What has become of our heros since we last left them?!
(hastly finished i think but finished.)
Hannah and I opted not to verbally respond, instead slowly turn towards each other and watch the color drain from our faces; resigning our fate to being stuck atop this mountain and living as human Appalachian Trail markers. Sure I enjoyed organic grocery shopping and the occasional bonfire but I wasn’t ready to fashion a natural diaper out of oak leaves and saplings. Soon I’d be communicating to Hannah is our own strange mountain language, wearing homemade animal pelts and forgetting a time when I would spend five minutes in the grocery store analyzing each individual shaving cream to see which one fit my needs and personality best.
My all too natural nightmares were interrupted by another one of Flannel’s boisterous laughs, “You really don’t have a clue as to where you are do you?” We sort of responded with another nervous rounds of laughter, already possibly slipping into non-verbal mountain communication, but trying to redeem ourselves Hannah half said, half asked, “We were just following the Appalachian Trail. We’re on the Appalachian Trail?” He laughed again while simultaneously shaking his head in soft disbelief. We might as well have approached him with a map of Manhattan asking, “I’m sorry sir, could you help us, we can’t seem to find where we are on this map? Are we near Chelsea?” He gave us two potential paths, one following the electrical line through the mountain (the shortcut), the other taking this trail to a gravel road and then following that to a paved road. Before we thanked him and his crotch-loving dog, he asked hopefully, “Say that green truck with all the Steelers stickers on it isn’t yours is it?” Finally I could respond with some conviction, “No sir, it most definitely is not.”
I opted for us to take the path that lead to the paved road. I was now viewing the wilderness as a plastic bag over my head; as long as I could get out of it I might not die. We reached a gravel road that snaked down the least romantic part of the mountain. Sure enough we passed by an old green pickup truck with Steelers football decals on the windows and a n1STEELERS vanity license plate. We contemplated hotwiring the truck but considered the death of our reputation and dignity not worth the quick escape. The decline we had so hoped for while just a few minutes ago came in a fairly steep, steady rate that made our knees question why they were being punished. I’d turn around every so often somewhat expecting to see an old pickup truck slowly driving towards us, the man in the flannel leaning out the window, his dog leaning out the other. “You kids won’t last another hour, hop in” He’d say and Hannah and I would give each other looks of hesitation but ultimately throw out grade school warnings and hop in. Except flannel man was nowhere to be seen; in fact, no one was around. The end of “Tot’s Lane,” came to a paved road, which we turned right onto, following Flannel’s directions. I was finally walking on the outside perimeter of the forest and mountain but then the signs on the trees made me wonder just what perimeter I was on. White marks were replaced with “US TERRITORY LIMITS.” While I was positive we hadn’t ventured into the excitement graveyard known as Canada, spirits were not lifted with the stern notification.
When at first I assumed the directions he gave us were just vague, upon walking down the paved street I realized the directions weren’t vague, the area was. Unless “unkept house number three” was seen as a monument, nothing stood out among this stretch of Grade-D Americana. The monotony of the landscape only made our trek down the macadam decline more tiresome. The houses we’d pass all contained porches littered with disregarded items and broken down appliances, a wrap-around garbage can. While it seemed to me that the Krelians’ might want to dispose of their jumbo diaper boxes somewhere else it occurred to me that maybe the Krelian’s weren’t so concerned about public displays of paper underwear seeing as the road seemed about as traveled as Mount Deserted we just left. The strangeness of our presence was even more apparent when we’d pass a house who’s standard too long driveway had someone taking out the trash, watering plants or preparing a cat for dinner. Regardless of what they were doing, the person would slow down their activity and gaze at us--a two-person parade of foreignness. Directly proportional to the house’s state of dereliction was the number of mediocre cars. It seemed in this area stashing your extra tires and electrical parts outside meant you deserved an extra car. Thought exterior paint as a thing exclusive to the 70s? Add another used car. As an open-minded accidental traveler I try not to judge what appears to be cultural norms but I couldn’t help but question the need for so many similar cars, and if no one was home (which was the apparent state of the...area) than were they all driving around somewhere else in more cars? The thoughts provided me with a mental soundtrack to accompany the metronome of my feet.
Our energy and Naglene bottle slowly draining we came upon an unexpected T in the road. Flannel had given us directions up until the road we were currently on so anything from here on out was left to our natural intuition or the gods of the Delaware Water Gap area.
“Let me check the name of the street,” I said confidently to Hannah, who was now nervously clutching the Nalgene bottle, testing its shatter-resistant claim. The T in the road featured only a street name for the street we were just on and it was…”Tot’s Lane”.
“Wait, this says we were just on Tot’s Lane but that was the gravel street that we turned off of to get onto this street miles back.” I was stupefied. Had all directional logic been thrown out the window since we embarked on this adventure hours prior? Was it this hard for Louis and Clark? Where was our Sacagawea? Before the thought could escape my mind we glanced over to the field next to us; a small part of it was the back and front yard of a medium sized home. An elderly man was playing with, presumably, his grandchildren on a plastic swing set. Exhausted we plopped down on the grassy slop next to the street corner. We were probably about ready to accept defeat except defeat was not an option, we hadn’t the slightest clue where we were or how to get back; defeat would mean using the Fisher-Price plastic slide as shelter and roaming the neighborhood for scrapes and squirrel meat. Much like our approach to the man in the flannel, we had a brief, frantic debate over asking the elderly gentleman the name of the street we were about to turn onto. Contemplating the carb and calorie count of squirrel meat and realizing I had a bag of organic Tostidos waiting for me in the car I wasn’t ready to give up. Thankfully Hannah agreed and mustered the energy to stand up and politely shout to the now dazed man, “Excuse me sir?! Excuse me? Hi, yes I’m sorry could you possibly tell us what street this is?”
