Dick called from Glencliff, New Hampshire. After an anxious week apart, Dick and RickRock are hiking together again. They will enter the White Mountains tomorrow. With 398.5 miles still ahead of them, they aren't "short timers" yet, but Katahdin is most certainly on the horizon.
The ancient world paid tribute to Minerva, Roman goddess of war and peace, wisdom and the arts. Her image frequently appeared on sarcophagi, symbolizing new life beyond the grave. Her Greek equivalent is Athena, whose symbols included the olive branch and the owl. Like Minerva, Athena was said to protect the noble warrior.
It all began innocently enough. A week ago today, Dick took off early in the morning, as usual. As usual, he expected RickRock to catch up with him by the end of the day since Rick walks much faster than Dick. But this time, the end of the day came, and RickRock hadn't arrived. Dick settled down at the Minerva Shelter and waited.
That evening, a hiker stopped by with a note from Rick. He wasn't feeling well. Running a fever. Had chills. Planned to stay where he was. He urged Dick to go on, assuring him that he (Rick) would catch up. He added that if he didn't feel better soon, he'd hike into town to see a doctor.
Dick took off the next morning as usual, confident that when RickRock was feeling better, he'd catch up. After all, Rick walked much faster than Dick.
Two days later, there was still no sign of RickRock. Dick was worried. He asked every hiker he saw if he or she had seen any sign of his hiking buddy. No one had. When he reached Glencliff, he checked into a hostel, wrote a note to Rick, and tacked it to a tree on the trail. The note said he'd be waiting at the hostel in Glencliff.
He waited another day.
Since he was taking a zero day from hiking, Dick walked his usual four miles that morning. Late that afternoon, he was feeling restless. And worried. Not sure why, he walked back out to the trail. In the distance he saw Rick.
Their reunion was like a scene from a Hollywood movie, each man running toward the other. When they met, they shook hands again and again, slapped each other on the back again and again. Each one talked fast, piecing together the fragments of events. Rick had come down with a 72-hour flu and had gotten off the trail to see a doctor. He had tried to call me so that I could relay the news to Dick when he called. But I was at a week-long writers' conference and the remote-retrieval mechanism on my answering machine wasn't working. I never got the message.
Once Rick checked into the hostel, he and Dick caught up on the events of the week. A retired couple from New Brunswick known as "Ma and Pa" had to leave the trail. Ma feared she had a kidney stone. All the other hikers were sad to see them go. They had started in Georgia and had planned to thru-hike all the way to Katahdin. But, as Pa advised Dick, "Never count your cookies until they're baked."
Dick jokingly complained about all the food I had shipped to him, describing how he picked up the box from the post office, sat down, and ate as much of the contents as he could so he wouldn't have to carry it. Rick talked about how good it felt to feel good again. Together, they talked about how little of the trail they still had to cover, only 398.5 miles. They would enter the White Mountains tomorrow and climb Mt. Moosilauke.
In his phone call to me, Dick said he had decided to end his hike at Katahdin and not to proceed into Canada. I sighed with relief.
Twenty years ago, before Dick and I were married, he gave me a necklace-a tiny gold owl with emerald eyes. I rarely take it off. Perhaps Athena is watching out for Dick. He did, after all, ask me to send him more olive oil.