Down Time Part I
by Michele Christopher
I was never much of an outdoorsman growing up. My family used to go hiking in the mountains all the time when I was a kid, and I could spot a snake or tell you which way a path went and not much else. I knew I was never going to be as good as the old man. He knew what rock was what when he saw it, which trees dropped what kind of seeds and what animals had crossed the trail. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a buckeye and an acorn, but I really enjoyed those hikes. It was a great way for the family to spend some quiet time together, wandering and checking out the smaller foothills of Bavaria.
One day in early March, long after the divorce but not long before I’d decided to kill myself with the drink, my father rang me up. He and I hadn’t seen much of each other in the last couple of years and we were never real big about talking on the phone. We’d chit chat here and there but for the most part we’d only talk when we were around each other. He caught me totally off guard with the phone call and when I heard the tone in his voice, I immediately thought that something was wrong. He sounded really upbeat, cheerful in fact. My father, even in a stellar mood, never sounded as happy as he did on the phone that day.
He had decided that he and I were going to go hiking and camping. “A week in the mountains will do us both some good,” he said “and it’s been too damn long since I’ve seen you.” We’re both notorious workaholics, so when he said that it’d do us some good, it meant that mom had declared that both of us had been spending way to much time in our respective labs and that we needed to get out into the sun and air for a while. I was intrigued by the cheerfulness in his voice and even though I was right in the middle of a project, I agreed.
It would be good to get out of the apartment and away from the shop and the bar for a little while and maybe just hang out in the woods and eat food cooked over a fire and…. Who was I kidding ? I loved to hike, but I hated the camping part. I hated sleeping on the rocky ass ground and waking up to bug bites and spiders in your shoes. I hated burning perfectly good food over a campfire and I couldn’t stand waking up to the birds in the wee hours of the morning. But the old man seemed so gung ho about the idea, there was no way I could turn him down. Besides, I enjoyed walking around in the woods and finding hidden paths and scenic vistas. How bad could the rest of it be ?
We had decided that we’d leave the following week and after a little Googling, we found out that the Laurel Ridge State Park was close enough to both of us that we’d only have to drive six or seven hours a piece to get there. We made plans to meet up on Saturday afternoon and that we’d spend the week hiking the trails and staying tents and shelters along it. For the most part, we could pack light, just food and some clothes, and enjoy the scenery. A perfectly quiet week out of the city, away from the job and hanging out with my old man. While he was typing up the details to email me, I Mapquested directions for both of us from our houses so we could meet up at the park and emailed his off to him.
The week goes by in a mostly drunken stupor and late on Friday night I straggled in and packed up what I’d need in my old frame pack. That poor thing hadn’t seen the light of day in years and it felt really good to break it back out and fill it with everything I’d need for a week in the woods. The old man figured that we could cover the whole trail in the time we had and while I disagreed, I knew we could get through most of it. The simple fact was that it was 70 miles of rocky, mountainous terrain and I knew the old man wouldn’t be able to keep up as well as he thought he could. His emphysema had gotten worse over the years and there were some days when he just couldn’t go as fast as he had in the past. I didn’t want to rain on his parade, but I mapped another route, just in case.
I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off the following morning and grabbed a cup of coffee for the road and my bag. I rolled right through town in the pre-dawn darkness and made my to 76, settling in for a long ride. It was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that I kept seeing more and more snow at the higher elevations and I became incredibly grateful for the fact that I never get cold. Finally, about twenty miles or so from the park, I broke out the cell phone and tried to call my father. I couldn’t get a signal. I waited about five minutes and tried again, but it was still a no go. It wasn’t a big deal, I only had twenty miles to go and the old man would be waiting for me at the entrance to the park.
All our planning, all our preparation was about to go straight into the toilet.
thefinn lives in Philadelphia and and isn't nearly as good at planning things as he likes to believe. Archives