Rico, or “Tarzan” as he preferred to be called, hadn’t felt very strong since lunch. His backpack seemed exceedingly heavy, and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He’d never been a complainer before and was intent on not becoming one right then. The feeling was new to him, and he wanted to figure out what was going on, so he could keep moving ahead in his accustomed dominant and carefree fashion. Perhaps, he reasoned, his weakness problem had something to do with the creek water he drank at lunch.
He recalled the Strep he had back during the winter and began to wonder if maybe this wasn’t that. But since there was no sore throat, he was pretty sure it wasn’t. “No, this is something different,” he decided.
As he wobbled along, he mostly thought of when the next break would be. But as he walked, he also continued speculating, and the possibility that he’d just become a wuss began to enter his mind. He’d called plenty of people that in the past, but realized he didn’t actually know what it meant. And he started thinking that perhaps now he did and maybe he’d become one.
As he moved forward, he kept readjusting the shoulder straps and hip belt on his backpack in an attempt to alleviate his weak feeling. But each time he did so, it only decreased his exhaustion for a few fleeting moments. The people walking in front of him quickly got further and further ahead. And he realized he was blocking the people behind from staying up with them. So, he faked a strap issue on his pack and stepped off to the side to allow them to walk on past.
The move put him at the back of the group. He’d had a nightmare about such an occurrence on a previous trip but had been relieved to realize that him being at the back of a line was a simple utter impossibility. Now though, he was distressed to see first hand that what he’d thought of as a fleeting bad dream was now coming true. Bringing up the rear would have been humiliating except that at that point, he was thankful just to be moving forward at any pace and going in the right direction. And so, he continued his struggle to keep moving forward.
And then, the words of encouragement started. “Way to go,” “you can do it,” and “one foot in front of the other,” began coming from the 25-year-old leader who sweeping the group and, thus, helping him bring up the rear.
“The rear,” the 17-year-old mused out loud. Tarzan, had never actually been at the back before, and things looked different from his new perspective. He would’ve looked up ahead more, but it was demoralizing for him to see the rest of the group just getting further out in front as they climbed up toward the top of the Pass. Besides, the sweat coming from his forehead was pouring down his face, and every time he raised his head to look up, it went into his eyes and burned.
Three-quarters of the way up, he needed a quick rest break and just stopped. As he stood there, he pulled out his bandana, wiped his face dry, and looked up ahead and saw that the group had also stopped. “They must be at the high point of the Pass,” he reasoned, as he gritted his teeth, put his head back down, and once again began inching his way up the trail toward them.
Finally, he got to their rest spot. As he walked up, he could see smirks that said “wuss” on some faces, looks of silent compassion on others, and a few strange nondescript expressions that he couldn’t quite pinpoint on the remainder. Since all the good resting spots were taken, he just got close to the group and let his pack drop to the ground right in the middle of the trail. He left it where it fell and walked over to a shady spot under a big pine tree and sat down. After a couple of minutes, one of the compassionate looking people got up and walked over to his pack with the apparent intention of moving it out of the way.
The burly helper-kid grabbed it by the haul loop, but it hardly budged when he tried to move it. “Man, what do you got in here,” he queried? “This thing is heavy.”
With that, one of the “smirkish” group members walked over and opened up the top flap. The newly anointed wuss backpacker wanted to protest the invasion into his privacy but was too tired to respond.
And then the “smirkish” group member began to pull rocks out of the backpack.
Tarzan was completely bewildered and confused as the guy pulled out rock after rock. “Why,” “how,” “wait.” He had questions. When all was said and done, 8 fist-sized rocks came out of his pack, totaling close to 50 pounds. He’d thought several times that the pack had gotten heavier each time he picked it up and put it on. But he’d decided the increasing heavy feeling was actually just him getting weaker. He’d never considered the possibility that his pack and its contents were in reality getting heavier all the time, as somebody kept adding rocks to the load. But now he knew the truth although he still didn’t know a lot of the details. “Who did it,” he wondered? “That was a mean thing to do,” he concluded. His attention immediately focused on figuring out who the culprit was, although he didn’t consider what the end result of doing so would be.
His mind was in overdrive, as he worked to solve the mystery. “Undoubtedly, it was one of the bullies,” he speculated as he mentally worked his way through the list of group members. For the first time in his life, he grouped some of his friends as “bullies.” Somebody obviously did the deed, but his pack had never been out of his sight. Or had it? And then he remembered when he’d set it by the trail and went down to that little creek to get water before lunch.
He got up and walked over to his now lighter pack and picked it up. It felt significantly better, now that it was 50 pounds lighter. He looked around at faces, figuring that he’d be able to figure out who had done it just by looking each person in the eye. A few hours before, he would’ve been planning some sort of physical retaliation against whoever he determined the culprit was. And he would’ve been doing so just because of the way they looked. But at this point, he was just too tired to even think about doing that and the answer would have to wait. For the first time in his life, he was content to think it through and see it from various angles first, and at that point, decide what to do or not do.
Eventually, the break ended, and it was time to get up and get to the campsite. It was all downhill from the Pass, and within an hour, they were at their destination. Each tent group cleaned off the loose rocks and pine cones from where they’d be setting up their tent. Once that was accomplished, they set them up and organized their sleeping bags and pads inside, so that once supper was finished, they’d be ready to go straight to sleep.
The supper of pasta and chicken was filling. Once the pots were cleaned, everyone headed to their tents, crawled into their sleeping bags, and stretched out on their recently cleared off sleeping spots. Headlamps were shining everywhere. There was all manner of hustle and bustle as the backpackers got themselves organized for a peaceful night’s rest. Slowly, the lights went out, and it became quiet until Blabber Jack Parsons, one of the bullies, yelled, “Crap, that hurt. What in the world. That’s a big rock, and I thought I cleared them all out of the way. How did I miss that one?”
Blabber Jack clamored out of his tent, followed by his two tent-mates. The three of them were obviously bothered by the situation and made a concerted effort to share their displeasure with the rest of the group. Just as they got outside, thunder began rumbling, and it started to rain. They were suddenly in a quandary. They could remove the rocks and get wet or leave the rocks and stay dry. The dilemma was profound. As they assessed their options, the wuss pulled his dry sleeping bag up tight to his chin, closed his eyes, and speculated about what he would do in such a case. “Maybe all of this will make them think for a change,” he thought as he drifted off to sleep.