“This is as good a place as any,” Doug said, leaning forward on the backseat.
“Okay.” Marian started to slow down the Bronco as it turned a curve to the right.
“By that fallen big-leaf maple’ll be fine,” Doug told her.
“Right.” She eased the Bronco toward the right side of the road and braked slowly. The carpeting of yellow leaves crackled under the tires before Marian stopped the Bronco by the fallen tree.
“Perfect,” Doug said.
Bob drew in a sudden, involuntary breath. “And so the adventure begins,” he said, trying to sound pleased.
Marian looked at him as she switched off the engine. “You all right?” she whispered.
He nodded, smiling. “Fine,” he said.
Doug opened the back door of the Bronco and got out. He stretched his arms upward, groaning as he arched his back. “Oh…boy,” he muttered.
Marian looked worriedly at Bob. “Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked.
“Yeah, why do you say that?” He managed a grin.
“Well—” She gestured vaguely. “You didn’t sound too certain there.”
“And so the adventure begins,” she quoted.
“Oh.” He laughed softly. “I’m a little nervous of course. I’m no kid. But I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”
In back, Doug had unlocked the hatchback door and was starting to lift it.
“You’re comfortable then,” Marian said.
“Oh, sure.” He leaned over and put his arms around her. She responded and they held on to each other tightly.
“Okay, lovebirds,” Doug said from behind the car. “Time to unload our gear.”
Bob and Marian drew apart, smiling at each other. They opened their doors and slid out, standing on the leaf-covered ground. “My God, the leaves are so big,” Marian said, picking up one that was more than a foot across. After a few moments, she dropped it, the golden leaves crunching under their shoes as they moved to the rear of the Bronco where Doug was pulling out his backpack.
“Here, I’ll get yours,” Marian said, pulling at Bob’s backpack. “Holy! Moses.” She had lost her grip on the pack, which thudded down on the ground. “It weighs a bloody ton,” she said. “How in God’s name are you going to carry that for four days?”
Bob forced a smile. “It’s really only three, honey. There’s not that much left of today.”
“Two hours would be too much for carrying that,” she said, gesturing toward the fallen pack. “You’re forty-five, not twenty-five.”
“Honey…” He gazed at her reproachfully.
“Oh…” She sighed, looked guilty. “I’m sorry. I’m not saying you can’t do it. It’s just…” She made a face. “It’s so damn heavy.”
“He’ll get used to it,” Doug told her. “And it’ll get lighter every day as the food goes.”
“I suppose.” She watched Bob pick up the pack and move it away from the Bronco, then turned toward the back of the car.
“You’re not taking this, are you?” she asked, picking up a red flare.
“Sure.” Doug’s smile was teasing. “To light our campfires.”
Marian put down the flare, smiling. “What’s this?” she asked, picking up a length of chain. “You don’t need this on your hike, do you?”
“No.” Doug took it away from her and put it back in the car.
“What’s it for?” Marian asked him.
“Protection,” he answered.
She opened her mouth as though to speak, then closed it again. “Oh,” she murmured, watching him take a long leather carrier from the Bronco. “What’s that?” she asked, trying to cover her feeling of embarrassment about mentioning the chain.
“A bow,” he said.
Bob made a sound of strained amusement. “You’re taking a bow?”
“I always do.”
“And arrows, I presume.”
Doug gave him a look.
Bob asked, “Why? Do you hunt while you’re out?”
“Not necessarily,” Doug said.
Bob and Marian exchanged a look. “Which means…?” Bob asked.
“Bob.” Doug turned to him with a mildly accusing look. “We’re going into wilderness. There are black bears out there. Mountain lions. Coyotes.”
“Oh, now, wait a minute,” Marian said abruptly. “Nothing was said about black bears or mountain lions or coyotes.” She looked at Bob in concern. “Now I’m not so sure this is a good idea.”
Doug laughed. “Marian, I’m not saying we’re going to run into one of them. The bow is just a precaution.”
She stared at him, her expression one of worried doubt.
“A precaution,” he repeated.
