On our off-trail hike along the crest of Anakeesta Ridge, I had hidden my daypack by the side the trail so I could slither through the obstructions on the ridgecrest. I would retrieve it as we backtracked our way out a few hours later. Unfortunately, after about an hour of slithering, Greg Harrell and I had somehow managed to wander off the main ridge and onto a small, obscure side ridge. We had stayed on what seemed to be not merely the main ridge, but the only ridge. There was just no other route to take. And yet, there we were, on that small, unnamed side ridge wondering how we got there.
In the distance below us an occasional car would pass along the base of Anakeesta, to the south, at the end of this side ridge. Greg pulled out his map, and we discovered that we were only about a half mile away from Newfound Gap Road. Greg later told me that at that moment he saw the gears start turning in my head as I began considering our options and doing the math: we could push our way for an hour back to the Boulevard then hike two miles up the Boulevard and another three miles on the AT, or we could hike about a half mile down hill and catch a ride back up to the truck. In my mind, the choice was obvious – hike down, then hitchhike.
I explained my thinking and my preference to Greg, who just stood there, listening patiently. He listened as I went on and on about daylight, gravity, old age, and travelling new paths. I went on for so long that I probably even covered some politics, history, and theology. PhD dissertations have been shorter and simpler than my impassioned monologue.
When I finally paused to take a breath, thinking that I had an airtight case and that we would be going down, not up, Greg looked down in the direction of the road and said, “Sounds good to me.”
I was a bit surprised at how easily he agreed with my analysis of the situation, but I assumed that even he, when faced with the overwhelming weight of unadulterated logic, had no alternative but to yield to the inevitable. Then he paused for effect and said, “Hey, pal…” – another pause, for even greater dramatic impact – “… where’s your pack?”
What followed can only be described as a conniption for the ages. I jumped and screamed and spun and kicked. Greg laughed. I wailed and moaned and ranted and spit. Greg laughed. Like Job, I recounted the unfairness in life, the capriciousness of fate. Greg laughed. Coyotes howled in the distance. Mothers in Gatlinburg covered their children’s ears. Rabbits and bears fled in terror. My disappointment was deep, reaching to the marrow of my bones and the core of my being. Greg laughed. He showed no pity, no sympathy. He seemed happy with our fate. Backtracking up through the tangle and rocks of Anakeesta Ridge was a small price to pay to witness my tantrum.
Then I paused and began a mental inventory of the contents of my daypack. Could I just leave my pack where it was? It was old and ratty. It held a water bottle and a fleece jacket, so I’d be losing a few dollars, but it might be worth it. It was hidden well, so I could even come back in a few weeks and retrieve it if the mood struck. Yes, there was a ray of hope, a chance for redemption --- which Greg saw written on my face.
At that moment Greg became a mind-reader and a sadist. He seemed to know what I was thinking because he looked at me as I pondered, paused for effect, and said rhetorically, “Hey… (another pause to heighten the drama)… where are your keys?”
In my pack. My keys were in my stinkin’ pack.
I swooned as the sun was blotted out and the moon turned to blood….
Our hike back to my truck was long and somber.