I’m not exactly a lady who lunches.
Sure, if you ask me to share highbrow midday meal, I’ll agree. I’ll even eat like I’ve been nailed to a wall in an anorexic sadist’s kitchen for the better half a decade.
But I’m also going to dribble EVOO all over my skirt and spit in your face.
You should know better than to tell a joke while I’m chewing.
Most of my friends feel the same way. We’ll gladly slip on our Sunday best and step into a brunch dunked in mimosas. We’re not crazy.
But before the last napkin is placed politely over the other attendees’ barely touched plates, we’ve already crumbled our linens, two-stepped with the waiter and stolen five sticky buns for the road.
Adios Pomp. See ya, Circumstance. We’re late for a finger mustache photo shoot. Top hats optional.
When my closest friends and I get together, it’s understood that decorum rides in the trunk while snot-inducing laughter takes the wheel and hits the gas. There’s a tacit agreement that the day will devolve into a series of loving forehead slaps from the moment the first person arrives and realizes they didn’t pack shoes.
Miraculously, when my childhood friends Emily and Chris dropped out of the sky to see me in April, everyone brought footwear. However, no one remembered common sense. So, we decided to crisscross three states and hike six miles in a circle to find it.
We laced up our boots for a trek through New Hampshire’s Pisgah State Park. Sure, it wasn’t the sexiest selection given the East Coast’s ample, seductive curves. If I’m being completely fair, the description of the park read more like a Craigslist ad for a set of well-worn allen wrenches than for the shot list of an adventure epic. But it did say the park covered 13,000 acres of terrain and that it was open “at all times.”
Big target AND 24-hour access? Sold to the three directionally challenged, chronically late, comically disastrous outdoor junkies in the back.
So off we went. Chris wriggled himself into my ladies XS sweatshirt because he forgot to pack anything besides tee-shirts from the Salvation Army. Surprise. Emily popped on her blue sunglasses and penguin hat. We don’t even bat an eye anymore. And I stuffed a North Face backpack with five PB&J sandwiches — heavy on the PB. I didn’t want to be stranded, unprepared, on a jagged cliff in a freak snowstorm.
No one ever called any of us normal.
An hour and a half later, our clown car of quirk arrived in distinctly average Winchester, New Hampshire, home to Pisgah’s distinctly average hiking trails. We all feigned awe for the sake of each other’s Saturday. I pointed out a “beautiful” old barn, but really it was just falling down wreck. Emily cooed over a set of underwhelming hills. Dolly Parton’s mountains have more to write home about. Chris meowed from the back seat. Roughly, that translates to, “Happy Camper. That’s me.”
Still, we cruised on to our destination. About nine miles of empty farmland and one K-Mart later, we noticed a major flaw in the homily town’s traffic planning. Nearly every street was named Old Chesterfield Road. That would have been a quaint trait, if not for the fact that we needed to turn onto one of Old Man Chester’s many fields in order to reach the park gates. So, around and around we went in our zipcar, until Emily said, “It’s gotta be that one.”
Lesson 1: Always trust a girl sporting candy corn socks.
She found that main gate.
Lesson 2: Never trust a park website likely written by a PR intern with distinctly minimalist bent.
What the website should have said was “open at all times…unless it’s mud season. Then we’re closed to anything that breathes and/or rolls,” because the sign on the gate sure said it in big letters. No subtly offline whatsoever.
Without a word, Chris slipped out of his seatbelt, inspected the sign, danced in front of the car and then disappeared to take a leak on a tree.
Emily and I followed suit…on a downhill slope of course.
The only thing worse than driving two hours just to pee is driving two hours just to pee on your own shoes.
As we stood outside the car snapping photos of our typical misfortune and cracking jokes about the nearby house with “1996” proudly emblazoned on its roof, Chris decided we had to find a way in, Old Man Chester be damned. He’s hiked the globe, often alone, and he doesn’t exactly have much regard for posted warnings.
So, we cruised back down the main road to ask a townie for directions to another entrance. Emily’s socks weren’t enough to find a way in without a trace scent, and the wireless phone signal wasn’t strong enough to give even a house fly cancer. We had no choice but to engage with the people of Winchester.
Either everyone we asked really didn’t know the park was closed and didn’t know any other entrance, or they just didn’t want to dally talking to a penguin, a cat man and a 12-year-old-looking girl behind the wheel of an SUV. I don’t think I blame them, if it was indeed the latter.
We had resigned to a failed adventure and had even just crossed back over the border to Massachusetts when I saw a beam of light. Literally.
The sun hit an adorable, cream-colored historic schoolhouse. I stared just long enough to see that the sign said “Northfield Public Library.” I knew this was our ticket to dirt.
We crossed the threshold of the building and landed in what can only be described as 1991 meets Little House on the Prairie. Two small rooms spilled books from cedar shelves, and the floorboards creaked from years of wear. The librarian sported an ankle-length skirt, short hair I’m sure was made of straw although I couldn’t touch it to check, and a stern warning that the library closed in 15 minutes.
It was 12:15 when we walked in.
She followed her alert with a warm invitation to help ourselves to any literature on the small carts. After all, it was “free book Saturday.”
Emily and I paroozed page turners that hadn’t been checked out since 1983, while Chris saddled up to one of the two computers in the whole joint. The sweet sounds of dial-up internet echoed through the air as he mapped a new route to another entrance. When it came time use the printer, Emily and I broke it instead. We’re not exactly the most ginger ladies, and especially not when it comes to machinery assembled before we were even conceived. Ever the problem solver in a pinch, Chris pulled out some paper and jotted down the route in his usual left-handed chicken scratch. Emily swiped a children’s book from the free pile. I went for a questionable psychology book on something called night language. And, just as soon as we’d dropped into a delightful slice of Bizarre, we were off again.
But not before eating three of the five PBJs in the car and stopping at the dollar store to buy a bubble wand and a box of nerds.
Every hike worth taking requires a sugar high and iridescent floating soap balls.
We did eventually make it to the trail, and we did eventually hike around haltingly beautiful, pristine watersheds. More importantly, we reminisced about the moments that cemented our friendship. We talked about our current struggles and fears. We listened as each of us shared thoughts on our relationships – some failing, some soaring, some woefully non-existent. We hugged, danced and hugged again. Anyone coming the other direction must have fancied Chris the ultimate playboy for hiking uphill while holding two girls’ hands.
As the rain clouds moved in, we loaded up the car and crossed the border one more time, this time to Vermont. Chris was just three states away from collecting all 50 in his travel kit, so we were more than happy to move our bodies through Brattleboro for five minutes to whittle the list down to two.
There’s that old cliché that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. This trip, more than any other, cemented that statement for me. Even if we never stepped on a single trail that day, we would have gone home meowing in unison, knowing that we’d shared a boondoggle with people who get it and, more importantly, get us.
We did not find any common sense in Winchester, New Hampshire, and honestly, I hope we never do. I feel soo blessed to have stumbled upon a core group of people on my journey who refuse to grow up in the best ways, who give a very friendly middle finger to normality and who think so far out of the box people wonder whether they’ve lost it.
You can take my friends and me to lunch, but you can’t make us drink the Conformity Kool-Aid.
the first three photos were taken with my iphone.