On October 3, Dick hiked those final 11.2 miles in Connecticut that he and RickRock missed last July when a fire in the Macedonia State Forest forced them to alter their route. Conflicting schedules meant that Dick and RickRock would not be able to do the final hike together as originally intended. RickRock planned to cover the ground on Friday, October 1, before going home to Pittsburgh.
Odds and Ends
On Tuesday, September 28, after checking in at the Best Western in Millinocket, Dick and I visited with RickRock and his friend Sandy, then drove into town. We stopped at the AT Lodge, a bed and breakfast owned and operated by Don and Joan Cogswell. Dick and RickRock had stayed there the night before. We visited a few minutes with thruhikers Second Wind and Smoky Joe.
Smokey Joe is a charming man, mature, tall and slender, with a soothing Southern accent. I asked what, if anything, had surprised him about the hike. He said it was the enthusiastic reaction of people back home. He comes from a small town in Georgia. Folks back there want to have a parade for him! I asked if he felt the time he'd spent on the trail had changed him in any significant way. He had hoped things wouldn't bother him as quickly as they used to, but he hasn't found that to be the case. I noticed that he laughed when he said it. Maybe the change is in process.
Second Wind is a handsome man in his late-thirties. Thirteen years ago he decided to take a six-month sabbatical from life. But he didn't know when-or what, or how. Friends knew of his nebulous plan and often asked when he was going to take action. When he announced he would hike the AT, many expressed the desire to do the same thing. But as he quickly discovered, they didn't want to spend the time and energy necessary to plan the trip, to research equipment, compare prices, read warranties, schedule food drops. They wanted a turn-key experience. In the end, with both the solitude of the trail and the camaraderie of the other thruhikers, hiking the AT has proven to be the ideal experience for him.
That evening, Dick and I met RickRock and Sandy for dinner. The men commented on how easy it was to tell the difference between weekend hikers and thrukikers, especially those who had come this far. Thruhikers walk with purpose in their steps and focus in their eyes. Their arms swing with or without hiking poles. Their feet measure steps in rhythmic time. Their backs lean forward, even without the weight of the pack. Their bodies move like well-oiled machines. They also share a certain÷odor.
I asked them what they missed most while on the trail. For Dick it was tap water and chairs with backs. RickRock said, "My life."
The next morning, we met RickRock and Sandy at the Appalachian Trail Caf». Second Wind was there too, as was The Lovely Overpacked. A change in schedules meant that Dick and RickRock would not be able to hike the remaining 11.2 miles in Kent, Connecticut, together. I was surprised at how calmly they shook hands and said good-bye.
Dick and I went back to the hotel and checked out. I couldn't shake the feeling of loss. Dick had often joked about how RickRock was his back-up, whether for maps or iodine tablets. But the young man was much more than that. Dick told me of the countless times Rick had shown compassion and generosity to others on the trail-never seeking payment or recognition. Dick also told me how he and RickRock learned to adjust to the other's ingrained habits. The morning routine showcased their differences. Dick is one to wake up and get going. He'd pull up his stakes while climbing out of the tent. Rick, on the other hand, would savor the newness of each day and spend time in quiet reflection. I can't say my husband has learned to be patient, but at least now he knows what it looks like. I can say, without reservation, that RickRock was Dick's trail angel. I'm grateful that they chose to be a team. Few people who start out hiking the AT together stay together for the whole trail. The fact that these two men did means that RickRock also got something positive out of the relationship. All good things, however, must come to an end.
The ending of one thing is always the beginning of something else. I showed Dick my new hiking boots and told him I had no intention of coming this far into Maine and not hiking at least a portion of the AT. He grinned.
Months earlier, he had mailed his glasses home and I hadn't thought to bring them with me. So I drove. He navigated. Next thing I knew, I had parked the car on a dirt road and was walking under an endless canopy of trees, along a narrowing footpath. Dick had given me a quick course in reading the white blazes. One means the course keeps going in the same direction; two means the direction is about to change. He stayed far enough behind me so that I could neither see nor hear him, so I could feel what it was like to be alone on the trail. I was so focused on white blazes, I missed the moose.
I heard Dick's voice, louder than a whisper, as cautious as a warning, as insistent as a command. "Zita!" I thought of the old comedy routine: Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch. But when I saw Dick, he wasn't laughing.
Lifting his arm slowly, he pointed and mouthed the words: "Moose. In the marsh. Go look."
I tiptoed through the trees. The moose in the marsh was a cow. Her calf stood behind her. Dick pulled out his camera and said, "Get closer. I want a good shot of you and the moose." I took a few cautious steps toward the water. That's when I spotted the third moose-the big bull, no more than fifty feet to my right. It had a rack the size of Texas. Just the night before, Dick had told me about the bull moose that charged him. The animal stared at me. I froze.
