Monday, September 01, 2014

Characterizing the AT, Part 3

((our story begins here)

“Don’t let it be Dave,” was the only thought running through my head as the SUV pulled into the parking lot at the trail head where Lisa, my sister, Audrey, and I were waiting.

Our original plan had been to actually walk the 40 plus miles back to where we’d left the car, but fate would not allow us to make it that distance in the time we had allotted, so we’d called for a driver to take us back to the town where we’d left Lisa’s car.

Since we’d exceeded the pace of an entire Boy Scout troop, we didn’t feel too much shame in this fact, but since Dave had already announced his history of making our planned trek in a mere 2 days, we felt that the Husky—impervious to disgrace-- would be the only one of us without at least a metaphoric tail between our legs.

The guy behind the wheel was an ageless mountain dweller who could have been fresh from the set of Duck Dynasty. We piled into the vehicle with him and his fluffy dog Diogi (DI-oh-gee, like D-O-G, get it?) of whom Audrey was not in the least fond, due to the host dog’s baring of teeth.

Our new guide was easygoing and eager to share his experiences living in close proximity to a popular, 17 mile stretch of rails-to-trails known as the Creeper Trail. So tied was he to the health and wellbeing of the trail, he’d earned the moniker “Creeper Keeper” among the locals.

“Oh, yes, I like to be out there,” he said. “I live outside year round, no phone, no distractions,” he went on.

My mind was reeling, trying to make sense of what I’d just heard. Surely I’d missed something. I decided to keep listening for clue to what I’d missed, so as not to say something stupid.

Lisa, fortunately, just decided to go on in. “Wait a minute,” she said. “You, um, live, outside, year round?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Well, how does that work?” she asked. “You must be cold,” she added, no doubt recalling the conversation we’d had with the Boy Scouts earlier of how ridiculously cold everyone had been in what I’ll just point out was an August evening, a conversation I understood only partially, blessed as I was with a furry bedmate.

“Oh, no,” Creeper Keeper said. “I have my tarps. You might have even seen them, regular brown tarps, all strung up by the steps at the trail entrance, under the bridge.”

“Just like a troll,” Lisa would later marvel, “living under the bridge!” but for now, she simply said, “are you able to cook?”

“Oh yes, I have a double burner propane stove and a gas grill,” he said. “But typically, I just take my meals at the Creeper Café.”

Creeper Keeper went on to tell us about his hammock, his guest room (a second hammock), and his couch (a third hammock), and about his fiancée’s upcoming visit when she’d stay in the guest room, and how she loved the tarps and said she’d even let Keeper stay there after they got married as long as he cooked her dinner. He told us of how agreeable this way of life was to him, of how he didn’t need a phone, had Wi-Fi at work, and just passed his evenings with Diogi snug in their tarp, and of how all this has started after he lost his mom some years prior.

We were riveted, deep into the tale, when, suddenly, the SUV just sort of went silent and stopped.

“Well, my car’s dead,” Creeper Keeper said, in the same sort of tone he may have used if making a weather observation.

Keeper's Window Sticker
“Do you have a cell phone?” Keeper called to a nearby motorist, a man clad in a raggedy red T-shirt and spilling out over the sides of the scooter on which he was mounted.

It was an odd question, considering everyone in the car had phones—rendered useless from lack of cellular service.

The scooter rider shrugged in indifference. Although his speech was hampered by the cigarette stuck to his bottom lip, he managed a remark about the shame that it was that we had to break down just when we did, and how much easier it would be if it had happened just a few yards ahead, around the corner, where the road began a long descent.  Keeper considered this only briefly before he jumped from the vehicle, flung open the door next to me, grabbed the frame of the vehicle and began to run. He ran the car around the corner and to the point where gravity began to take over and he jumped back in.

The SUV thus continued onward, and Keeper resumed his narrative. We coasted for miles, Lisa finally voicing the question no one else wanted to broach:

“So the brakes still work, right?”

They did, he assured us, even as I saw a stop sign looming in the distance.

I shook my head. It had been a good run.  “Well,” I said, regretfully, “There’s a stop sign ahead. Looks like our luck’s run out.”

“Yep, yep there is,” Keeper said, gleefully. “”Good thing we’ve arrived at the Creeper Café!” He gave the wheel a good yank and we coasted on in to the gravel parking lot.

Keeper went inside to “contact Dave”, while we milled about the vehicle, wondering what would happen next.

“Do you think he’ll send smoke signals?” Lisa asked.

Keeper returned with a woebegone look. He circled around the vehicle a few times and then went back into the café while we discussed mutiny.
Keeper's Bumper Sticker

“We’re right at the Creeper Trail,” I said. “Can’t be much more than five more miles.”
The others nodded, eyeing our gear just as Keeper reemerged from the café, which, according to signage, is the home of WORLD FAMOUS chocolate cake.

“Good news!” Keeper called. “Jeff’s coming in the van!”

Mainly what I heard here was “Oh good, Dave isn’t coming,” but it seems what was being communicated was: a burly man smelling of moonshine would be coming in a shell of a vehicle and in questionable company.

The van lumbered into the parking lot, and a middle-aged man with an unruly mop exited from the driver’s side. His passenger, a cross between a weathered Howard Stern and current Gene Simmons, followed close behind.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Jeff!” the Stern/Simmons figure whined.

“Look who it is!” Jeff triumphed, “Crazy Horse! He’s back!” Judging from the dual knee braces, unkempt shock of wild hair, and thick pair of foggy goggles, Horse had been out of communiqué for some time.

“Welcome home!” Keeper said, as the trio wandered to the SUV and stared blankly beneath the hood.

We tossed our gear through the back door, avoiding a table saw and sundry other tools.

Keeper took the keys from Jeff (moonshine, don’tcha know) and climbed into the driver’s seat, while Crazy Horse claimed shot gun. I wondered if we were leaving Jeff behind, but, at the last moment, he ran for the now-moving van, through the back door (because the side one was broken) and slid into the seat next to me. Audrey slithered deep beneath the seats.

“Been handing out Trail Magic” Horse said. “Now I’m trying to get out of that piece of land in Kansas. I’m telling ya, Jeff, I came from Kansas, why would you think I lied?”

Horse made no effort to include us in the conversation: it was as though he’d come along on a ride to pick up cargo. We watched him in a sort of amused horror, much as if he’d been part alien, or actually a 70s-era Simmons, in full make up.

Steed prattled on about a recent string of Zero days (official), (unofficial --just do your own research) and I turned my attention to Jeff, who I assumed to be a low ranking hire of tenuous stability. “So you work for the outfitter?” I asked.

“Yep, I do, I own the place, actually. But we’re a team. There’s no “I” in anything except in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Touché.  “I heard that,” I replied, lamely.

“Lisa!” I said, as we entered town, “It’s the coffee shop I told you about!”

“Nah,” Jeff scoffed, “that’s just if you want the $5.00 coffee,” which I did, I oh so did; however, in the interest of hearing local recommendations asked what he’d suggest instead.

“Oh, the Dairy King,” for sure. ‘None of this decaf, or regular—just coffee.”

Lisa’s van came into view and we unloaded, reloaded into her van, said our goodbyes, and headed straight for some 5.00 coffee.

Tune in next time when we contemplate our next move over $5.00 coffee and wind up bunking at Woochuck's with Timber

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