“How many times have you used it while—” She broke off. “Scratch that. How many times have you had to use it while backpacking?”
“Once,” he said, smiling.
“Black bear or mountain lion or coyote?” she asked uneasily.
“Rabbit,” he said, repressing a grin.
She looked startled. “You shot a rabbit?” As Doug nodded, she asked, “How come?”
“I lost my pack in some rapids and I had to eat,” he told her.
She looked at him in silence for a few moments.
“There aren’t any grizzly bears up here, are there?” she asked apprehensively.
“Used to be,” Doug answered. “Wolves too. Until they were killed off by stockmen—traps, guns, poison.”
Marian winced at his words.
“Honey, I’m sure it’s going to be—” Bob started.
“All right, let’s put it this way,” Marian broke in. “How often do you see black bears or mountain lions or coyotes?”
Doug chuckled. “Marian, you’re too much,” he said.
“Well,” she insisted, “how often?”
He groaned softly. “Once in a while, dear girl,” he said with labored patience. “But they don’t want to have anything to do with us any more than we want to have anything to do with them. You leave them alone, they leave you alone.”
“Marian, come on,” Bob chided.
“All right, all right.” She nodded several times. “I’m just…” She gestured vaguely with her hands.
“I should never have mentioned it,” Doug said. “Believe me, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Okay?”
“Okay.” She smiled awkwardly. “I’m just…an apprehensive frau, that’s all.”
Doug’s responding smile was a sad one. “Too bad I don’t have a frau to be apprehensive about me,” he said.
“Oh…” Marian moved to him and kissed his cheek. “I’m sorry, Doug. You’re really doing something nice taking Bob on this…what, hike?”
“Adventure,” he said with a teasing smile.
She smiled back at him. “Right, adventure,” she agreed.
“All right. Now.” Doug looked serious. “You’re okay with the Bronco?”
Marian nodded, smiling. “Okay.”
“And you understand my map.”
She nodded again.
“Well, I’m not the world’s greatest mapmaker,” he said.
“It’s fine,” she told him.
“Well, just…follow the yellow Hi-liter route.”
“To Oz,” she said.
His lips puffed out in a sound of partial amusement. “Yeah, right,” he said. “It’s about…I’d say forty miles or so. Two things to keep in mind. Turn off the main road after you pass the Brandy Lake sign. And most important, keep an eye out for the two Pine Grove signs, one for Pine Grove Street, the other for Pine Grove Lane. You turn right on Pine Grove Lane; it’s the second sign you’ll come to. Got it? The second sign.”
“Got it,” she said.
He raised his hands, palms forward. “I’m only being a pest about this because we’ve had to go out searching for a lot of guests who turned right on Pine Grove Street.”
“I’ll remember,” she said.
“Okay. Good. You have the keys to the cabin?”
“In my purse.”
“Right. And you understand about the propane tank for the stove. And turning on the water.”
“I don.” She nodded. “I’ll be fine, Doug.”
“Well…I just want to be sure. We won’t be there until Wednesday afternoon.”
She nodded. “I’ll be fine,” she reassured him.
“Sure you will,” he said. “You’ll enjoy the cabin. There’s a nice big deck in back that overlooks the forest. Sit there with a drink, you’ll love it.”
“I’m sure.” Marian nodded, smiling.
“You’d better be on your way then so you have plenty of light in case you make a wrong turn. Driving up there in the dark can be a bitch.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said once more.
“Good.” He kissed her on the cheek. “We’ll see you on Wednesday then.”
“On Wednesday.” She was silent for a moment. Then she said, “I’m going to say good-bye to my husband now.”
“You mean auf Wiedersehen, don’t you?” Doug said with a grin.
She pointed the index finger of her right hand at him. “That’s up to you,” she told him.
His grin widened. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of him.”
“I know you will.”
She took Bob’s hand and led him several yards away, to the other side of the fallen maple tree. She put her arms around him and held him close. “You take good care of yourself now,” she said.
He embraced her. “I will.”
“I’ll avoid the black bears and the mountain—”
“Stop that,” she interrupted softly. “I’m going to be uneasy enough without worrying about wild animals chewing on you.”
