The Alaskan, the Italian Triathalon and the Gypsies: Part 1

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A small bridge sat across the road and directly diagonally positioned from our RV. It sat there, and it sat there, and that was the problem, all that it did was sit there. Even as we went on a morning bike ride around the lake, another one later across the dam. Even as we played frisbee in the back yard, jumping off of and onto stumps and diving between slender pines to catch the disc, it still remained defiant. Just sitting there.

So naturally, we crossed the thing.

Our plan was simple: let’s go on a short dayhike. I was armed with little more than a recording device and a bottle of water, Tristan, only the frisbee and roughly 18 ounces of trail mix. As you can see, that left little room for trepidation or fear, so onward we journeyed.

We hadn’t made it more than twenty feet when a fork in the road presented the opportunity for decision making, and I gladly deferred to Tristan, hoping he would choose the steep uphill path to the left rather than the winding, slighly rolling trail that was as much wooden plank as it was dirt and followed the general outline of the swamps beside us. The second path was obviously more interesting, more scenic, easier perhaps but with more opportunity to jump from bump to bump and was headed toward the playground, our ultimate destination, but I was still hoping he’d choose the steeper, less inviting one.

The “why?” is simple: it’s a popular weekend here and there was already a group ahead of and directly behind us, and I don’t like groups. He chose the steeper trail.

“Do you know where this goes?” an older woman’s voice faintly made its way up the trail. I ignored it, assuming she was talking to the young boy, her grandson I’d gathered. Then I turned around, just to be sure, and she was standing — Captain Morgain-style — looking up the trail at me. “Do you know where this trail goes to?” she asked again.

“Oh, were you talking to us?” my brain scattering around trying to reformulate the map I’d been studying all day but had left back at the RV for this walk (the only one it truly would have come in handy for, as the bike rides were all on clearly marked roads). “I think it loops up and around, I’m not sure though.” I turn around and start walking up the hill. “This is our first time here,” I shout back. I don’t like to seem rude, but I also don’t like a bunch of people around me when I’m trying to take a nature walk, particularly when they seem a bit feeble and needy.

Tristan and I continued climbing up the trail and the grandmother and grandson followed behind us, though we could make much faster time as we had the median youth age on our side and were pumped full of trail mixed fuel. As we started to climb the crest of the hill though, it was obvious that this fork was going to simply dump us back into the RV park, and we were hoping to get much deeper into the woodlands. So we cut down over a very steep hillside, sliding down through the dirt and landing safely on the other trail below.

I looked back to check on Tristan. He was fine, but we were still being tailed.

The old woman was barrelling down over the hill, completely in touch with her footing and obviously sure of what she was doing. But why were they following us? I tried to get Tristan to hurry up and we began walking so quickly that somehow we lost the trail. Pushing up through the sagging thick branches of a giant conifer we broke free of the forest and found ourselves tippy toe on the edge of a small cliff that dumped into the lake. The other side of the lake held the secret to finding the playground, this side held several small little bogs filled with algae and lilly pads, and as soon as we came into the clearing by the water two enormous, completely gray cranes lifted up out of the water and spread their wings, easily 4 or 5 feet total in span, and flew away. We surveyed the land for a short time and looked around to find anything resembling a trail, which there was, though the resemblance was to a distant cousin at best. You could just make out a line in the dirt, but the weeds and thorny bushes on either side had been working hard to reach out and create a canopy over any formal trail that had once existed. A 2 foot canopy.

Just then I heard our followers behind us — still behind us. Now, it’s not that I even cared so much about them following us at this point, we could have easily left them behind as they were much slower, but the trail was about to get a bit gnarly. It was the type of trail that a teenage version of myself or younger would have had a field day with, dipping and dodging between limbs and over logs and under fallen trees, and Tristan was already full tilt and into the fun of it all. That’s exactly the kind of fun that I didn’t think the grandmother was going to appreciate, however.

So I went back to warn them. The trail gets rough ahead, you might want to consider whether you really want to do this or not.

Apparently, they did, but not without her saying “We’re just following you, I’m not trying to get lost.” Now the pressure was on me to do something. I could see now that my efforts to lose them at first were borderline cruelty, here I was, a young man with his wits about him and 29 years experience navigating forests trying to ditch the old lady and her kid. So I invited them to officially join our party. Or at least, I didn’t continue trying to go so much faster that they would be lost in these woods forever.

The woman introduced our two boys. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Tristan.”

“Hi Tristan, this is Gavin.”

All I could think of was “Oh, that’s how you’re supposed to do it.” I would love to be one of those people who could just instantly get along with strangers and start talking and having a good time and exchanging the gift of gab back and forth, but I’m not, and I’m often very much the opposite of that. So, more often than not, I completely ignore people in the rudest of ways.

“Hi.” Tristan said to the boy, even as we found ourselves now completely without trail, staring directly into the high brush and weed and undergrowth that was denser Pennsylvania forest. I wasn’t sure what to do, adventure on through the forest as I’d planned, or suggest to the group, particularly the old woman, that we should turn around.

The fact that she was still following us into this ridiculous amount of thickery — I was at times laying on my back to crawl through low spots or raising my leg up incredibly high to push down any type of trail through the brush –should have shown me that she was either incredibly frightened of getting lost by leaving us or she was having an incredibly good time with whatever. I’m not sure which it was, or which I thought it was at the time, but eventually we broke out of the brush and into a large clearing. Tristan jumped up in the air with his arms extended, fists clenched, victorious. Gavin starting chiming in with the happy yells as well, and I waited for the grandmother to catch up.

We found a road not much further along our walk, and I told her about our family’s little jaunt around the US. Then she began to tell me about her own, rich and amazing, life…

Continued in Part 2 of this story tomorrow.