How It Begins

How It Begins

This is how it begins, standing in front of the toilet, three or four times a night, the stream broken and bashful. His body has betrayed him. But that’s all right. His mind has grown weary too.

He stumbles back to bed. The planning begins next, getting his shit in order, making sure nothing is left for someone else to clean up. But it isn’t as simple as you would think. At first glance, you just do it. But when the planning begins, you realize it doesn’t just happen.

In the morning, he’d do his research. Right now, he only wanted to go back to sleep. Even this is broken and bashful, his dreams disturbing. But he finally falls to sleep, and in the morning he tries to recall the dreams that invaded his sleep the night before, the dreams that made a mockery out of the night. But they are gone. Only abandoned shells.

He stumbles to the bathroom to sway in front of the toilet, holding his dick, looking up, hearing the unsteady stream of urine splashing a hundred feet below. A waterfall in a dark rainforest. It isn’t like that at all. The stream spewing out the end of the dick he holds in his hand is intermittent and mocking. He stands patiently, getting rid of what he can. Afterward, he leaves without flushing the piddling bit left behind.

He walks into the dark kitchen, flips on the light switch. It is convenient. But boring. He fills the coffee pot from the kitchen tap, dumps coffee in the strainer until it is close to the top, pours in the water and flips another switch. He has to pee again. This is fucking insane. Too much.

He will plan a camping trip before he offs himself. He owes himself that much – at least.

The rest of it can wait until he gets back.

As the coffee maker gurgles behind him, he digs through his closet for his backpack. It is filled with his gear: backpacking stove, tent, sleeping bag, tin cup, dented coffee pot, cooking pot, rain gear. At the store, he can buy mac and cheese and granola bars. He once lived for two weeks in Yellowstone on mac and cheese and coffee. He doesn’t remember ever getting tired of it. When you’re hungry enough, it doesn’t much matter what you throw down your gullet.

He pulls out maps of Colorado. Where to? It doesn’t matter as long as it’s far away from here – and from people. He needs space. He needs to walk deep into the far mountains. He’ll leave tomorrow, during the week, which gives him the best chance of being alone.

There are places he remembers from his college days. And afterward, before he got serious about work. He laughs at this because he never got serious about work. Although he worked hard. For many years. And raised a family. Who are gone now. And this is why he needs the solitude of the high mountains. He is alone. But yet crowded in his tiny apartment. He needs to be in the cold and damp and low clouds. And feel the frost on his bare feet when he slips out of his tent in the morning to pee. Maybe in the high solitude, he can pee – uninterrupted.

He studies the maps. Considering. He remembers a place west of the Laramie River, far out of reach of everyone but the wildly adventurous. This is what he seeks – wild adventure. It is his last, might as well be worth remembering.

He is excited now and works with a purpose. He pours the first of many cups of coffee and unpacks everything from his backpack and scrubs the coffee pot and cup and cooking pot. He pulls the tent, smelling of mildew, from the stuff sack and spreads it out on the floor. He worries about the sleeping bag, holding it up to his nose. It is dry and odorless. He drags the tent to the balcony and throws it across the railing. His sleeping bag too. The fresh air won’t hurt.

He writes a list of things he needs to pick up from the store. The list is short. He has coffee, which he puts in a Ziploc bag. And oatmeal. The last time he backpacked, his son was six years old. And now he is gone. Both his daughters are married and live in another state. Not too far but he doesn’t see them often. Sad, he thinks. When he gets back from his trip, he’ll make a point of visiting them. He needs to tell them anyway. They won’t want to hear it, but he will tell them.

When he gets back from the store he stuffs his tent and sleeping bag into their stuff sacks and carefully repacks his backpack. He needs only one change of clothes. He gets his hiking boots from the closet. He is ready and thinks, why not leave now? He could drive to the trailhead tonight and be up before sunrise and halfway up the trail before the sun starts beating down on him.

He puts on another pot of coffee and carries his backpack out to his SUV. When he comes back, he walks to the bathroom to pee. He looks up at the ceiling. The stream is heavier, he thinks. Maybe not. But he pees without pain. He can’t recall the last time.