Bob laughed softly. “Don’t be uneasy,” he told her. “Doug has backpacked dozens of times.”
“Well, you haven’t,” she said. “Take it easy. Don’t let him push you.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Well…” She blew out a heavy breath. “He’s so…physical; you know that. He’s an actor, he’s done westerns…action pictures. He’s…tuned up.”
“What, and I’m out of tune?”
She sighed. “I don’t see you going to the gym very often. Or swimming.”
“I walk, don’t I?”
“Your one saving grace.” She squeaked as he pinched her back. “Well, anyway, I mean it: please-take-it-easy. Don’t let Doug push you. He won’t do it on purpose,” she added quickly, cutting him off. “He might just do it without thinking.”
“I’ll collapse at regular intervals,” he said.
“Oh…” she sighed again. “You aren’t very reassuring.”
“I will be careful,” he promised. “I will take it easy. I will avoid wild animals.”
The grip of her arms tightened. “Please do,” she said quietly.
After several moments, she drew back and looked at him intently. “Honey, are you sure you want to do this?” she asked.
“I have to, sweetheart. How am I supposed to write a convincing novel about backpacking if I’ve never backpacked once?”
She nodded, sighing again, then made a face of mock pleading. “Please, sir,” she said in a little girl’s voice, “couldn’t you write a novel about drinking chichis and lazing around in Hawaii with your wife of twenty years?”
He chuckled. “Maybe the next one I—” he started.
“Bobby, we have to go,” Doug called.
“I wish he wouldn’t call you that,” Marian said, “as though you were ten years old or something.”
“He doesn’t mean any harm,” Bob said. He drew her close and pressed his lips to hers, lingering on the kiss.
“Dear God, that was like farewell,” she said, tears appearing in her eyes.
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. We’ll be at the cabin on Wednesday afternoon. Have a vodka and tonic waiting for me.”
“If I don’t drink up all the vodka, worrying about you.”
He laughed softly and took her by the hand, leading her back around the tree.
“Farewells all completed?” Doug said.
Marian managed a faint smile. Doug’s smile became one of sympathy. “Really, Marian, there’s nothing to be worried about. Your husband will be sore as hell in every muscle, that I guarantee, but otherwise he’ll be intact.”
“Okay, okay, I’m going,” she said. She kissed Bob briefly on the lips, then moved to the Bronco and got in behind the steering wheel. She turned on the engine and pulled out onto the road, raising her right hand in farewell. Bob had the feeling that she didn’t look back because she was crying. Oh, sweetheart, he thought, smiling sadly.
* * *
As the Bronco disappeared around a curve, he picked up his pack with a grunt at its weight. “Okay, let’s go,” he said.
“Whoa, whoa, not so fast,” Doug told him.
“What?” Bob looked at him, curious.
“We have to check out our gear before we leave.”
Bob frowned. “Now?” he asked.
“Why didn’t we do all that before we left Los Angeles?”
“It’s a good idea to do it now,” Doug said. “Double-check before we leave.”
“What if I don’t have everything I need?” Bob asked. “What can I do about it now?”
“Well, I gave you a list of things you need. I assume you got all of it,” Doug said. “I was going to go to the supply store with you—as you recall. But you were in New York attending a big meeting.”
“Mm-hmm.” Bob nodded, wondering why Doug felt the need to call it a “big” meeting. It wasn’t that and Doug knew it.
“Oh, well,” he said. “Let’s do it then.”
Doug looked at him questioningly. “Are you sure you’re up to this, Bob?” he asked.
“Sure,” Bob said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Are you really?”
It didn’t sound like a question to Bob. Doug’s smile bordered on disbelief. He chuckled. “Okay. You got me,” he admitted. “Naturally, I’m a little apprehensive.”
“A lot apprehensive,” Doug answered.
“Well, maybe,” Bob said. “I’m not exactly John Muir.”
“Not exactly.” Doug’s smile was amused now.
“I’m counting on you to lend me through the wilderness without incident,” Bob said.
