(No Joke On Me)
“You know, we don’t do that where I’m from,” says Halfway, with a fixed expression.
Although there are four other hikers at the shelter picnic table, she addresses her statement to me.
“Oh, okay, but that wasn’t me,” I say slightly defensive. “But, why? Everyone burps,” I add.
“We don’t do that. It’s not right, it’s rude,” she says.
I can tell that the belch has wound her up fairly tight. Still, since she’s rarely in such a mood, I find it quite amusing. So, of course I prod on. Some may say that I’m aggravating the situation, but I prefer to think of it as trying to get to the root of her gassy irritant.
“So, you’re telling me that no one burps in Germany?”
“No, we don’t do that,” she insists.
“Then where does all the gas go? Wait, never mind,” I crinkle my nose and nod to my backside.
She gives me a dismissive half smile as I laugh at my cleverness.
“But, you do know that I wasn’t the one who burped?” I quickly say as she walks away. “Hey Halfway, really… it wasn’t me.” She walks on.
I’ve heard her say that burping is frowned upon many times before. I’m not sure how true it is and does she mean her family doesn’t do it or her town or the entire country of Germany.
When I first met Eva and Sonja, now Halfway and Soho, Soho did most of the talking and Halfway was the timid and shy one. Fast forward a few weeks and it’s been all Halfway. She’s not just cute, but the funniest member of my trail family. Although, when it comes to the gassy noise emitted through the mouth, she reacts as if someone slapped her in the face with a greasy drumstick.
I wonder how she feels about farts? Nah, I better not probe any further.
Today Halfway and I find ourselves hiking together for the last mile to Spring Mountain Shelter in Greene County, Tennessee. On this warm spring day, we’re both drained and eager to finally finish hiking. The AT guide has the shelter just over a hill, yet…
“Why is it that we always have to climb up before we get to a campsite or a shelter?” I say, as we hike up a climb.
My complaint may not be a hundred percent accurate, yet at this moment, it’s it feels spot on.
“Always happen,” Halfway agrees, as we continue up another climb.
I’ve come to enjoy every aspect of the trail, even the long mountains climbs, but at the end of a seemingly endless day of hiking, ascending is the last thing any of us wants to do.
Halfway Hikes a few feet ahead of me with a slight limp, her knee is still giving her problems. We pass an area where the guide indicates the shelter should be, or so we think. The day’s hike has been long and weary, our perception of distance may be off; add hunger and you have two hikers not thinking clearly. We hike in silence for another twenty minutes, and then as we start to climb again. Halfway turns to me and says, “Vhere the fuck is shelter?”
Okay, that’s funny.
Unintentionally Halfway’s accent has made her statement comical.
“I know,” are the only words I can trust myself to say without laughing out loud.
I’m staying clear of this woman’s wrath.
After, what turns out to be a short climb up a hill, we finally arrive at the shelter. We share a fatigued look and then go our separate ways around the shelter, searching for a clearing to pitch our tents. Once settled, we meet the rest of the Moving Village at a picnic table in front of the shelter.
“You should have seen Halfway’s fury on the way here today. She was spitting fire,” I tell them.
“No, not true,” she says, looking up from her Rice Sides cheddar broccoli meal.
“She was cursing in German. She said shizee…”
“Scheisse,” she corrects me.
“See, I told you,” I quickly say.
“But, I no say that,” she retorts.
“What’s the word for fuck inGerman?” I ask, Soho.
“Ficken,” Soho gladly answers with a grin.
“Yeah, she said that, but in English,” I say.
Laughing his Herman Munster laugh, Big Foot says, “Why did you just ask how to say it in German, if she said it in English?”
“Huh, because… she must have thought of it in German before it came out in English. Come on Biggie, that’s just common sense,” I say, proud of my explanation.
I turn my attention back to Halfway and before I’m able to utter another word, she says, “No joke on me.”
“No… joke on me?” I say, through a laugh.