He remembers his toothbrush and toothpaste and puts them in a Ziploc bag. He fills his thermos with coffee and steps out into the empty corridor and closes the door behind him without looking back. He walks down the long corridor and pushes through the steel door and out into the bright sunlight of the parking lot.

He drives for three hours along the highway until he reaches the Laramie River Road that takes him to the Forest Service Road to the trailhead. The sun is still up when he arrives and he considers what to do. He is relieved to see only two other vehicles in the parking area. He can’t set up his tent here. He sits at a wooden table in the sunlight to drink a cup of coffee. He figures. Only a couple of hours before sunset. If he starts now, he can get three miles up the trail with enough daylight left to find a suitable place to set up his camp for the night.

When he finishes his coffee, he goes to the back of his SUV, drags his backpack out and slips into it. It isn’t too heavy, but he knows the straps will dig into his shoulders as he climbs the steeper trails higher up. The first part of the trail will be easy. He begins.

He hasn’t even hiked a mile up the trail when he meets a couple coming down. He steps off the trail to let them pass. They stop. They are young and from their appearance, he guesses they’ve been gone for several days. “Hello,” they say.

“Hello,” he says.

“You’re lucky,” the young woman says. “What an awesome trip. Wish we were going back up with you.”

“Well, the trail leads both ways,” he says.

“Sorry, but we’ve gotta get back,” she says. “School starts in a couple of weeks.”

“Ah, school,” he says. “I remember. I used to spend a lot of time here when I was in school.”

“Did you go to CSU?” the young man asks.

“I did,” he says. “It’s been a while ago, but I don’t guess it’s changed too much.”

“Probably not,” the young man says. “Nothing changes too much. That’s what the mountains tell us.”

“Ah, yes,” he says. “The mountains. I’m sorry you have to go back.”

“Yeah, us too,” she says. “Good luck. Enjoy yourself.”

“Thank you,” he says. “I will.”

He watches them move away down the trail. He has to pee. He slips out of his backpack. The back of his shirt is wet. The sunshine feels good on his back when he turns away to pee. He looks up into the sky, a twist of blue and pink. He’ll try to get another mile or two up the trail before setting up camp.

He finds a flat spot close to a stream and throws his backpack onto the ground. He gathers firewood and starts a fire before he unpacks. He dips the coffee pot into the stream and carries it back to the fire. He finds the coffee and once the water boils he dumps in a handful of the loose coffee. He quickly sets up his tent and unrolls his sleeping bag out on the ground in the last of the sunlight.

He feeds the fire from the stack of branches, looking up at the sparks swallowed by the black sky. Holding the steaming cup of coffee, he sits back. The night is filled with the sighs of solitude. The fire whispers. Not far behind him, he hears the flutter of night wings. He has to pee but waits. The night looks down on him.

He finishes his cup of coffee, stands, and walks into the dark trees. Away from the fire, he looks up into the millions of stars that pierce the heavy cloak of night. As he unzips his pants and pulls his dick out, he feels a sense of relief. Here under the wide expanse of stars. No one else exists. A million stars and he alone is a witness. If his stream is broken and confused, he doesn’t mind because he continues to look up into the endless night. He never wants this moment to end.

The cold settles over him and he walks back to the fire. He finishes his coffee and refills his cup. The fire is dying. He won’t feed it again. After it goes out, he’ll slip into his sleeping bag inside the tent. He remembers he hasn’t eaten anything since this morning and finds a granola bar in one of the outside pockets of his backpack. The night surrounds him.

In the morning, he steps out into the cold beginning of the day. He hurries to build a fire, resisting his urge to pee. He stacks the kindling and sets it on fire, entranced by the yellow-blue flames. He turns away. He feeds in more kindling until the fire is strong enough to take on larger branches. After he puts on the water to boil, he rushes to the trees. His bladder aches. But his stream is still broken and disappointing. This is what he’s left with. This and his warm breath in the cold break of dawn.

He doesn’t linger over his oatmeal and coffee because he wants to break camp early. He knows how intense the sun gets once the trail moves above treeline.

He climbs steadily, stopping only to pee and drink from the bota bag slung over his shoulder. As he moves up the trail, the climb becomes steeper and the sun bears down on him. Looking up into the bright sunshine overhead, he figures it is early afternoon. He will reach the high mountain lake well before sunset.

