Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Week in the Hills

Its dusk as we roll into town looking to whet our whistles and get some dinner. Of the three businesses we find, only one is open at 7pm on this particular Sunday in February. The door creaks open and I step through the threshold into a large, smoke filled room with a long bar on my right, a few arcade games on the left, a pool table in the back corner and a cigarette machine on the back wall by the head. I take a seat near the center of the bar and am joined a short time later by my two traveling companions. A dumpy woman of about 30 with curly blonde hair makes her way down the bar to take our order. From her gruff manner and appearance, I conclude that, she, as well as the other 15 or so patrons in the bar, probably have lived a less than charmed life. We order three Moosehead drafts which are served in clear plastic cups, and begin perusing the menu of fried food. A fellow sitting two stools to my left lets out a deep, gurgling grunt .At first I suspect it is exaggerated, but then I get a good look at the fellow and think again. This monster of a man has a face the size of a cinder block, and sports a long ragged beard that is tucked inside a hard plastic neck brace. Despite the rest of his appearance, his hair is surprisingly well kept.

We order food and the bartender shouts down the bar at a flat topped woman who is throwing back a few to fire up the fryer. As Kurt gets some change for the coin-op pool table, I notice the “banned for life” list over the cash register which fills one sheet of notebook paper and the better part of a second. A dirty bird sitting at the bar shouts at me in a think drawl, “Dude! What’s with the hair?” I pay her no mind. We make our way over to the pool table and play a game before being approached by a fellow of 50 or so with brown, chipped teeth named Timmy. He welcomes us and then makes some cracks about our pool playing and tells us to keep practicing. The three of us being fairly mild mannered let it slide and carry on. A few minutes pass, and Timmy is back, chatting us up and making homosexual remarks about the massive man with the neck brace whose handle is Sasquatch. Timmy continues on in a sketchy manner and I go buy a round of shots for the lot of us letting the locals know we come in peace. Sasquatch turns slowly, his upper body completely rigid and summons me over to the bar. He lets out a grunt of gratitude and is foaming at the mouth. I can see the better part of his shot has been distributed between his shirt and the brown tile floor around his stool.

I return to the pool table where the beau of the flat topped fry cook has joined the gathering. He is already hoarse from drunken loud speak, has a mangled claw for a right hand and sports a fedora. His name is Scotty and is quite personable. At this point, I am still unable to tell if Timmy wants to fight or friend us. He tells us of the 2 rules of the bar: “No drugs and no fighting, unless its one of us doing the fighting.” I grow more and more uneasy as the trash talk and homosexual references thicken, and I begin to understand how that list of banned patrons grew to the size it is. I believe he genuinely likes us, but I also think he would love to mix it up with us; especially since he has made several references to the .45 on his ankle. I also suspect he might be interested in pushing our stools in if you dig what I’m shoveling. We decide its best to get up the trail a bit a make camp. Half the bar wants to pose with us for a group photo as they try and convince us to stay. I hear the monotone voice of the flat topped woman break through the white noise of bar chatter and sports on the TV. “We love the trail people,” she says, and the movie Misery comes to mind. Timmy tells us to camp by the cemetery down the trail a bit. We disregard and hike down a steep embankment to the river, as I am having visions of an angry mob driving down the trail in a lifted ‘80s chevy pick-up truck, old glory flying high on a pole in the bed as they hunt for those bike riding faggots with torch and rifle in hand. We knew from the very first night that we were in for an adventure.

Light rain peppered our tents during the night and I awaken to the sun rising over the far side of the river, slightly soggy and cold footed. We pack up and make our way up a steep muddy slope and head out on the trail as the sun burns off the morning fog, putting in a few miles before stopping at a little store for coffee and food stuffs for the day. Things warm up nicely as morning turns to aft and we find ourselves plodding along the soft kitty litter like surface in short sleeves as we make our way up toward the Laurel Highlands. Deeper and deeper into the rust belt we climb. Coal country, with acid mine run-off like micturation, perhaps the result of a hydration program largely composed of coffee and tallboys. Paul shows me a photo he took of me and I have become what city folk fear of coming across in the mountains: wild eyed, shaggy haired and covered in a few days filth. A madman of the hills. Towns come and go, some friendly others pretty much run us off saying there is nothing they can for us there. We just move along and put a comfortable buffer between our camp and the town. The distant grumble of freight trains, the rivers flow, the sound of electric sharks nipping at our heels; its good to be sleeping under the stars once again. I peer out of the odd portal of a cocoon made of down, nylon and a space blanket to catch a glimpse of a passing freight train across the river on the CSX mainline. Thoughts curl and swirl, into the night, the Knurled fingers of branches above reach inward from a rough perimeter for distant stars. Messages sent to the outside world requesting pizzas and beer go largely unanswered. Daylight comes and more travels, the days bleeding from one to the next. There is no distinction anymore, just events that happen, sights seen. Things come grinding to a halt several times and we just kick up our feet in the middle of the trail and hang out as a brief moment of mania takes over. We eat homemade bread from a dog shit bag, nibble on a frosty one and feel safe here. Paul climbs a tressel, Kurt learns to juggle, I meander down to the river’s edge. Bands of rock fold and form jagged mouths of stone in the hillsides. Several days of beautiful weather finally give way to the cold, greyness that is February and we just munch down the miles. Not a whole lot to stop and see now, other than the falls and a couple of dams. Back into the suburbs. Civilization, where our trail greetings are met with looks of shock or just ignored as they are plugged in and logged on as they pass. Perhaps its just me but civilization feels a bit less civil than do the hills. Time to start planning the next journey deep into the back country.