She realizes that she misspoke and attempts to correct herself, “No joke for me?”
She looks at me for approval. I give her none.
“No joke with me?” she says with a smile.
She clearly doesn’t know, but it has now become a game for her.
“You joke me too?” I say to her, “Halfway, are you pulling my leg?”
“What is that, pulling leg?” she says to me, and then looks to Soho.
“It means, are you kidding with me or I should say you kid on me?” I explain.
This can go on for days…
From the start, Halfway has been firm about her decision to only hike to Harpers Ferry, the psychologicalhalfway point for thru-hikers. Still, Big Foot and I have been trying to persuade her to hike farther than that with us.
Big Foot starts with his playful jabs and knowing that I’m unable to resist, he says, “Mr Fabulous, how do we persuade Halfway to stay on the trail?”
“Why are you leaving us, Halfway? Don’t you like us anymore? Was it something I said?” I egg her on.
“I have to go back to work. My boss will not give me three more months off,” she says.
“Why won’t he?” I say.
“She, he’s a she,” Halfway corrects me.
Oh, I get it, I think.
“Okay, then even better, let me talk to her. I’ll give her some of my Latino-ness,” I sway my head back and forth… my impersonation of Latino hotness.
“No, you will get me fired, also I no leave my boyfriend for six months. I did before and he said, not again,” she defiantly responds.
“Then break up with him. He should support your decisions. What kind of boyfriend is that?” I goad her on, hoping I didn’t go too far for the reaction I’m seeking from her.
“No, never,” she responds as if I told her to commit a felony.
“See what you do is, break up with him, hike the rest of the AT with us and when you get back to Germany, ask for forgiveness. That simple,” I say and hearing it out loud, I’m certain the strategy will not work, but I got a kick out of saying it.
Halfway rolls her eyes at me, hoping that I will drop the whole thing. But, I seriously do wish she could stay with us, so of course, I proceed, “I can’t believe you’re not going to hike the rest of the AT with us.”
“Shit happens!” is her final, to the point, response to me.
I’m both surprised and tickled at her assertion. She’s been around Americans too long, she’s picking up our verbal bad habits.
“Don’t crack wise with me,” I want to say, but I think twice of it.
During dinner, I share the joke that seems to be going up and down the trail from Georgia to Maine and back again.
“How can you tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear?” I ask.
“How?” asks Soho.
“A black bear will climb up a tree to kill you, and a grizzly will shake the tree so you’ll fall down, then it will kill you.”
It’s a grim joke I know, but it’s amusing.
“Fabulous,” says Halfway with a listen to me tone.
“Yes, All-the-Way,” I respond.
“Not All-the-Way, okay?” she says, disapproving.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. What’s up, Halfway?”
“How can you tell difference between black bear and brown bear, I mean grizzly bear, shit?”
She flubs through it, but I get her meaning.
“I don’t know, how?” I say, already wanting to laugh before she gives me the punch line.
“Black bear has berries in shit and grizzly has bear bell and pepper spray in shit,” she laughs.
“I like that one,” I laugh at her delivery more than the joke itself.
“Good, right?” she smiles.
“It is,” I say.
I’m constantly entertained by Halfway, yet her compatriot, Soho, intrigues me. I’m not sure what it is, but she easily draws my full attention? Soho doesn’t say much, but when she does everyone listens, well at least, I do. There’s an allure about her easy demeanor and composure.
Since the first day I met her, just before Lance Creek and the serial killer, I could tell she was on a mission. Their first day on the AT was a 15-mile hike. Something Halfway expressed dislike for and blamed Soho for such a forced day to start their long-distance hike. There’s definitely something going on with Soho. At times, I wonder what’s running through that mind of hers whenever I see her gazing into space. Still, we all hike the trail for different reasons, some more personal than others. Soho has her reasons locked in that head of hers. I’m not one to pry, but my curiosity is out of control out here in the woods.