Just as he breaks above timberline, he sees someone coming down the trail toward him. He waits. It is an odd time of day for someone to be coming down. A late start. As the backpacker gets closer, he sees it is a woman. He slips out of his backpack and settles down to wait for her. He takes off his hiking boots and rubs his feet, looking up from time to time to check on her. In the steep crags above timberline, her progress is slow.

When he looks up again, she is standing in front of him. In the glare of sunlight, he looks up into a snarl of hair, and then quickly down at her tan legs sticking out from loose khaki shorts. She slips out of her backpack and throws it down. “Whew,” she exhales.

“Hello,” he says. “I didn’t expect to see anyone up here.”

“Well, I had to drag myself away,” she says. “No reason to leave really, but I’ve been gone a couple of weeks already. Figured it best if I got back to civilization. You know how it is. One could lose all track of time up here.” She peers back over her shoulder at the high mountain peaks blotched with snow.

“I do know how it is,” he says. “I hope to lose track of time myself.”

“Wouldn’t mind staying a bit longer myself, but I get a little buggy when I spend too much time alone. It can get a little dangerous.”

“It can. But if you’re in no hurry, I’d love the company. Maybe it wouldn’t be so dangerous if we were alone together, if you know what I mean.” He smiles up at her. And then it occurs to him that it isn’t polite to sit here in front of her.

He stands up and looks into her deep blue eyes, her sunglasses pushed back in the tangle of hair. He can tell she is thinking. He is struck by her raw beauty and how natural she looks in her sweat soaked army green tank top. It has been a long time since he’s enjoyed the company of a woman. He thinks he might like it. But he isn’t sure about her. Someone who spends two weeks up in the high mountains by herself isn’t likely to crave his company.

“How long are you planning to stay?” she asks.

“I don’t really know,” he says. “It all came together quite suddenly. Can’t say I planned anything to be truthful.”

“Better yet,” she says. “On the wisp of an owl’s dreams. It’s the best way to maneuver through life.”

He thinks about this for a moment. At first, it doesn’t make sense to him. But then he thinks, better yet. Why should it? Nothing said really makes sense if one thinks about it for long.

“I really would enjoy the company,” he says.

“Then you shall have it,” she says. “I’m in no hurry. Nowhere to go, nothing to do if there was.”

“Perfect,” he says. He offers her his bota bag and she takes it, squeezing out a long stream of water, her head tilted back. She smiles and hands it back.

“I was expecting wine,” she says. She opens the flap of her backpack and pulls out a wineskin. “Here, try this.”

He tilts his head back. The wine is warm and fruity. He looks at her broad smile, reaches the wineskin back to her, and wipes the wine from his chin.

“Thank you,” he says. “That’s exquisite.”

Her head tipped, she squeezes a long stream into the back of her mouth. He watches her intently, something stirring in his heart. This isn’t good, he thinks. This isn’t good at all. But why?

“I have a block of cheese,” he says and bends down to his backpack. He holds it out to her and she breaks off a piece and hands it back. He breaks off a piece. “We might as well rest a bit,” he says. He picks up her backpack and carries it to a small outcrop and sets it down. She follows him, carrying the wineskin.

In his mind, he begins to see how this will play out. They’ll spend two or three days together. In the high mountains, time isn’t real. And what they share won’t be real either. They will leave it in the high mountains. Down below, the world plays out differently. You are forced to deal with things, things you really don’t want to deal with. But they won’t let you alone until you do.

But for right now, he’ll enjoy what he has in the high mountains. He’ll worry about the rest later.

He looks at her, realizing he’s never seen such rare beauty before in his life. Why is she up here? And then it occurs to him he doesn’t even know her name. But then she doesn’t know his either. Maybe it’s best. He doesn’t ask. And she never asks either.

Looking into the brilliant sunlight behind her, he notices she is staring at him. “You’re not wearing a ring,” she says.

“You’re not either,” he says. “Does this mean you’re not married, or just not wearing a ring.”

“Both,” she says. “And you?”

“I was married once,” he says. “I have two daughters. Both of whom are married and live in Wyoming.”

“And your wife?” she asks. “Ex-wife, I guess.”

