Hike of a Lifetime

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story about having to make choices.

Hike of a Lifetime

 

On that clammy October morning it had As he stepped clear of the endless tunnel of trees, he felt relieved. For the last hour it had felt as if the trees had tried to move in on him. The thin mist among the wet, dark trunks had added to the feeling of gloom that pervaded Caleb’s thoughts. As he walked onto the open area of boulders, the world around him became a touch lighter. The mist was still there, but it was fighting a slowly losing battle with the warmth of the mid-morning sun. Caleb expected themist to lift in less than an hour. The sound of his footsteps changed from the soggy squelch made by the thick layer of pine needles on the path to the sharply gnashing sound of the gravel under his boots. The world of eerie silence gained some normality again.


Caleb looked around and although the world still looked hemmed in by a light grey shroud, he could see details for more than a couple of hundred yards ahead. There was hardly any vegetation. There was just the occasional small shrub that struggled to eke out a living from the rocky soil with great difficulty; small patches of green among an aUp ahead, the path forked, the right-hand side going down the slope again, and the left-hand path gently turning up-hill. At the base of the fork three boulders with flat tops formed a natural resting place for tired hikers. Caleb thought it would be a good place for some coffee and a snack.


As he reached the fork in the path, Caleb slid the straps of his orange backpack from his shoulders and put the pack against one of the boulders for support. He had never been good at packing his backpack, he was nothing like the other hikers he knew. Most of them were experts at balancing everything inside keeping the packs from toppling over once they were put down. In contrast, his pack always sagged to one side or rolled over. . No matter how hard he tried, he could never make his pack stay upright. After trying time and time again, he had finally given up. Although it bugged him, he had learned to always use something to prop the damned thing up. He sat down on one of the boulders and started rummaging in the backpack. He found his small thermos flask and poured himself a cup of lukewarm coffee. After finishing his coffee, Caleb took an energy bar from his backpack and started munching on the sugary bar of nuts. The coffee and the food instantly made him feel slightly better. The fork in the path drew his attention. Here was another choice. At this point in time he hated choices. There were too many choices to be made, small ones and big ones, the ones without any real consequences, and the ones that could ruin everything he had hoped for. He was out there to get away from choices. He just wanted to move ahead without having to bother where he was going to. No more thinking about career options, his marriage to Joan, what stuff to buy for the kids, how much to spend on another car, where to move to next, what type of house to get, who to befriend, who to ditch, what to do about his demented mother and his demanding father, how to cope with his jealous sister and her idiot husband, when to redo the backyard, when to reorganize the garage; hell, even who to invite to his upcoming birthday party. At least this one must be simple, he thought. I can use my map. He started rummaging in his backpack again.


When the map was spread on top of the boulder next to him, Caleb searched for the parking lot where he had left is car. There were two paths leading away from it. He tried to picture which one he had chosen. He traced the line leading up through the forest with his fingertip. Then he did it again, but he couldn’t find the place where the path forked.


“That’s strange,” he mumbled softly. “It must be the other one.”
He started tracing the other path with the same result. He felt a slight tightening of his stomach as he looked at the car park again. It had to be that one. His finger traced the main road all the way back to the small village he had passed earlier that morning. There was no mistake, that was the right car park. His stomach tightened a bit more as he picked up the map and walked a couple of yards onto the path leading uphill, as if the higher elevation would help find out where he was, but it didn’t make any difference.The grey world ended where the mist became too dense.He stood there for several minutes, studying the map in an attempt to make sense of the whole thing. A feeling of panic started to rise.

Then something seemed to be moving on the path leading uphill. A dim figure slowly became more visible as he slowly approached. Another lone hiker. It was a grey bearded man in a mint green anorak. As he reached Caleb, he stopped and said: “Good morning. Not the best day to be out here, isn’t it.”

“Morning,” Caleb said. “We could do with a bit of sunshine, right now. It would be nice to see where we are going.”


The man smiled and pointed to the map. “That’s not going to help you a lot.”


“I noticed,” said Caleb. “It’s hard to find this spot on this map.”


“It’s impossible,” the man said. “It’s the old one.” He pointed to the other path, the one leading downhill. “That’s new. They will have it on the new map, but that’s not around yet. Perhaps next year.”


I guess I’d better use my phone then,” said Caleb. “There must be a working satellite up there.” He pointed to the sky.


“No use,” the man retorted. “There’s no reception around here, but I know where we are, roughly speaking. Let me show you.” He looked at the map and stabbed his finger on a spot. “Here. Give or take a couple of hundred yards. You’re not really lost. Where do you wanna go to?”


“I don’t know yet,” Caleb answered. “What’s up there?” He pointed uphill.


“Just the top.”


“Anything of interest up there?”


“The scenery is beautiful. You can see a lot of the other mountains from up there.” Then he paused and made a small circle with his hand pointing up. “But, you know. It may be better in the afternoon. There’s also a log cabin up there; a bit of a shelter in case anyone gets caught in a storm. Very primitive, but it will do its job. Not much too look at, though.”


Caleb pointed to the other path, the one leading downhill and asked: “What about that path. Do you know where it leads to?”


“It’s a shortcut down. It will bring you in an hour to a ranger station, from there you can walk in twenty minutes to the main road. Hardly anybody goes there, but its the path they created for the mountain rescue team. It’s much steeper than the regular path to the car park, and you will have to walk on the main road for a while before you will reach your car. I wouldn’t recommend going down that way; it can be risky. Anyway, I’m going down the old path. I have had enough exercise for now. Have a nice day.” The man nodded and started walking down the path Caleb had used to climb up.


“Thanks,“ Caleb called after the man. “Have a nice day too.” He watched the man disappear in the tree line down the slope. Then he carefully folded the map and put it in his backpack again. When his backpack was securely strapped on his back again, he studied the two paths again. Turning back wasn’t an option. Going back into that oppressive wood right now had zero appeal to him. That’ll be quick, he thought, as he looked at the path leading to the ranger station. Yet, it could be dangerous. He hesitated. What the hell, he thought, I set out to go to the top anyway. He shrugged his shoulders under the weight of the backpack and turned to the path leading up the mountain. At least I can rest in that safe shelter, he thought.

 


Submitted: February 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Bert Broomberg. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Mike S.

A fine tale, Bert

Mon, February 1st, 2021 8:00pm

Author
Reply

Thanks Mike, but I am afraid there is something wrong with the formatting. I am going to remove the story and put it back on again.

Mon, February 1st, 2021 12:02pm

Craig Davison

Very good, Bert. As Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Tue, February 2nd, 2021 12:03am

Author
Reply

Thanks Craig. I appreciate your feedback.

Tue, February 2nd, 2021 3:47am

Craig Davison

Very good, Bert. As Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Tue, February 2nd, 2021 12:03am

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