Doug shook his head, laughing softly. “I’ll do my damnedest, Bob,” he said. “Okay. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Bob leaned his pack against a tree to open it.
“I see you got a side packer,” Doug said.
“Is that bad?” Bob asked. “The salesman said it was easier to get into.”
“Did he tell you it would leak more in the rain?”
“Well…no,” Bob answered. “Are we expecting rain?”
“Y’never know,” Doug said. “Did you try it on for comfort?”
Bob nodded. “Yes, I did. The salesman even put a sandbag in it to show me what it would feel like when it was loaded.”
Bob chuckled. “It felt heavy,” he said.
“Damn right.” Doug nodded. “Well, let’s see what you’ve got inside.”
Bob unzipped the bag and took out the first item.
“What the hell is that?” Again, Bob felt that it wasn’t a question but a judgment.
“A stove,” he said.
“That wasn’t on the list I gave you,” Doug told him.
“The salesman talked me into it,” Bob said. “He showed me how easy it was to use. What would you rather have at the end of day, he asked, cold cereal or hot chicken à la king over rice?”
“You have chicken à la king with you as well?” Doug said, laughing as he spoke.
Bob sighed. He was getting a little weary of Doug’s belittling tone. “You never took a stove with you?” he challenged.
“Yeah, sure I did,” Doug answered. “Nothing wrong with having a stove. I was just trying to cut down on the weight you have to carry.”
“Okay.” Bob nodded.
“Canister stove’s heavier too,” Doug told him. “And you’ll have to carry out the canister.”
“Oh, no.” Bob looked dismayed.
“Oh, yes,” Doug said, nodding and smiling again. “Those are the rules of the game, Bobby. You don’t leave anything behind. Except for piss and crap of course.”
Bob made a face, nodding. “I understand.”
“Do you?” Doug looked at him almost sternly. “There are rules, Bobby. It isn’t just a stroll in the peak we’re going on, you know.”
All right, all right, Bob thought, He felt like saying it but didn’t want the hike to start out on a strained note.
“Before we look at what else you have in your pack—” Doug started.
Oh, God, what now? Bob wondered.
“You’re not wearing cotton underwear are you?”
The unexpected question struck Bob as funny, making him laugh. Doug frowned. “I’m sorry for laughing,” Bob said. “I just didn’t expect that question.”
“Well, it’s not an unimportant one,” Doug told him. “Cotton underwear gets wet from perspiration, feels lousy.”
Bob nodded. “I understand. I have on poly prop-whatever-underwear.”
“Polypropylene.” Doug nodded. “Good. And thin polypropylene socks under your wool socks?”
He must have sounded a bit apathetic, he realized, because Doug frowned again. “Bob, these things are important,” he said.
“All right. I understand.” Bob nodded.
“Okay.” Doug looked serious again. “You have three complete sets of socks.”
Doug started to speak but Bob interrupted him. “What do you use for a stove?” he asked.
“Two logs close together over the fire,” Doug said. “I put my grate across them.” He grinned. “Of course, now I have a stove to use.”
The hell you do, Bob thought, after making fun of it? He signed. Well, let that go, he decided.
“Very often, I’ve just eaten what Muir did—uncooked food, hot tea or coffee,” Doug told him.
Well he is trying to be helpful, Bob chided himself. And, after all, Doug don’t have to offer to take him on this hike, helping him get background material for his novel.
“All right, getting back to your clothes,” Doug continued. “Let’s take a look at your boots.” He knelt in front of Bob. “Did you know that every mile you walk, each foot hits the ground almost two thousand times?”
“No. Jesus.” Bob was impressed.
“And each foot has twenty-six functional bones,” Doug continued.
“No kidding,” Bob said. “How do you know all this stuff?”
“I can read too,” Doug said.
What the hell does that mean? Bob wondered.
“All right, they’re leather, that’s good. You never buy plastic.”
Plastic? Bob reached. Who in the hell would buy plastic shoes for hiking?
Doug was running his hands over Bob’s boots. “Lightweight, that’s good,” he said. “You won’t need heavyweight boots for a hike this short. Ankle-high, good. Padded ankle collar.” He grimaced a little. “Well…nylon uppers don’t need any break-in, but—”
“What?” Bob asked.
