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a hike to remember
a love story in four parts
When deciding where to escape during the early pandemic, Erwin and I landed on Vermont. I liken Vermont to Palm Springs, but for people with a CSA. It’s a gem of a state with hardwood cabins, folksy white people, and toddlers with toned legs from hiking.
Erwin and I were a year into our courtship. Translation: I was beginning to let down my guard and show him the full extent of my neuroses. We had a number of outings planned for our trip to Waterbury, including a factory visit to our Lord and Savior Ben & Jerry’s, some kayaking, and a hike on the famed Camel’s Hump Mountain.
Like many of you, Erwin thought that because I own trail boots and live in athleisure I’m an avid hiker. I’M NOT. Being outside makes me tired, and I’m particular about my snacks. I’m not afraid to sweat on a brisk scenic walk! But if the excursion requires a packed meal with even a **chance** of sleeping outdoors, issa’ ‘no’ from me dawg.
(Not to get too dark, but my feeble, prone-to-heatstroke, enslaved ancestors couldn’t last one hour in the fields. They were most definitely indoors helping mistress clip her toenails and slowly poisoning master’s food.)
Erwin asked around his friend group for the best hiking trails nearby, and Camel’s Hump was a favorite. “Rachel did this trail a while ago and said it was really fun. Should take about three hours max!” he said.
Later I learned that Rachel is what the kids call a “beast.” She famously won first place in a Beer Mile, which is as unhinged as it sounds.
But, in an attempt to seem chill and open-minded, I agreed to the hike that almost ruined us.
A few days into the Vermont trip, I noticed something. Erwin hardly drank any water. This was late July, where the temps averaged 85-90 degrees and we were OUTSIDE outside. “What is wrong with this man,” I thought.
I never have a problem drinking the recommended 2 - 3 liters of water a day. I love drinking water like a politician loves an extra-marital affair. It brings me great pleasure and makes me feel alive.
On our excursions so far, I consumed most of the water we packed — several bottles — while Erwin subsisted on a couple of sips A DAY. The metaphor was comical: I was a fish who needed water to live, hiking Camel’s Hump Mountain with a literal CAMEL.
The morning of the hike, I had this nagging desire to buy a gallon jug of water as a precautionary measure. While it was hot that day, a whole gallon seemed excessive and counter to the “cool girl” image I wanted to maintain.
“If Rachel is right, we should have enough sustenance for a three hour hike,” I thought, and forgot about the water situation when we hit the trail. The heavily forested grounds were a nice reprieve from the sun, and made for great people-watching.
We passed the time by exchanging funny stories and engaging in meaningless debates (he barely flinched when I told him I hate musicals). Erwin’s ability to see nuance everywhere remains a great foil to my hardline thinking; it was comforting to know I couldn’t shock him.
Erwin packed us bean burritos for lunch, and we ate them atop the mountain. The view from the top was breathtaking, and on a clear day you could see all the way to Canada. I had one of those thoughts you might have while spacing out in the shower: “Is this what it’s like to be a tall person?” Even the air felt different up there, free of those beloved city smells: human urine, rotting food, and sweaty Celtics fans walking too close.
After enjoying the summit breeze, we packed up our gear and planned our descent.
“Oh shoot. We’re almost out of water,” Erwin said. It was midday at that point, with the temperature peaking at 92 degrees. After ignoring my thirst for the last couple hours, I suddenly wanted three fat gulps of water…or ten.
But instead I said, “That’s fine!!” Friends, it was not fine.
An hour into our descent, disaster struck. We mistakenly took a long, winding path instead of the direct route we intended.
Erwin ardently trudged ahead, and I put on a brave face. But inside I was fuming. I kicked myself for not buying that gallon jug and cursed my excessive hydration needs.
The rivers and greenery we passed were no longer idyllic, but obstacles between me and the cool side of my pillow. With each step I grew thirstier and more delirious.
“It shouldn’t be much longer,” he said. I laughed nervously, pondering how to hog-tie him with my shoelace and make a run for it with his car keys. Homeboy could Uber back.
Here’s a list of things that ran through my head as I hiked down the mountain in a fugue state:
Should I risk a GI infection and drink a mouthful of that puddle water?
If I stop to ask someone for water, will they think I’m being trafficked?
To hell with it! Let’s just lay down here and let the search party come.
Is that the trailhead!? Nope, just a random clearing. Kill me.
If one more mosquito buzzes by my ear, I’m gonna scream.
If Erwin says “we’re almost there” one more time, I’m gonna scream and maul him.
If I die of heatstroke, I hope Erwin doesn’t find those photos I took of him sleeping on public transit.
Erwin happily chirped away, seemingly excited to just be hanging out with me. We had been walking for an extra two hours at this point, and changing course would add even more time. The sun beat down on us, as we ran out of water and snacks. I snapped.
“I can’t do this anymore!!” I yelled. “God, I don’t want to talk! I just want to finish this stupid hike!” Erwin fell quiet.
The rest of the hike was silent, punctuated by a few farts I was too deranged to hold in.
We emerged from the woods, and found the car. I was almost moved to tears. At the Airbnb, we both gave into our exhaustion. Erwin took a long bath while I guzzled ice cold water, then yeeted myself onto the bed.
When I was finally hydrated, comfortable, and back in my body, I realized that Erwin wasn’t mad that I hulked out on him. This was new. After a lifetime of being told that my feelings were 'too much,' that meant something.
The next morning, Erwin turned to me and said, “That was TERRIBLE. Let’s never do that again!”
“Finally,” I thought, “someone who gets me.”
This August, I’m taking a month away from Bad Environmentalist. Read through the archive! See y’all in September :)