Rico hadn’t felt very strong ever since lunch. His backpack seemed exceedingly heavy, and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He had never been a complainer and didn’t want to become one at that point. The feeling was new to him, and he was intent on figuring out what was going on. Perhaps, he reasoned, it had something to do with the creek water he drank at lunch.
He thought back to the Strep he had 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 was 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 he realized he didn’t actually know what it meant. But he started thinking that maybe now he did and that he’d become one.
As he moved forward, he kept readjusting the shoulder straps and hip belt on his backpack. But each time he did so, it only lessened his exhaustion for a few minutes. The people walking in front of him quickly got further and further ahead. And he realized that he was blocking the people behind him 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 and had been relieved once he concluded it an impossibility. But now, he was distressed to realize 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 in front of the other,” began coming from the 25-year-old leader who was at the back with him.
“The rear,” the 17-year-old mused out loud. The teenager, known as Tarzan, had never actually been at the back before, and things looked different from the 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 Pinto Park 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 break and just stopped. As he stood there, he pulled out his bandana, wiped his face dry, and looked up ahead and saw the group 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 break 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 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 right there and walked over to a shady spot under a big pine tree and just 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 there,” he queried? “This thing is heavy.”
With that, one of the other 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 rocks began to come out.
He was bewildered and confused at first 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 nearly 50 pounds. He had thought that the pack had been heavier each time that he’d picked it up and put it on. But he’d figured that it was actually just him getting weaker and not the fact that the pack simply weighed more than it should’ve. But, how did the rocks get there in the first place, he wondered? Somebody obviously did it, 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. A few hours before, he would’ve been planning his retaliation against someone who may or may not even be involved. 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. 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 cleaned up 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 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?”
The freckle-faced kid from Virginia clamored out of his tent, followed by his two tent-mates. The three of them were obviously careful to make sure that everyone could share in their displeasure. 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.