Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail: Chapter 11

Day 59, Trail Mile 705

“I thought I was going to explode in this person’s front yard. And, you know, I’m in a hiking mindset, so I’m not thinking about knocking on a door or looking for a local business. I’m looking at dense stands of bushes in people’s backyards. All I would have had to wipe with was a post office receipt.” Ben reenacted this scene under the protective forest canopy just outside of the Pine Swamp Lean-to. “No, no. I’ll tell you.” He grinned at the recollection. “I literally sprinted back to the hostel and nearly kicked in the door of the bathroom. I had to take a shower afterward, I was so sweaty. That fucking omelet,” he said, shaking his head.

Dylan cackled, thankful for the story. “That’s a tight spot!” he hollered, taking a drag from a cigarette.

“Damn right,” I agreed.

“Your turn, Nate,” Dylan directed. “You must have some good stories from the army.” The falling sun cast shadows through the weathered lean-to sideboards. A light breeze rattled leaves overhead.

“A couple, I guess.” I gazed up toward the sky to gather my thoughts. “This one time, I was in California at a training exercise in the Mojave Desert—one month camping out, basically, getting ready for Iraq—and it’s toward the end when the entire unit is back together getting ready to fly out. Well, First Sergeant asks for three volunteers. Me and my two buddies, Nick and Adam, raise our hands. You never really know what you’re volunteering for. Sometimes it’s something good.

“Anyways, we walk over there, and he’s like, ‘I’m sorry. I like you guys, but’—and he’s holding his hands out like he’s already apologizing—‘I like you guys, but you just volunteered for a bad one: There’s trash in the port-o-potties, and you guys have to pull it out so the contractors can pump the shit out.’

“And we’re like, ‘Damn, this was a bad one.’ I guess the trash clogs up the pumps or something. Yeah, yeah,” I said, acknowledging their grimaces. “So we wrap bandanas over our faces and garbage bags over our arms and just go for it. Adam kept dry heaving.”

“America’s finest,” Dylan said, opening his tobacco pouch. “You got any stories from overseas? You must.”

“Nah, nothing really.” I looked off into the forest.

“You probably went in there thinking you were protecting America’s freedoms ’stead a linin’ some politician’s pockets. Shame what they did, what they’re doing, to you guys. Good for the defense contractors, though.” Dylan set to work rolling another cigarette.

N. B. Hankes

N. B. Hankes

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