When we returned to our campsite (we stopped halfway to Panther Mountain; I was kind of hungry but, more important, didn’t want to risk our newly healed and still fragile friendship), Jeff said he was exhausted and needed to rest, so I said sure, go ahead and rest. I was grateful to him for getting me out of my funk and onto the trail earlier, and grateful to him for accompanying me here, and for doing the dishes and giving me the rainpants, and grateful to him for telling me the secret of women and regulators and health. So I decided I would man up and gather some firewood (we had indeed burnt our entire supply the night before). After arranging the pile of new wood under the tarp, along with the Backpacker’s Stool and the French press and all of our dry clothes and the water filter and iodine pills (when it comes to waterborne gastrointestinal illness, I’m a big believer in redundancy), I snuck a secret Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tart. At my first bite, I had a distinct and intense feeling of not only happiness, but a sense that this was pure happiness, that I had never in my life been happier, that my friend Jeff was resting in the tent, and that I had just manned up and gathered a bunch of firewood and arranged our stuff underneath the extra tarp that I had the foresight to pack in, along with extra rope, and that I’d arranged a rope-and-pulley system that created our little shelter, that all my needs–shelter, food, human companionship–were at the moment taken care of, that all the needs I thought were so pressing–fame, fortune, a girlfriend, a better apartment–weren’t so pressing at all, and that now that I understood the secret links between women and health and regulators and appetite, I might be able to get rid of the elephant-strength tranquilizers and be cured of gout. Everything would be okay.
It was late afternoon, about 3:30, when I had this epiphany. I was wearing my mosquito netting, and rain pants and a raincoat with my sweater underneath, and the woods were quiet. I decided I would take a little rest myself.
Five minutes later, we heard the rain. And then the wind. And then the thunder. We could see flashes of lightning through the tent walls. We were warm, and safe, and now we both knew the secret to life, and I remembered how much I loved being in a tent in a rainstorm. I fell asleep to thunder and rain, and when I woke, it was quiet, and still light, and I knew I had just had the best hour-and-a-half nap of my life.
We climbed out of the tent. Everything under the tarp was soaked, including the formerly dry clothes and all of the wood. (Note to self: Next time, construct a lean-to-type arrangement.) We tore the pages we had read from our books, and built a pyramid of small kindling over it.
“We’ll have dinner, and then in a couple of hours we’ll see if we can start a fire,” I said.
“Let’s light it now,” Jeff said.
“Why? So we can have a fire for two hours of daylight?”
“C’mon. I want a fire now. It’ll take our minds off of how you got everything soaked.”
“Hey, I manned up while you passed out in the tent.”
“I admire you for your effort. You failed completely, but you saw the storm coming and you made a great effort and that’s what counts.”
“Oh, like you made a great effort to give me the rain pants this morning but you failed and soaked me in granola?”
“Stop blaming me for the spilled granola.”
“Look, Yogi, I’m not going to let your fire greed destroy us. We’re not building a fire till it gets dark.”
We had dinner (avocado-and-cheese sandwiches and chocolate; I decided not to cook the dried beef stroganoff I’d packed because it seemed too labor intensive and I’d already manned up enough this day), and discussed the Rocky movies, and mutual friends, and the high points of the trip so far (Jeff liked the view of rising fog on our hike; I still marveled at the sublimity of my Pop-Tart moment, though I couldn’t admit the existence of the secret treats, so I said something about the gentle whisper of the wind). Then we tried to get a fire started, and even though we demonstrated great effort, failed miserably, even after we tore up a lot of book pages and I tried to soak them in butane from my lighter.