“Yeah, I saw the same documentary,” I hear her say to a German couple.
“What’s the name of the documentary?” I ask her.
I’ve heard about the film that has many Swiss and Germans flying to the United States for some AT action.
“Durch die Wildnis Amerikas,” Soho responds.
“Oh, cool… in ingrish prease,” I say, wishing I spoke German.
She pauses, thinking of the best translation for the title, “I think… Through… America’s Wild-er-ness,” she translates.
“Every German hiker here on trail probably saw it, I saw it and wanted to come here,” she adds.
“I guess it was a good documentary, huh?”
“The best, it followed a few different hikers,” begins Soho.
I listen to how the documentary inspired her to thru-hike. It’s the most I’ve heard her say about herself… I guess that’s a start.
Yesterday morning the Moving Village stayed at Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), North Carolina, where there’s an outfitter, outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, zip-lining, fishing, hiking and bike rentals. There’s lodges and special accommodations for thru-hikers. The Appalachian trail runs right through the outdoor center, which makes it difficult for a thru-hiker to resist. My gang took the bait and like a fish caught in a net, they were not getting away. I, on the other hand, earnestly wanted to hike on. It was way too early in the day. I wasn’t hiking long even enough to expend any sort of energy, so my tank was still full of fuel. Plus, I felt a need to spend some alone time with Gaia. Alone in the woods with my thoughts and the nature, seemed much more enticing to me. So, with promises of seeing them the next day, I hiked on for another 5 miles.
Today however I abbreviated my hike. The blissful solo hike was what I needed, but I am a man who enjoys socializing and the Village is not far behind. So, by 1 o’clock, I find a private campsite just big enough for my tent and away from the larger camping area that would soon be crowded with tents. My camp area is near a path that leads down to nowhere, but is a perfect spot for a hidden outdoor shower. As I finish my shower and shave, it begins to rain. I climb into my tent and begin to read. By 2 o’clock I hear hikers arriving and before I get a chance to greet them, my tent-fly zips open.
“Mr Fabulous what are you doing?” says Big Foot, quickly unzipping my tent door open and hopping right in.
Now, I have a one-person tent, it’s just cozy enough for me. Adding a monster size man in my small portable home is like an 8-year-old hiding under a kitchen sink with a Great Dane. I didn’t think it was possible, but he’s actually sitting comfortably in my tent.
He has a mischievous grin… I can tell that this large carefree hippie is up to no good, and to emphasize my thought, he presents an orange waterproof match case. He opens it and pulls out a bag of cannabis.
Oh, that’s what he’s up to.
Big Foot is not a lone smoker, he prefers to get baked with the company of others.
“Look Biggie, I don’t smoke,” I say, yet realizing that it’s a futile attempt.
“Ahh, just this once,” he says, ignoring my plea as he packs a bowl.
“I don’t even think I know how to inhale that stuff,” I confess a half-truth.
“Come on Mr Fabulous, I hate doing it alone,” he says.
“That’s what she said,” I quickly say.
I couldn’t resist.
“Haha, you gotta love it,” he begins as he fills his pipe, “I buried this at the approach trail last year, and then dug it up when I started my thru-hike last month.”
“Huh… did you draw a map?”
“I did,” he says, as he finishes packing his pipe, lights it, and then takes a hit. I study his actions, then he hands it to me.
Oh, well… when in Rome (or when trapped in a tent with a giant).
I take a hold of the instrument and play a tune. I go over all the lessons many have tried to share with me after hearing my admission of not knowing the way of the smoke and that it has little effect on me.
Inhale, hold, release… nothing… wait…
Within minutes our conversation goes from talk to laughter, although I don’t quite know what is so funny. My mouth then begins to feel extremely dry, as if I just spit out a mouthful of sand.
Damn, I could use some water.
“Do you have any water?” asks Big Foot.
