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The International Writers Magazine

Trail Buds
Eric D. Lehman

I first got to know Marc and Damir during day two of a White Mountains expedition. The two friends were mirroring the linear journey my friend Ryan and I were taking along the famous High Mountain Hut section of the Appalachian Trail. Throughout day two and three, the four of us leapfrogged each other on the forested path, exchanging friendly words, getting to know the other pair. We shared a few meals together and the connection grew. There was never anything too far beneath the surface between us, but the sharing of hardships and breaking of bread created quick bonds. We had become, as Damir put it, "trail buds."

Then, Ryan and I took a rest day and stayed at the paradise of Zealand Falls, while the others trudged on to the Mizpah Springs Hut. We didn’t bother to say goodbye and I figured that was the end of it. After Ryan and I had recovered, we took a shuttle to Mount Washington and hiked to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, skipping Mizpah.

We arrived late. And there, sitting at the dinner table, with two empty spaces across from them, were two hikers, one tall and heavy and one short and thin: Damir and Marc. They greeted us warmly with surprise and told us we hadn’t missed much at Mizpah Springs, which had mediocre food and large crowds on that particular evening. We shared our adventures, paying no heed to the group around us. As Ryan and I walked away from the table to watch the mountain sunset, I heard Marc tell Damir, "Our karmas are intertwined."

The sunrise shone bright and clear, giving views far across the mountain ranges to Vermont and Canada. The four of us engaged in a race to Madison Hut and Ryan and I beat our mirrors by a few hundred yards. We shared food and conversation again. Inevitably, perhaps, at dinner we discovered that Marc and Damir planned on continuing one more night to Carter Notch, while we only had a short hike down to the Valley Way trailhead. But after breakfast, we forgot to say goodbye. Our newly acquired habit of packing up and getting on the trail as fast as possible had a down side. "It’s better that way," I told Ryan, though a twinge of regret stirred in me.

As we waited at the trailhead for the shuttle, rain began to beat down heavily. We hunched beneath the slight overhang of a giant trail map for along time. Finally, the shuttle swung around and picked us up, taking us through Gorham and down Route 16 to my car at the bottom of the Mount Washington Auto Road. As we neared the lot, the bus passed two hikers who stumbled down the left side of the road in the downpour, one tall and heavy, one short and thin.
"That was Marc and Damir!" I exclaimed.
Ryan craned his head to look back. "No, they didn’t have packs or walking sticks."
"It sure looked like them." I frowned, disappointed.
But as we puttered around in the auto-road cafeteria, the two intrepid warriors appeared out of the storm. "Hey! I thought that was you." I smiled. "But where are your packs?"
"We hid them by the road. We needed food!" Damir chuckled.
"So did we." Ryan nodded.

We all exchanged surprise at this incidence of trail magic, though we shouldn’t have. Many backpackers have spoken about this phenomenon, the coincidental and providential nature of life on the long distance trail. But this random conclusion, this intertwining of karma, was uniquely ours.

So, we ate a last meal with our trail friends and then drove them back to the trail crossing on Route 16. Ryan snapped a photo and we shook hands. No attempts were made to exchange addresses, emails, or numbers. No need to draw out the connection until it strained and broke. Better to leave it strong in our memories, in the wilderness, on the trail where it belongs.

© Eric D. Lehman Jan 2007

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