Chapter 7: Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail

Day 22: Rangeley, Maine - The public bench sat close to the curbside. A white brick grocery store blocked the sun at our back as we ate a deli dinner.

“Yep, that’s your trail name,” he said, shaking his head: “Bear Bait.” He laughed at me. “If you stood up from this bench right now and shook off your shirt, there’d be more of that sandwich on the pavement than in your stomach.” He pointed at individual pieces of produce.

“Dammit,” I blurted, inspecting the front of my shirt in dejection. Bits of tomato and lettuce had settled into the creases and folds of fabric. A dollop of mayonnaise had pooled on the crotch of my pants. How unfortunate.

I breathed deep, recovering my breath after having attacked the family-sized sub sandwich with such carnal gusto. “Wanderlust,” “Dances with Wolves,” and “Day Dreamer” were all names I’d considered for myself, but trail tradition forbade self-appointed titles. “That’s really what you’re going to name me?” The name seemed Ben’s way of mocking me, a passive-aggressive knife blade between the ribs.

“Don’t look at me like that. You earned it. And I don’t necessarily like my trail name either, but I did earn it.”

On a particularly grueling day, Ben had continually surprised me with his endurance. Where I hoped to stop for a rest, he marched past without a hitch or falter. Following closely behind, as often happened, I stopped at his heels as he slowed to climb a nearly vertical stack of boulders. While I stood there, idly waiting, I felt amazed by his reserve of energy and considered a trail name honoring his strength of endurance. The end-of-the-day effort required to climb those boulders was such a strain in the face of fatigue that Ben involuntarily let out a ripping, sweaty one just as his ass raised parallel to my face. The name “Gas-Tank” popped into my mind with a Eureka! flash of clarity.

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N. B. Hankes

N. B. Hankes

Founder and best selling author of "Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail."
Humboldt County, California