"Move more to the right," Dick whispered. "I want to get a shot of you and all three moose."
"This is as close as I'm getting! Snap the picture and let's get out of here!"
We left in a hurry.
Back at the car, Dick said I sure was lucky. He had to walk 2,160 miles to see 12 moose. I walked only 1 mile and saw 3. I thought for a moment. At that rate, I would have spotted over 6,000!
In astrology, there's something known as "the Jupiter cycle." The planet takes 12 years to complete its orbit around the sun and return to its position at the time of birth. In her book, Making the Gods Work For You, author and astrologer Caroline Casey uses the old folk tale of Fatima the Spinner to show the implications of this 12-year cycle. Young Fatima had 12 years of trials and tribulations. Finally, as a woman, she realized that in dealing with each catastrophe she had claimed the tools that enabled her to create her ultimate happiness. In Fatima's case, the task that led to that happiness was her ability to build a tent.
In the summer of 1988, Dick and I spent several weeks in Alaska and the Klondike. I had been working on an idea for a contemporary suspense novel. The literary agent I wanted said he liked my writing but not that story. For several days, Dick and I joined a group on a bus trip into the Klondike. After a whole day of siting nothing but a few small birds, the passengers clamored for wildlife. We wanted eagles! We wanted bears! We wanted moose!
Before starting out the next day, the bus driver announced a wildlife contest. He gave each of us a sheet of paper with the instructions that we were to write a poem about a moose. He would judge the entries; the winner would receive a prize. Like kindergarten children, momentarily placated, we turned our attention to poetry-and to visualizing what we wanted. I'd never written a poem. Dick, on the other hand, had written numerous jingles for contests. He felt confident.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. As we got off the bus, the driver collected our poems. An hour later, we climbed aboard. Our poems hung like flags on the overhead handrails. We walked down the aisle, looking left and right, reading each other's work. Dick found his poem. Everyone else found his or her creation. But mine wasn't there.
Thinking my entry had somehow gotten lost, I took my seat. That's when I saw my poem. The driver had hung it from the rearview mirror. I had won the contest! My prize? A little wooden pin in the shape of a moose, a bull with a rack the size of Texas.
I came home from that trip and wrote Band of Gold, my first novel. The story takes place during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. The book was published by the paperback division of HarperCollins in 1993. It's out of print now.
I wore the moose pin for years, until the clasp on the back broke. The moose is now on my desk, next to my monitor, under the words "Gateway 2000."
Next year, 2000, will mark 12 years from the summer when the moose came into my life.
Sunday, October 3
Dick and I left home at 7 a.m. and drove 60 miles to the spot on Route 4 near Cornwall, Connecticut, where I had left Dick and RickRock this past July. Autumn in New England is known for its foliage and the northwest corner of Connecticut is famed for its scenery. Though we couldn't boast the flaming color of autumns past, we still had pockets of vivid yellow and crimson, scattered like the jewels of some ancient goddess. An early morning mist had settled in the crevices between those hills. The day promised to be beautiful.
I dropped Dick off at the trailhead and headed into Kent. While he was hiking in the woods, I was sitting at an outdoor caf» sipping coffee and munching on a muffin. I was also making notes for a new book, something about the inner journey on the Appalachian Trail.
At 12:30, I drove to the spot where he was to finish. Dick is always prompt. He planned to arrive at 1 o'clock. I planned to hike towards him. But just as I climbed over the wooden turnstile, I saw a hiker coming out of the woods. It was a girl who appeared to be in her early twenties. She was a southbound thruhiker. Her trailname, "Rings," reflected the row of colorful hoops on each ear. She had started at Katahdin in July and planned to reach Springer Mountain in Georgia in January. Until this trip, she had never hiked before in her life. She had never even heard of the Appalachian Trail. She said she wanted to challenge herself.
I grabbed my notepad.
Before I knew it, I saw Dick in the distance. I checked my watch: 12:58. Rings was impressed by his timing. I laughed and said he had probably been hiding in the woods for twenty minutes, so he could arrive exactly at 1 o'clock.
Not long after that, Dick and I headed home. Climbing Katahdin had been the climax of an exciting adventure. No question. But this day marked the quiet completion of an inner journey. For Dick and me, our lives would return to normal, though we both knew that "normal" would never mean what is used to. Each of us had changed. For him, the muscles he thought marked him as "old" proved him wrong. Age is only a number. For me, the writing muscle I feared had atrophied showed me that with a little exercise, one report at a time, I could recapture the confidence to face the blank screen.
I thought about that as we drove home along those winding country roads. Every now and then a gust of wind would cross our path and falling leaves would shower us in red and gold confetti. This, too, was a day to celebrate.