Thruhiker: Day 1

March 20 (10:15 –16:05)
Magnolia Park – County Parkside (12.5 mi)
Total C2C miles: 12.5
Weather: Cool, cold, and sunny

First day on the trail!

As I write the date at the top of this post, I also realize it’s the first day of spring. Unplanned, but auspicious nonetheless, to begin my trek–and, really, the trail to my new life–on the first of spring.

My selfie shows how I think I feel: excited, eager, energetic, bursting with life and enthusiasm at the prospect of everything new.

But the pic below, snapped by this guy who got off the bus at the park when I did, shows how I really feel: kinda scared, a little hesitant, a lot nervous.

I didn’t sleep well last night. I kept going over my supply list. I kept thinking about the weight of my pack, wondering what I could leave out, then I kept reviewing the supply list again, wondering what I had forgotten and what else I could bring along. Could I sneak in my bunny slippers? My pillow?

I left them behind, stuck at the top of the dumpster behind my apartment. I miss them now that I’m writing this.

I really shouldn’t worry–I see that now that I’m on the trail–and I wish I’d realized last night, tossing and turning for the last night in my bed, with my pillow, that the first few hundred miles of the trail are a cake-walk. Literally. I could get cake every day, if I wanted.

The first part of the trail goes through the suburban, urban, and rural Southeast. I won’t be getting to actual wilderness for several weeks.

This section of the trail is well-groomed and runs along roads and through towns and cities. If I want to, and I might, I can stop in Starbucks every day, to recharge my phone and caffeinate myself.

I knew this when I was planning my supplies. I haven’t packed much food–just snacks, really–because I know that I can stop off at towns along the way to pick up meals.

I’m glad I’m getting off to an easy start. Some thruhikers like to go the opposite way, starting in the northwest and ending up down here, so that by the time they’re trail-weary and hiker-starved, they find themselves on Easy Street, with sandwich shops, trail angels barbecuing feasts at every picnic ground, and Whole Foods Markets just a skip off the trail.

But I’m happy to be going the direction I’m going.

For one thing, I like an easy start. This will let me get used to my pack, to build up to doing 20 miles a day, and to not freak out too much about whether I have all I need. This is the safe start.

Plus, I’ve got to go this way. I’m walking away from my old life, towards my new one. And that only heads in this direction.

The trail is so beautiful, and though it’s cool in the sun and cold in the shade, everything sparkles with spring light.

I love the way the dirt trails feel beneath my shoes–cushy and springy. My legs feel really good.

The only thing that’s awkward is my pack. I can’t get my balance right. Maybe I should’ve bought a smaller one. I seem to pitch forward, and when I try jumping from rock to rock across the stream, I just about fall sideways.

Nothing hurts, really. It just feels really awkward, like, unbalanced.

Comments on Guthook rave about the barbecues trail angels put on at the grill sites all along this part of the trail, so I’m looking forward to a big veggie burger for supper.

But when I get to the place where I planned to camp for the night, it’s empty.

I’m the only one.

I check the app again. (That’s another good thing–I’ll have great reception all along this first segment of the trail.) It seems I’m early by a few weeks.

The official C2C season, even down here, doesn’t start until the end of March. And even then, the heaviest time is at the end of summer, when the Southeast-bounders come.

It looks like I have the picnic and tent site to myself.

I wasn’t planning on this, and I didn’t bring food for an actual supper.

I make the best of it with a Cliff bar, some raisins, dates, and almonds, and an apple. It’s a little sweet and I feel a little shaky, but it’s OK. It’s a lot of calories, which I need, since I walked for hours.

I set up the tent and check my GPS. Tomorrow, I’ll tuck into Cripple Creek for breakfast, Starbucks, and to pick up some actual food for times when it’s not convenient–or possible–to stop by town.

My mind feels like it’s still worrying–like it’s reviewing detail after detail. Did I even notice the trail today? I flip through the pictures I took on my phone. I really need to learn how to use this phone as a camera. The light looks weird in all of them.

But then I notice that, even with the weird light, all the pics are beautiful. They’re glowing. They’re like all lit up.

When I close my eyes at last, snug inside my tent, the trail flashes by, scene after scene of light on the water, through the branches, over the rocks.

This was a good first day.

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Lighthouse: He’s Who?

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Max called as the sun rose the next morning.

“Are you up, sunshine?” he asked.

I was. “I couldn’t sleep last night,” I said.

“Me, neither,” he replied. “Will you come over? I need to show you something.”

Of course I would.

“Come to my house,” he said, “not the flat.” He gave me the address. It was near the beach overlooking the lighthouse.

He asked me to come in a few hours. He wanted to bake a loaf of bread, he’d said, and he’d just be taking it out of the oven around ten. “We’ll have toast and tea,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice.

I was too excited to sit in my apartment. I figured if I walked along the creek, I’d day-dream my way along for a few hours, imagining I was retracing the migration routes of woolly mammoths, and I might take even longer if I sat on a log to listen to the vireos sing from willow branches or watch dragonflies dance over water.

I was too excited for any of those things, and I arrived while the morning shadows still stretched across the road. I checked and rechecked the address. It could not be right. This was the house where Septemus Sevens lived, with the windows in the back that I stood under that night when I spied him writing his blog.

