sunflower?" He asks.

A tear rolls down my cheek. "For my mom." I stammer. I think about the last few months. Not just my Mom. She's been gone for nearly three years. For him too. Another tear comes down. It's been what, three plus months. The man who raised me, who taught me to ride a bike, who taught me to swim, who held my hand when my mother took her last breath. . . I gasp on a sob.

"My Mom and my stepfather died recently." I say. "He died. . . in March" I choke back a sob. 

"I'm so sorry." He says.

"I have three kids, one with special needs, working non stop during COVID and everything including my vacation was canceled. I'm clearing my head." I say. "I need a break." My smile starts to crack.

He nods. "My wife is at home but our kids are grown. She meets me every few weeks."

"That's nice. Especially to have that support." I say. "I always wished to hike the AT. Appalachian Trail, of course. Before kids. Maybe. Now. It would take a miracle."

"But you're out here now."

"I am." I say, and pull the balaclava up a tiny bit as he inches closer and without anything covering his own mouth.

I think to myself, I am. What would they say? What would they think? I remember them dropping me off with a similar backpack at JFK before my month adventure in Europe. I was all alone, walking into an airport for the first time to travel to not one country, but six. I wonder which trip they'd approve of more. 

I look up at the blue sky. Mom! Mom! I want to talk! I return my gaze to Joe - no Blue and hope I don't look too crazy. Then again, out here, crazy might be normal. Blue pulls his gear back together, after eating a third snickers bar and takes a long gulp of cold water. His flaps the back of his button down hiking shirt and I recognize the hiker smell I've read about in countless books and blogs. He smiles at me again. I grab my pack and swing it over my shoulders. 

"You can stay." He says. "I was just going to take a quick nap and then head into town." 

"I'm going to try to get to camp early. This is my first time out." I say to him. "I want plenty of time."

He nods in agreement. I drink a third of my second smart water bottle, turning away as I slip the bottle underneath the balaclava. It's time to go. It's time to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had chosen to head south to avoid people, most namely, thru hikers. They were everywhere in June. I want quiet. Quiet. Quiet. 

I smile and nod. "Enjoy Waynesboro." I say. "It's an awesome town. There's a great place for pizza on main street." I wave as I walk away. I fill one water bottle and then the other, avoiding putting more than the edge of my sneakered toe in the rushing water. I look back once and see his shirt is off and his hat is covering his face. A short nap. I head into the green tunnel. 

"Day 1." I say to myself. "Look at me, Mom. I've made it this far."

February 02, 2023 16:41

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3 comments

KT George
15:25 Feb 04, 2023

This was fantastic. I love the emotion it envoked with just a few subtle sentences. I read The Unlikely Thru Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey last year, and this reminded me of the author's journey. Great job on your first post!

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Graham Kinross
11:51 Feb 04, 2023

Great story, Tracy. I hope it is the first of many.

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And this is your first story? Good job Tracy

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