Originally posted on June 17, 2005
The golden brown crust of the Pizza Hut pizza was leaving behind a slight oily sheen to my fingers but oh did it taste so good. The cheese was starting to turn a dark brown at all the high points just the way I like it and the toppings were crammed onto every delicious slice. The meats and vegetables of the Supreme pizza were creating a harmony that was singing in my mouth. I lifted the frosty red class of ice cold Pepsi and took a big drink to wash down my last bite of pizza harmony. The crisp tingling bubbles of carbonation, washed across my tongue like a jacuzzi, and swept down my throat with an invigorating splash. This was just too good to be dreaming but unfortunately it was because in reality, my body was slowly being tortured.
It was day thirteen of our backpacking trip in the mountains and we were hiking out from the last base camp to the car some thirteen or fourteen miles away. The plan was to take an easy two days and do some fishing along the way but like all well-intentioned plans, sometimes things just don't seem to work out the way you had planned. We had made it up and over the pass in good time and were now going down the backside. Our packs had been lightened of just about all the food making them seem extremely light when compared to the leaden weights on the way in thirteen days earlier. But just because our mind was fooled, our body wasn't and it knew it was still carrying more of a load than normal as we hiked down the trail.
The trail itself was fairly decent for being in the mountains but it was steep and rough. When hiking down such a trail, for every two feet you walk, you also descend a foot and when you are walking fast while carrying a backpack, this can create a lot of stress on your feet and legs. Mine were definitely feeling the strain but I was a young man and our slowest member was leading us out and happened to be female. By putting her in the lead, it insures that the faster and stronger people are behind her and that we all remain as a group in case someone gets in trouble. But it also meant that as a strong young man, I couldn't complain that we were going to fast because it would feminize my masculinity in some way. So I resorted to recalling mental images of hot Pizza Hut Supreme pan pizza and glassfuls of ice cold Pepsi.
Whenever I am in the mountains, these images invade my brain like a worm. Down "there" in everyday life, I can go months without eating a pizza or drinking a Pepsi or even getting an urge to do them. But up "here", maybe due to the lower air pressures of the mountains, or the large amounts brain processing time that I suddenly have available, my brain always seems to dwell on that subject and no matter how I try, I can't rid it out of my mind. I'll be catching a monster cutthroat trout on the edge of a beautiful mountain lake nested in a huge cirque of mountains and I'm thinking of sitting in the air conditioned muted darkness in a Pizza Hut. I'll be eating said trout and I am imagining taking my first bite of that Pizza Hut pizza. On it goes all fourteen days that I am in the wilderness.
Our pace leader was really picking them up and putting them down. She was in high gear and we were way ahead of schedule. In fact, we were so far ahead of schedule that we soon passed our planned evening stopping point and the sun hadn't even reached its apex in the sky. She kept on hiking and the three of us kept on following behind her without a word except for the occasional grunt when one of us stumbled like a faltering horse on a loose rock or tripped on a tree root. We were all suffering from the pizza and Pepsi condition and none of us wanted to seem like the weakling by asking her to slow down.
My brother and I inherited long slender legs from our mother. For my brother, it led to a really good high school cross-country career and for a time, I was unbeatable on a bicycle. All three of us have a natural pace that is a slow trot to those with shorter legs. In our family we refer to it as the famous high leg kicking "Gestapo Stomp" that you see in old films of the Hitler era. Many times I will be walking with someone and notice they are getting out a breath only to realize that I am walking to fast for them. Only after family friend Dick died of cancer, did I learn from his widow that he had given our family the nickname of "Abroids" which is a play on my real last name and robotic like androids. He evidently thought that our sustained high pace was more robotic than human.
Shortly after three in the afternoon, we struggled out of the wilderness and into the parking lot where the vehicle we had left behind was waiting. My feet felt like they had been caned about a hundred times but I didn't care. We were out of the mountains and by nightfall, I would be eating a Supreme pan pizza and sipping on an ice cold Pepsi. Two hours later, we had made it out of the foothills of the mountain and were pulling into a motel parking lot for some hot showers before supper. As I took a step outside the van, I winced and almost cried out in pain coming from the soles of my feet. It hurt so bad, I ended up doing a duck waddle of sorts on the sides of my feet into the hotel room and from there, crawled on my hands and knees into the shower.
The repeated pounding had gradually tenderized my feet until the point where they were deep bruises and I could barely walk and wouldn't be able to do so at a normal gate for almost two weeks. I wasn't the only one. The rest of our group were also limping and my younger brother would eventually lose all his toenails for a time until they re-grew back. Now, years later, we often remember that as our own "Trail of Tears." The girl leading us out claims that she thought we were silent because she was going too slow and the rest of us all think that we were silent because she was going too fast to waste breath on extraneous talking. After we had all gotten cleaned up, we hobbled out to the van where we drove to the nearest Pizza Hut to find the cure for our "pizza and Pepsi on the brain" disease. It sure must have been a site to see four people waddle like ducks, walking on the sides of their feet, come into the restaurant where they proceeded to inhale hot Pizza Hut Supreme pizza and drink enormous amounts of ice cold Pepsi like it was going out of style. They are probably still talking about us.