“I prefer leather uppers, they last longer, have more resistance.” He stood up, grunting. “No matter. Yours’ll be fine. You told the salesman to give you an extra half inch of toe room, didn’t you?”
“No.” Bob frowned. “You never told me that.”
“I must have forgotten,” Doug said. “It’s nothing fatal. Although it does help to have that extra half inch when you’re doing steep downhill hiking. You did wear a pair of thick socks when you were trying them on, didn’t you?”
“Yep.” Bob nodded, trying not to sound bored, which he was getting.
“Water seal the boots?” Doug asked.
“Cut your toenails?”
“What?” Bob laughed at the question.
“Not a joke,” Doug said. “You’re going to be doing a lot of walking. Overlong toenails can cause problems.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Bob made a face. “Well, I don’t think they’re too long.”
“We’ll check ’em later,” Doug said. “I have a clipper in case you need it.”
Bob repressed a sigh but not enough. Doug looked at him with mild accusation. “Bob,” he said, “I’m not talking just to hear the sound of my voice. I’ve been backpacking for years. Everything I’m telling you is pertinent.”
“All right, all right. I’m sorry again, I apologize. I realize you’re just trying to help me.”
“Good.” Doug patted him on the shoulder. “Just a few more things and we’ll be on our way.”
“Shoot,” Bob said. “Not with your bow, of course.”
Doug gave him a token chuckle, then went on. “Got gaiters?” he asked.
“Gaiters. Like leggings. Helps keep your lower pants dry, safe from thorns. Keeps sand and dirt out of your shoes. Rain.”
“Rain again,” Bob said. “You know something I don’t?”
“No, no,” Doug answered. “Just a precaution. I did mention gaiters, though.”
Bob nodded. No, you didn’t, he remembered.
“You have polyprop long johns?” Doug asked.
“Uh-huh.” Bob nodded. Let’s get on our way then, he thought.
His mind blanked out a little as Doug ran through what seemed to be a lecture about using the “layering” system to dress; each item of clothing working in combination with the others to deal with any change in the weather, hot or cold.
Lower layer, the long johns, socks; middle layer, shirt or vest, pile pants; outer layer, windbreaker, jacket, boots. Bob’s jacket was quilted, not down; that was good. If down got wet, it took forever to dry. Was Bob’s jacket seam-sealed? Bob didn’t know; he did not attempt to repress a sigh. Doug went on as though he didn’t notice. No snaps on Bob’s poncho, not good. In a wind, it would blow out like a boat sail. Snaps would prevent that. What kind of weather we planning on? Bob asked. Never know, was all Doug answered.
* * *
“Are we ready to go now?” Bob asked.
“No, no, no, no,” Doug said scoldingly. “There are several more important things.”
“Jesus, Doug. Are we going to have any time to walk before dark?”
Doug looked at him in silence.
“I know. I know,” Bob said apologetically. “Important things.”
“You doubt it?” Doug said irritably.
“No,” Bob sighed. “I’m just…anxious to get going, that’s all.”
“So am I, Bobby, believe me,” Doug said gravely. “But if we go off half cocked, you’ll regret it. I know how to do all this. You’ll don’t. So, for Christ’s sake, show a little patience. You’ll be glad later about what we’re doing now.”
Bob nodded, looking guilty. “I know, I’m sorry. I’ll say no more.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be on our way in no time,” Doug reassured him. “Let’s just get through it.”
“All right. Lay on, Macduff.”
Doug chuckled. “Let’s check your food supply,” he said.
“Right.” Bob took out what he’d brought. “Monologue time,” he said. “All food in plastic bags, a few small boxes of orange juice, no cans. Cereal. Beans. Powdered milk. Sugar. Powdered eggs. A packet of cheese. Instant coffee. Nuts. Chocolate.”
“Good,” Doug said. “Chocolate has all kinds of valuable ingredients. B vitamins. Magnesium. Good for you.”
“Marian would be happy to hear that,” Bob told him.
