The hike up to the Giant Ledge, which the guidebook said was 1.5 miles, took us two and a half hours. I attribute this to the steepness of the trail, which the book ranked as moderate but I would describe as dangerous; Jeff’s complaining about the steepness of the hike; Jeff’s asking about 15 times, “How come I have to carry the 80-pound pack?”; my accusing Jeff of lying when he claimed he was an Eagle Scout; our discussions of women, especially our utter befuddlement over the fact that the women in our lives had historically felt perfectly comfortable instructing us “to act like a man, for God’s sake,” while we felt constrained by societal pressure to refrain from telling any female we knew to “act like a woman”; and our stopping and filtering five gallons of water into the collapsible jug I had carried, since I knew there was no water near any campsites on the Giant Ledge. Also, I took a few minutes to accuse Jeff of being an idiot for buying smoked duck breast and a giant bag of barbecue potato chips for the trip, and he spent a few minutes informing me that I was the one who had gout, not him, and I spent a few minutes asking if he actually owned documentation on his alleged Eagle Scout badge, and he spent a few minutes inquiring as to why I hadn’t mentioned that I had been planning all along to make him risk the permanent health of his bad ankle and possibly die, “just like that last trip.”
“Jeff,” I said, “I swear I didn’t know it was going to be this steep. The guidebook said ‘moderate.’ Besides, there will be great views.”
“Right,” Jeff said, “You say ‘great views’ and what I hear is ‘death march’.”
I reminded Jeff that I’d chosen this hike primarily because it’s in Catskills State Park, which is close to the town of Phoenicia, which is the home of Sweet Sue’s restaurant, which is famous for its pancakes. Jeff nodded sagely at the mention of nearby pancakes, as men like us are wont to do. Then he reminded me that he’d only agreed to this trip because “you promised it would be different this time.” Then he sat down to work over his bag of barbecue potato chips. We arrived at the top of the Giant Ledge at 6 p.m., and after thrashing through the woods cursing each other for not having found a good spot to pitch our tent, and after Jeff reminded me how I had brought only avocados and cheese on the Trip of Doom 12 years earlier and he sure hoped I had planned our meals better this time, and after I asked if he didn’t think he might be doing himself a favor by rehabbing his supposedly injured ankle, rather than babying it, we came to a clearing. In it was a fire ring, with wood that previous campers had left and what looked like a flat, grassy plot for the tent and a tree where food might be hung.
Except for the swarms of ravenous black flies, it was ideal. I flung down my pack, reached into the top flap, then exclaimed, “Tell me, Yogi, who’s the Eagle Scout now!?!” And I whipped out two black mesh mosquito-netting face-gear contraptions that I, in a fit of prescient genius, had purchased at a fancy camping store.