Perhaps Septemus had moved out, and Max had taken over the lease.

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But no, I discovered as I climbed the steps. Septemus Sevens himself stood on the front porch.

“You’re early,” Septemus said.

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“I’m here to see Max,” I replied, trying not to blush.

“You’re here to see me,” said Sept, pulling me towards him.

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I could have resisted.

I could have said no.

He would have stopped.

I was shocked. But I wasn’t so shocked that I was unable to resist. Septemus Sevens was pulling me towards him.

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Septemus Sevens was bending me over his knee and leaning towards me.

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Septemus Sevens was kissing me, and the word “No,” exited from my life for then and for good.

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Only. I knew these lips.

That thing he did with his tongue. Someone else does that.

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It wasn’t the type of trick that two men would know.

And that warm scent of cinnamon and roses. That was Max’s soap.

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And this feeling of ecstasy and bliss. Only one person I knew exuded those emotions.

“Max,” I said, woozy from the kiss.

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He gazed at me with galaxy eyes.

“You are Max,” I said.

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Then it hit me full force.

“What the fuck? You’re Max?”

“You arrived early,” he said.

“When were going to tell me? What is this?” My dream crashed with the full impact of the moment. I came so close to turning, running, escaping this end-of-the-world town, and racing home to my bigoted dad and controlling mother. At least I could deflect their manipulation and deceit.

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“You’re here early,” Sept said. “This wasn’t how I planned it. I was going to be the Max you know, the Max you kissed yesterday. And we were going to have a nice day, and maybe make-out a little, if you wanted, and then, if the time seemed right, and if you trusted me and were ready to be open-minded, I was going to explain that I had a true form, and then, not until you were ready, I was going to ask you if you wanted to see it. But you came early.”

His voice. It’s always done something to me. I cannot object to anything when I hear his voice, not back then, on that first day he spoke to me in his true voice for any length of time, nor any day since.

I closed my eyes and imagined how it would have been. “Tell me again what you’d planned?” I asked, and he told me again, slowly, in detail, describing the cinnamon toast and Darjeeling tea.

“I’m not sure I can pretend it was like that,” I said at last. “But at least I can give us a chance to make it through this way.”

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“This way is kind of a shock,” he said, “especially when we’re both high on love.”

“I wanted to surprise you!” I said. “That’s why I came early! Plus I was too excited to see you.”

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“I never lied, you know,” he said. “When you asked if ‘Sept’ was panromantic or pansexual, I told you that I was both.”

He was right. Still, he’d presented so many surprises.

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“This was the reason I wanted you to read ‘The First Truth’,” he said. “I hoped it would prepare you for this.”

“Wait,” I objected. “You mean you didn’t have me read it so that I would have an awesome, life-changing, spiritual awakening?”

“No,” he said, bashfully. “I meant it literally. I’m not my body–not in this form nor in Max’s form. And I wanted you to be ready to look past that to see who I really am.”

“I thought you were trying to teach me something,” I confessed.

“Not hardly,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to be your spiritual teacher. I want to be your boyfriend.

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It didn’t make sense to me. What could Septemus Sevens possibly see in me? I had a hard enough time accepting someone as cool and hip as Max Culper might like me, but Septemus? An Enlightened Being? I didn’t get it.

“But I’m so prejudiced,” I said. “I said horrible things about extraterrestrials to you. You should hate me, not want to be close to me.”

“Now I’m glad you kept reading 77 Truths,” he replied. “You remember Number Four, right? ‘I am not my conditioning.’ Everybody has prejudices, byu” he continued. “There’s not an exception. It’s part of being someone with a mind. What I love is that you look at yours. You don’t let them fester. When you become aware of them, you start unpacking them.”

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I looked up at him on his pedestal. I had no interest, at the time, in taking him down from it. It took a few decades for me to learn that a deeper love awaits when the pedestal is removed. But back then, I was happy to have him high up, for he reached down his hand, and he offered to pull me up beside him.

If I had a chance to be something more, he was offering it.

“I’ve been watching you, byu,” he said. “You are doing the remarkable. When you work, and you focus your attention on your task, the wormtail shrivels, and you shine.”

“You see me like no one else has,” I said, blowing him a kiss.

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“So what do you think?” he asked. “I know I don’t have floppy hair, and I don’t have dark brown squinty eyes or an awesome skinny bod, but like this? Can you at least stand to look at me?”

I took him in. He was beautiful. He wasn’t human, but he was gorgeous: elegant, graceful, expressive, and endearingly goofy.

“I think you’ll do,” I said. “In a pinch.”

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We talked nonsense until our voices hurt and the sun moved behind the house and the porch fell in shadows. I recall that the bread in the oven burned and we didn’t even notice until we were so hungry that we made our way indoors.

Our world contracted to include only the two of us and expanded to include every impulse of creation in every galaxy in the multiverse.

When he spoke, space echoed through him.

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“Happy, byu?” he asked.

Happy didn’t come close. It was the end of the world and I’d found the source here at the center of the universe, on the front porch of a little blue house on the bluff above the beach overlooking the lighthouse. Bliss!

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