Doug chuckled a little. “The powdered milk is good too,” he said. “Lots of protein and calcium. Phosphorous. Vitamin D. Perfect in a survival situation.”
“A survival situation?” Bob asked. “I thought we were just going for a hike.”
Doug looked at him askance. “Just a phrase,” he said.
“Glad to hear it,” Bob answered.
“So what else you got?”
“Raisins. Powdered potatoes. A little bread. Two oranges, two apples. Energy bars. And, of course, my chicken à la king with rice, turkey tetrazzini, beef almondine.”
“Actually, you may have more food than you need,” Doug told him.
Bob made a face. “Don’t tell me that,” he said.
“No tragedy,” Doug told him. He picked up a pamphlet from Bob’s pack. “What’s this?”
Bob took the pamphlet and looked at it, laughed.
“What?” Doug asked.
“Survival in the Wilderness.” Bob read the pamphlet’s title. “Marian must have slipped it in there when I wasn’t looking.”
“Doubt if you’ll need it,” Doug said with a snicker.
“I doubt it too.” Bob slipped the pamphlet into his shirt pocket.
“Well, you seem to be in pretty good shape, food-wise,” Doug told him. “Plenty of carbohydrates—the staple of a hiker’s diet. You have enough water to see us through the afternoon?”
Bob shod him his filled water bottle.
“It’ll do, I guess,” Doug said dubiously. “I think I told you to get a wide-mouth halgene bottle though. Easier to clean. Easier to fill from a stream or spring. Easier to get a spoon into.”
“They didn’t have any,” Bob said quietly.
“All right, all right, no tragedy,” Doug replied. “I see you have some water packets too. They’re good in a pinch. What else have you got?”
“Pair of folding eyeglasses. Not that I think I’ll be doing any reading.”
Doug snickered. “Doubt it,” he said.
“And a small pair of folding binoculars,” Bob told him.
Doug made an indeterminate sound. “Won’t hurt,” he said. “You might get some use out of them. How about toiletries?”
Dear God, this is going to go on forever. Bob thought. We’ll end up camping right here for the week. He took the plastic bag out of his pack. “Toothbrush. Toothpaste. Skin lotion. Sun block. Multivitamins.”
“Let’s see.” Doug held out his hand and Bob handed him the small container. He read the ingredients. “Not bad,” he said. “Two, three hundred milligrams of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, good. Vitamin B-1. Vitamin D. Potassium. Sodium. Calcium. Iron.” He tossed the container back. “It’ll do,” he said in a tone that indicated it really wasn’t good enough.
My cup runneth over, Bob thought.
“And—?” Doug asked.
“Uh…oh,” Bob said. “Water purification tablets.”
“Safer to boil the water,” Doug told him. “Boiling time varies with height above sea level. Best to boil it for ten minutes wherever you are. And remember, drink before you get thirsty. Thirst is an alarm signal. Don’t wait for it. Remember, when you sweat it’s ninety-nine percent water.”
“Use your urine color as an indicator. If it’s darker than usual, you’re not drinking enough.”
“Okay.” No point in asking questions, Bob thought.
“Pint every half hour,” Doug told him.
“What else you got?” Doug asked.
“Oh…toilet paper,” Bob told him. “Deodorant.”
“Deodorant?” Doug chuckled. “You afraid your b.o. will offend the squirrels?”
“Just a habit,” Bob said.
“All right, no tragedy.”
Tragedy? Bob thought. How could using a deodorant be a tragedy?
“What’s that?” Doug said, pointing.
Bob took out a plastic bag with six mini-bottles of vodka in it. “Thought it might be nice to have a little drink at the end of the—”
“Not a good idea, Bob,” Doug broke in. “Alcohol impairs the judgment. Dehydrates the body. Decreases the appetite. Not good.”
“Jesus, Doug, one mini-bottle before dinner? That’s hardly boozing one’s way through the forest primeval.”
“Well.” Doug shrugged. “Okay. Your call. You’ll have to carry out the bottles though, you know.”
“Oh, Christ, I forgot about that.”
Doug chuckled. “Law of the wilderness, Bobby,” he said. “You’ll remember all this next time.” He chuckled again. “If there is a next time.”
“You don’t think there will be?” Bob asked.
“Let’s just say I hope you rented all this equipment.” When Bob didn’t reply, Doug made a face of mock pain. “Ooh,” he said, “that’s a lot of money for one hike.” He gestured vaguely. “Though I suppose you’ll get a hell of a lot more money when you sell your novel.”
Bob didn’t know how to respond to that. It crossed his mind how ironic it was that Doug had decried the mini-bottles of vodka. He’d seen Doug put away two six-packs of beer on more than one occasion.
“What about cookware?” Doug asked.
Without a word, Bob showed him the two small aluminum pots nestled together with a lid that could be used for a frying pan.
“Should be marked for measurements,” Doug said. “However. Cup?”
Bob showed him his metal Sierra cup. Doug made a face. “Should have gotten a plastic one like I told you. This one could burn your lips as well as cool down hot liquids too fast.”
Backpacking One, professor Crowley, Bob thought. Was there going to be a written exam after all this?
“Okay, you got a spoon and knife,” Doug said. “You have a hunting knife too?”
Bob opened his jacket to show the knife in its sheath.
“That’s not a knife,” Doug said, imitating Crocodile Dundee. “This is a knife.”
He reached into his pack and pulled out what looked like a small machete. “Golak,” he told Bob.
“Jesus,” Bob said. “Are we going for a hike or a war?”
“Never know,” Doug answered.
For Christ’s sake, what does that mean? Bob wondered. He decided not to ask.
“A few more things,” Doug said, “but I have them with me so you don’t have to worry about them. Flashlight with extra bulbs and batteries. I see that you have one too—that’s good. Waterproof matches. First-aid kit, whistle; I have two I’ll give you one of them.”
“Whistle?” Bob asked.
“In case you get lost, Bobby,” Doug said. Marian was right. Doug sounded exactly as though he were talking to a ten-year-old.
“Trowel.” Doug held it up.
“What’s that for?” Bob asked.
“You plan to bury your shit with your hands?” Doug said. It was hardly a question. He grinned at Bob. “You’ll borrow mine,” he said. “It’ll bond us.”
Bob had to laugh at that.
“You have your sunglasses,” Doug went on. “One more thing before we get our packs on. Your sleeping bag.”
Bob showed it to him. Doug shook it open. Oh, Christ, Bob thought, it took me long enough to get it folded right.
“Down-filled mummy bag, yeah, that’s good,” Doug said. “I’m glad you listened to me on that anyway.”
That’s right, I ignored everything else on the list you gave me, Bob thought. Christ.
“Not too much loft,” Doug said, patting the mummy bag.
“Loft?” Bob asked.
“Insulation,” Doug told him. “The more air there is between you and the ground, the warmer you’ll be. It’s pretty heavy though, should keep you warm. Heavier than it needs to be actually.”
Make up your mind. Dougie, Bob thought.
Doug checked the sleeping bag more closely. “Should have a zipper at the top and the bottom,” he said. “Helps cool you off on a warm night.”
Jesus! Bob thought. Which one will it be, staying warm or staying cool?
“Well, pack up and we’ll be on our way,” Doug told him.
Thank God, Bob thought. He started to roll up his sleeping bag. Please don’t tell me I’m doing it wrong, he thought. I’m sure I am.
Doug sat down on a boulder, yawning and stretching.
“What you have is an internal-frame backpack,” he said. “Pretty compact, fits better. Makes it easier to maintain your balance no matter what kind of ground you’re walking on. Most backpackers prefer the internal frame.”
Which means, of course, that you don’t prefer it, Bob guessed.
“I prefer the external-frame type,” Doug said. Bob was glad his back was turned away so Doug wouldn’t see his cheeks puff out in a stifled laugh. “Better air circulation on the back. Easier to pack. Can carry more weight. Though God knows that isn’t what you’d want right now.”
No, not at all, Bob thought in amusement as he started to repack his bag.
“No, you wouldn’t want more weight, you’d want less,” Doug went on.
Yes, sir, Professor Crowley, Bob thought.
“They say a pack for any kind of extended trip should be about a third of the hiker’s weight. What do you weigh, Bobby?”
“That would be—” Doug was quiet for a few moments before saying, “about sixty-five pounds.” He chuckled. “You’d last about twenty minutes,” he said.
“Doug, I’m not that weak,” Bob told him, trying to not sound irritated.
“Not saying you are, kiddo,” Doug said. “You just don’t know what sixty-five pounds on your back would feel like.”
“I suppose.” Bob was trying to repack his food supply compactly.
“Fortunately, I’ll be carrying the tent and the ground pads,” Doug said.
“Yes, don’t forget to tell me what I owe you on them,” Bob told him.
“For the tent, nothing, I already own it,” Doug said.
“I’ll get you on the ground pad later.” He chuckled.
“And the whistle.”
“And the whistle,” Bob said good-naturedly.
“Here, put it in your pocket,” Doug told him.
“Okay, thanks,” Bob said. Doug knows a hell of a lot about all this, he told himself. Be grateful for his knowledge. So he is a little abrasive about it, so what? He’s doing me a hell of a favor taking me on this hike. Appreciate it; don’t keep niggling at his little lectures. They don’t matter, not al all.
Anyway, what do I have to complain about? he thought. I need to know all this stuff for my novel. I should stop the internal kvetching and take notes, for chrissake.
“Yeah, if you manage twenty-five, thirty pounds you’ll be doing good,” Doug said. “Make sure you put stuff you’ll only be using when we camp inside the pack. Anything you might want to use on the trail, put in one of the outer pockets. Put things in the same places all the time too so you don’t have to search for them every time you need them. And make sure you pack the stove and fuel in an outer pocket in case there’s a leak, you got that?”
Bob tried not to sigh. “Got it,” he said.
“All for your safety, buddy,” Doug reminded him.
“I know. I appreciate it,” Bob said. Say no more, he told himself.
“Okay, let’s try it on for size,” Doug said, standing.
“Right.” Bob picked up his pack and tried to swing it around his right shoulder. “Whoa!” he cried as the weight of the pack pulled him over, almost make him fall.
“And that, class, is the wrong way to don your back-pack,” Doug said. His smile was smug but Bob laughed anyway. “Guess I could use a little instruction here,” he said.
“Guess you could.” Doug took the pack from him. “Now watch what I do,” he said.
“First you loosen your shoulder, load lifter, and hip stabilizer straps a little bit. They’re all padded, that’s good.”
Bob nodded as Doug loosened the straps slightly.
“Got that?” Doug asked.
“You have to establish a routine for fitting the pack each time you put it on,” Doug told him. “Next you bend your knees like so…swing the pack onto your thigh and—slide under the shoulder straps in one quick movement. Got it?”
“Got it.” Bob nodded.
“All right, the pack is on your back. What comes next?”
“With me, probably collapse.”
“Come on, Bobby, I’m trying to tell your something here.”
“Yeah, okay, okay. I presume you tighten the straps back up.”
“Not yet,” Doug said. “First you lean forward and cinch the waist belt…like so. It should sit right above and on your hips. Next, you straighten up, settle the pack on your hips, then pull your shoulder straps tight.”
“Whoa,” Bob muttered.
“No, it isn’t.” Doug shook his head. “Do it a few times and you’ll do it without thinking. All right. Next you buckle the sternum strap…so. Then you tighten— you did try this pack on, didn’t you?”
“Sure.” Bob nodded. “The salesman never told me all this stuff though.”
“They never do,” Doug said. “All right, next you retighten the load lifter straps and hip stabilizer straps—that’ll keep the pack from swaying while you’re walking.”
“Hope I remember all this,” Bob said, looking confused.
“You will,” Doug told him. “Otherwise, you’ll end up with raw spots on your neck and hips and God knows where else.”
With movements so fast Bob couldn’t follow them, Doug was out of the pack and holding it out. “Okay, let’s see you do it now,” he said.
Copyright © 2002 by Richard Matheson