“I think she lives there, too,” he says. “We lost track of each other. After our son…it’s a long story.”

“We have time,” she says. “Besides, I like long stories.”

“What about you?” he asks. “You ever been married?”

“Me? Yeah, once. It didn’t last long. Long enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. No kids. Thankful for that. He was an asshole. But when I think about him now, I smile. He was trying the best he could. I don’t carry regrets. No room in my back pocket for them. I always say, travel light. Travel quick. Never look over your shoulder because something hungry might be chasing you.”

“Travel light,” he says. “I like that.” He thinks about his son. But he can’t stay there.

He looks down at his backpack, twice the size of hers. “How in hell have you managed up here for two weeks with such short supplies?”

“I have my ways,” she says. She holds up her hands. He notices how nicked up they are. “There’s lots to scavenge.”

“Berries?” he asks. “Or have you been raiding the lion’s lair?”

“Bears,” she says. “I follow them around. It’s an old Indian trick. They say that if a bear can eat it, so can you. I stay away from the grubs and maggots, though, even though I know they’re perfectly healthy to eat.”

“Ugh,” he says. “I wonder why we have such an aversion to bugs? Anything that crawls around on dead shit. I just don’t think I could stomach it.”

“The bears have led me to lots of mushrooms,” she says. “They are everywhere this time of year. And if a bear can eat it, I know I can, too. The trick is to find it before the bear does.”

“Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t want to piss him off,” he says.

“They are actually quite understanding – and even generous,” she says. “Much more so than humans. But you are evading your story.”

“I’d much prefer talking about you,” he says. “I find you fascinating.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” she says. “But there’s not a lot to me. What you see is what you get.”

“But that’s precisely the point,” he says. “I like what I see.”

She looks away. She shifts on the rock to look back over her shoulder toward the high peaks. “We probably should get going,” she says.

“Good idea,” he says. “How much farther?”

“Oh, it’s not far, maybe an hour or two,” she says. He helps her slip into her backpack and then bends into his. He follows her back up the steep trail.

The sun has a grasp on the snowcapped peaks as they break over the last rise and catch the first glimpse of the high mountain lake. She leads him to her former campsite. “Is this all right?” she asks.

“Perfect,” he says. “Is it all right with you? After all, you spent a couple of weeks here already.”

“It’s fine,” she says. “The night is absorbed by the fire and each day brings bright sunshine and a new peak to explore. Where we set up camp doesn’t matter as long as it’s not on a precipice.” She laughs and slips out of her backpack.

They quickly set up their tents and lay their sleeping bags out to absorb the last of the sunlight. He begins gathering firewood as she walks to the lake to scoop water into the coffee pot. She pauses to look up at the brilliant rays of light breaking on the high peaks. She looks back toward their camp. She wonders about his story. He seems sad. A broken man. And she knows she can’t give him what he needs. She tells herself, no one can give anyone else what they need. Not really. And this is why life is filled with such heartache.

She walks back to their camp. He’s busy with the fire. She rummages through her backpack for the plastic bag of ground coffee. “How about some mac and cheese for dinner?” he asks. “Love it,” she says.

He feeds the kindling with great care. And soon has a raging fire. He looks up at the bare peaks streaked with the purple and crimson sunset. “Do you suppose there are any dried and frozen carcasses of leopards up there?” he asks.

“What? Leopards?”

“You know, from Hemingway’s story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

She pauses. And then carries the coffee pot to the fire, where she kneels down next to him. She wants to be close to him. If the fire didn’t feel so warm, she’d take him into her tent. She wonders if they’ll sleep together tonight. It has been a long time for her.

She looks at the snowcapped peaks far above timberline in the fury of sunset and thinks of leopards. She pictures them in steamy jungles, not on forgotten snowcapped peaks. What would they be doing up there?

She moves closer to the fire and looks over at him. He has a long story to tell her, but the night is a time for short stories, not long ones. Long stories are meant for daylight. When you can see the expression on the storyteller’s face. In the glow of a campfire, you see only highlights. Clown faces, she calls them. In the glow of the campfire, you can’t tell if someone is laughing or crying.








1 Comment
  1. If inftrmaoion were soccer, this would be a goooooal!

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