Apparently, marijuana gives him mind reading powers. I search for my Powerade containers and find them both empty.
Damn, my kingdom for a drop of water.
“My water bladder is hanging on a branch,” I reply, as if the idea of leaving the smoke-filled tent was improbable.
Big Foot begins to talk of the log home he built, and then we somehow come up with an ingenious way of building a house on a river.
“You’re German?” the subject changes as if on a progressive assembly line, interchanging without warning.
Must be the ganja talking.
“Well, I am mostly German. Ma is a hundred percent and my dad is seventy-five percent. Yikes, that’s a lot of German roots,” explains my stoned friend.
“Do you speak it?”
I’m intrigued by the language and wish to learn it one day.
“Somewhat. I try to practice with Soho and Halfway.”
Looking over at Big Foot, I catch an unavoidable sight. I tend to hang my clothes out to dry after my day of hiking, airing out the funk of the day’s sweat. But, because of the rain today, I hung what I could inside my tent, and as Big Foot talks, I see my black, boxer shorts unsuspectedly sitting on his shoulder; it’s nearly touching his cheek. If he happens to turn slightly to his right, he will get a nose full of crotch stench. I can’t tear my eyes away from my underwear. I know I should say something, but I can’t focus on how or why I would want to.
“Hey, Mr Fabulous, I just hung my bear bag, if you want to put yours with mine,” I hear Overdrive shout from a short distance outside my tent.
“Nah, I hung mine already,” I laugh, because that’s what you do when you smoke grass.
Big Foot joins in the laughter.
“Is Big Foot in the tent with you?” says my confused white shadow.
“No, I’m not,” says the laughing colossus.
“Oookay, I’ll leave you guys to it.”
I can picture his bewildered look, “He’s so confused,” I look over at my monster size friend, “Biggie thanks for sharing…”
I’m not sure if my feelings are chemically enhanced, but at this moment I feel a closeness to Big Foot. His easygoing humor and his fatherly way is what brought this group together. Without his eagerness to start and keep this group together, there would be no Moving Village.
Eventually Big Foot squeezes out of my tent, leaving my surroundings and my brain in a fog full of nothingness. I’m not sure how and why some people claim marijuana clears the mind and invokes creativity… I don’t believe it. A pounding headache begins to form and I recall another reason why I don’t smoke the doobie. My attempt to convey a structured thought on paper is nearly impossible. I give up on my book after reading the same sentence three times and forgetting what I just read. I grab my journal and scribble what I think are words. I’ll have quite a time trying to read what thoughts I had the day I was ambushed by a smoking Big Foot.
The next evening, Big Foot and I are the only hikers in our individual tents. The rest of the Village is in the shelter. Overdrive, the weather predictor, swears that it will drop close to zero degrees tonight. I don’t think it’s going to be as bad. Yet, everyone else does and the shelter becomes filled with hikers. I personally can only stand the smell of my own funk when sleeping; I can’t imagine I would get any sleep smelling the stench of my fellow hikers.
“Biggie, I ate all of my energy bars last night, thanks to you,” I express from inside my tent.
He’s in his tent reading a book.
“Ha, so did I.”
“Guess it’s peanut butter and Nutella… could be worse.”
“Is that a pterodactyl?” says Big Foot.
The screeching sound of the nearby bear cables oddly does sound like what you would think a flying dinosaur would sound like.
“I think so, but I’m too spicy to be dinosaur food, being Latino and all. But, I’m sure it will have a feast with a large German cuisine.”
Big Foot laughs his big laugh and says, “kein witz auf mich.”
“No joke on me,” explains my giant, mostly German friend.
We laugh and for the rest of the evening Big Foot tries to teach me some German phrases.
As sleepiness begins to take over, I try to hold onto the few words I’m able to grasp. But, in the end no joke on me are the only words I take with me into dreamtime.
If you’re interested in reading more about my wacky, yet adventurous AT experience, check out my memoir, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker.