|Dad at Shining Rock in October|
You guys who have been hanging around here a while know my dad as Camp Papa, his blog-commenting name. He just yesterday emerged from spending a week on the Appalachian Trail. (My mom was visiting me because she didn't want to be up at their mountain house alone for the week, though I told her she wouldn't be alone. There would be bears and moonshiney ghosts.)
I am proud of that guy. Just eighteen months ago, before he lost 100+ pounds and took up hiking, he would not have been able to dream of doing that trek. Not even one day of it. It's like he's been given a new life. Or more that he's gone out and gotten it for himself.
He was to do the hike with seven other guys, and he had given lots of thought and preparation to his gear and everything, and he has been walking long distances, so I wasn't worried about him. But then Mom showed up at my house and told me about dropping him at the trail head. "How did he seem?" I asked. "Well," she said, "it was like the Roy Rogers galoshes."
The Roy Rogers galoshes: For long, long years, those galoshes have been part of family lore. When my dad was a kid, he was very poor. His mother worked hard to raise her three children alone, and they struggled to make ends meet. Sometimes the ends did not meet. The story goes that when Dad was in maybe the third grade, his shoes wore out and all he had to wear to school were a pair of Roy Rogers galoshes, in rain or shine. One moral of the story as it has been told is that he didn't mind this very much. Another part of the story is that, when I first heard of the galoshes--I was probably younger than Laura--I announced that I couldn't hear about them any more ever because they made me want to cry. They stood as a symbol for all the things about his childhood that were difficult, awkward, and make-do. Those galoshes pained me.
Another legend of this kind was his bicycle--the only bike he ever had. It didn't have pedals and it didn't have a seat--just a pole sticking up--but he loved it and couldn't wait to come home and ride it. Do you see now why, as a younger person, I couldn't stand to hear this stuff? Also he never had a birthday party, I'm serious.
It's okay now though.
Anyway, at my house on Sunday, Mom painted a vivid picture of his meeting up with his hiking buddies in the rainy woods. They arrived all wearing these slick, breathable, two-piece rain suits. Dad, she said, had cobbled together two different dollar store ponchos to cover him and his pack. "And the ponchos were different colors!" she said, shaking her head. "And he has a rain suit at the house!" she protested. "I tried to get him to take it, but he insisted he'd be fine with the ponchos."
"It's the Roy Rogers galoshes!" we exclaimed together.
That night he turned on his phone long enough to text her. "Miserable day. Pray for a dry night for me." We stewed and worried. He also said it was much harder going than he expected, with the steep climbing and the heavy pack combined.
The whole week, as we were going about our normal business, I thought of him out on the trail, trudging forward. Cold frosty mornings and misty foggy afternoons. I thought of how tedious I would find it taking off my boots at night, knowing I had to put them on again in the morning.
Mom was expecting to go pick them up in the Nantahala Gorge this morning, but with the weather about to turn stormy again, they pushed quicker and came out last night. Someone had left a car, and they all trundled to the mountain house to spend the night. He said it was like arriving at the Ritz Carlton.
We talked to him today. He said it was the hardest thing he's ever done--harder than basic training in the Air Force, harder than training for high school football--just really hard. He kept saying, "Did I mention it was hard?" And that if there had been an exit door, he might have taken it. But he stuck with it. They slept in hammocks every night, and boiled water to make food. They met through-hikers who were going all the way, and got to dip a toe into the quirky culture of the AT. They went about fifty miles, which isn't huge daily distance, maybe, but there was a lot of climbing. He learned a lot about the practical aspects of the whole enterprise--gear and food and all that. And he goes, "I've always heard that you can do more than you think you can, but I never actually had to do it."
Old guys! They're tough! I am happy for him.
He said he wouldn't want to do it again next week, but he might want to do it again next year, and he was talking about us doing some kind of family trek, not a week but a few days. I reminded him that the last time I went camping, I took along frappuccino in glass bottles. Whereas he had sawed off his toothbrush handle to cut weight. So we'll see what comes of that.