The elderly fellow began to shake his head no—a response I was not prepared for—but then managed to squeak out in a gender confusing, feminine squeak, “Cherry Orchard Road, I think”.
Hannah thanked the androgynous elder and we made a hasty left onto what may or may not be Cherry Orchard Road. As we scurried away from the scene I, in poor taste, recounted the strangeness of the area: automobiles that grow from poorly managed properties, streets that begin and end in no logical order, gender-bending grannies, it was all too much to take. The sheer lunacy of the situation shut down the sector of our brains that registered stress. Where hopeless crying should have been we laughed uncontrollably. Were we regressing from some sort of back-woods America toxin? Our brains were seemingly malfunctioning, were our motor skills next? Would that he/she senior citizen be pushing me down that Fisher-Price slide? During our inappropriate laughter we somehow managed to conclude that calling Hannah’s mom and getting online directions from Cherry Orchard Road to the Deerhead Inn just off of Mountain Road was the best option, except the laughing didn’t stop before or during the phone call. As I walked around in a small circle, arms in the air signaling defeat to Mother Nature, Hannah was trying to explain our situation to her Mom in between laughter. Much like when you accidentally hurt your friend during a childhood roughhousing session Hannah’s mom wasn’t sure if Hannah as in fact laughing or crying. Before she could deduce an answer, I signaled to Hannah that there were people ahead we could ask further directions and she snapped the cell phone shut.
Were those two moms waiting for their child’s school bus or were they waiting for us to approach them in near hysterics asking for directions? It was hard to judge especially since our brains might be functioning on a third grade level soon; after that communication will be on a strictly giggles and grunts level.
“Hi, I’m sorry but we are sort of lost we were wondering if you could help us,” Hannah again apologetically asks.
“Okay,” one woman cautiously answers.
“You see we were just hiking the Appalachian Trail and then we…”
I cut Hannah off before she can give the full back-story to our misadventure.
“Yeah we just need to get back to the Deerhead Inn actually, if that’s at all close”
“Ah yeah you want to just turn around and take this road down till it hits Main Street, then turn right and it’s right past the post office, you can’t miss it. It is a bit over a mile away I think.”
We thank them and I turn us around in the opposite direction, with—for the first time—a sense of direction. Dreading passing the androgynous grandparent again, we try to walk as fast as our aching legs can move. Still acknowledging elementary rules we walk against traffic, moving into the possibly poison filled brush every so often as we lazily warn each other, “Car”. It’s nearing the four-hour mark and everything on our bodies is tired: ankles, knees, head, even my hand is tired from carrying the Nalgene bottle. Brains and mouth fatigued as well, we barely speak except for the occasional optimistic outburst of what we plan on doing as soon as we are within visual range of freedom. Freedom meant hot showers; freedom meant junk food…freedom meant Dairy Queen.
“I would love to get Dairy Queen right now,” Hannah says, teasing my taste-buds.
“I don’t want to be in the presence of food that contains any colors found in nature. I want a pastel, rainbow plate of sugar, carbs and various fatty-based foods,” I respond, half sternly directed towards nature.
“No…my Mom’s friend said there’s a good vegetarian café in this area that we should check out.” Hannah suggests with feigned enthusiasm.
We take a moment and stand in knee length weeds as a pick-up truck barrels down the street. I try to jump-start my legs by kicking a small, run over branch into our sidewalk of wilderness. Again we stroll in tired silence.
“I know there’s a Dairy Queen around here, I just know it,” Hannah blurts out.
Before we can imagine the extra pounds on our tired thighs we come to the literal and figurative end in the road. Main Street at last. We turn right and for the first time in four hours we recognize where we are. We are getting irrationally nostalgic:
“The Italian Restaurant! I recognize that!”
“Oh, remember this dip in the road?!”
“Look up ahead—the post office!”
Every familiar sight reminds us that we are in fact headed in the right direction, and with each reaffirmation our pace begins to quicken with some unexplained energy that I imagined would only show itself when I needed to rescue a baby from under a car. Like an old friend we had been separated with, there was the Deerhead Inn; while we had no clue as to what the Deerhead Inn was, we referenced it to almost every one of our unexpected guides. It was only fitting that the final leg in our journey was a short but remarkably steep hill that passed the Deerhead Inn and reached the parking lot, one final “fuck you” from Nature, she might have been a bitch but she certainly had a sense of humor.
It may not have been washed in a few months but on that late afternoon Hannah’s Scion shined as if waxed with angels’ wings. It still might be the most religious experience I’ve had to date. Once inside the car, in unison, we took a deep victorious breath. Immediately we could smell our musky natural scent, clashing with the synthetic smells of the car. It was horrible. I smelled like pine trees, dirt, and fresh air. My lack of energy was the only thing keeping me from rubbing my face against the man-made fabric of the seat, dousing myself in the artificially flavored drink and being able to breath again. No as we pulled out of the gravel parking lot I realized I would only ever be comfortable entering a mountain when I know I have a way out. And as we merged onto the highway and were greeted with a sign proclaiming, “FOOD NEXT EXIT – DAIRY QUEEN,” Hannah and I looked at each other, smiled, and realized we were finally headed in the right direction.