I was at the base of Blue Mountain, sitting on my pack, map spread out on the trail, deciding whether to turn back and walk half a mile back for water at a shelter I missed, or go forward and hope for some water source.
"Lefty," a bulky, tattooed, twenty-something hiker, came up to me on the trail. He stutter-stepped a bit, looking like he needed to talk. I blandly asked how it was going. He breathed out really big, pulled off his pack, and sat down on it facing me. I didn't really know him, we'd only exchanged names the day before, so I was surprised. We began what was effectively a Clearness Committee (a Quaker discernment practice).
"Lefty" had met a local Port Clinton girl. He had fallen in love. Should he turn around and go get her? Or should he finish the trail and then go back to her?
He wanted to complete the trail.
But this was the girl of his dreams.
But he had already hiked hundreds of miles.
But then again, she had sparkly eyes.
But he'd respect himself more if he finished the trail.
But she liked him too.
The pros and cons went on.
I didn't know him, so I didn't have a strong opinion, but I got wrapped up in this decision process anyway. I was thrilled to witness a critical, highly charged moment in someone's life. Finally, he decided he'd keep going, then come back and marry her immediately afterward.
I gave him my well wishes, and then turned back to go get water. It was a painful hike South because I could've used that energy to get one more mile down North. Hikers agree each mile off the trail is psychologically exhausting. Each step backwards was heavy. It was like slow-motion hiking with a 80 lbs pack. I made it to the water, exhausted beyond reason, and ended up taking a two hour break reading Walden. Eventually, I set off again.
100 paces from where I had run into "Lefty" earlier, I saw him again. I began laughing. He smiled sheepishly and hugely.
He said he climbed up to the very top of Blue Mountain, and physically could not take one more step. He knew what he wanted (Ashley), and he didn't care anymore if he was "being a girl," he was going back to be with her.
Again, I teased him about it, he liked being teased, and simultaneously, whole-heartedly supported his decision. He reminded me of the Thistle Weeds growing in the Steinbeckian tall grasses out here: fuchsia flowers that are prickery on the outside, but soft as a bunny's tail in the middle.