“I think I’ll stay another day here,” says Cruise Control, almost heedlessly.
It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, during one of the few moments of relax at Trail Days. The sun hasn’t been out much but the alcohol and the endless parties around tent city helped us not worrying much about the weather.
I look at him puzzled. I was sure that he abandoned the idea of spending Sunday night in Damascus, so this sudden change of plans took me unprepared.
Him staying an extra day meant that we would separate. After almost 550 miles together, I was bound to lose my hiking partner.
However, I wasn’t too worried about the news. “Cruise Control is very much capable of catching up with me,” I kept thinking, mostly as self-reinsurance that my friend will join me again on the trail.
But not for the moment.
On Sunday morning Pika, Dubs, Mac and I left Damascus to resume our adventure. Obviously, the first miles back on the trail were a sad show of pain and sweat, as demonstration of what three days of “unhealthy” habits can do to your body.
Eventually, after a rough detox day, were able to pick up the pace and hike about 60 miles between Monday and Wednesday.
I woke up excited on Thursday, knowing that in the afternoon I would’ve had the luxury to decide if my stomach preferred Mexican or Chinese for the usual town feast.
While my mouth watered at the thought of dumplings and tacos, I see in front of me a tent that looked familiar.
“It can’t be,” I immediately think.
Then he comes out. He looked exhausted and apparently the night of sleep didn’t help him to recover.
“Cruise! It’s good to see you man.”
“I hiked 38 miles yesterday to catch up with you guys,” he says, almost out of breath. “I stopped at a shelter 6 miles back, but when I heard you were close by I decided to keep going.”
I was happy to see Cruise Control again but inside me I felt like that wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
We all reached Pearisburg and after a feast at the Chinese buffet, a margarita and couple of shots of tequila, we were sitting quietly enjoying the sunset.
“I think I want to start averaging 20 miles per day,” I say, breaking the silence.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that,” responds Pika. I really enjoyed her company in the past couple of weeks but I knew we would’ve eventually split at some point.
“I’m down,” Dubs affirmed, while Mac didn’t said anything but I was sure he would’ve followed Dubs anywhere. They have been hiking together since the beginning and I’m not totally sure what Mac will do when Dubs will fly home for a wedding in 10 days.
“I don’t know man,” Cruise Control responded. I looked at him perplexed, feeling like something changed in him. He wasn’t the Cruise Control I met at the beginning, coming to the shelter with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.
This new Cruise Control was quiet, often lost in his thoughts. Maybe he needed some time alone.
The next morning I gave Pika a long hug, knowing that I might not see her for a long time. Then, as I’m getting getting ready to leave I see Cruise smoking a cigarette in the parking lot.
“I know I’ll see you again,” I tell him, not sure yet if I really meant it.
“You sure will,” was his response.
Back on the trail with Dubs and Mac I felt as the reason that caused the group to split. For days my mind and my body struggled with the idea of staying in a group or follow my own path.
I decided to go on my own, welcoming anybody who was willing to keep my pace.
The reason of my choice is because I don’t believe in goodbyes. If people are meant to stay together, their path will cross again at some point.
As I continue to convince myself that I made the right choice, I hear a noise coming from the woods. A deer comes running towards me, just to suddenly change direction after it notices me.
I raise my head to look over where the deer came from and I see a dark patch in the grass.
Then it turns.
A bear looks at me, I look at him, he nods his head, I keep walking.
Maybe he wanted to say bye too, maybe our paths will cross again.