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I was not having the best birthday that morning: my friend Katherine woke me up at three in the morning by yelling at me. To make matters worse, she decided the best birthday present would be a hike (up a massive hill!) in our pajamas. It was also impossible to keep up with her since she is almost a full foot taller than me and about 90% legs.
“Slow down, please! I can’t go that fast without tripping over myself!”
“Too bad, Meg. Hurry up!” Katherine shouted over her shoulder before starting to jog at a light pace along the path, “it’s not my fault your legs are short.”
I had no choice but to somehow catch up; the woods are creepy enough in the day, and being here alone is worse than having company–running was the only option, unfortunately. At least the ground was dry this time of year; it was late enough in the year that the rains had stopped but the leaves had not started falling and making the trail slippery. Most people would have been fine, but coordination eluded me as usual.
“Are you ever going to tell me where we’re even going this early?” I asked, hardly expecting a response, “I feel like we’ve been walking for days!”
Katherine only chuckled softly in response and turned a corner, disappearing behind the trees which didn’t help with anything.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Even though we’ve known been friends for our entire lives, the two of us are very different people: Katherine certainly doesn’t seem to need sleep and has a bizarre idea of how to celebrate birthdays… she is a wonderful friend and has proven her trustworthiness time and time again, but there comes a certain point where that isn’t enough. But confronting someone who could be the only other person around for miles would be a mistake especially since my parents more than likely don’t even know where the two of us are; it was starting to feel like the setup of a low-budget horror movie.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
“We’re almost there, I think,” said Katherine.
“Uhhh, you think we’re almost there? Shouldn’t you know where we are and where we’re going?”
“The last time I came here it was daytime; I know we’re on the right path and all, but I’m bad at estimating distances and the darkness isn’t helping.”
“I should have grabbed my flashlight,” I was beginning to worry more and more about what waited at the end of our hike.
“It won’t take that much longer. I already told you we’re almost there, and night vision is more important for what we’re going to do. It really isn’t bad.”
“Not bad? We’re hiking in the forest in the dark, We’re in PJs and don’t have any food with us. And it’s my birthday!”
“It only sounds bad when you put it that way.”
“No, it sounds bad when we’re in the middle of nowhere!”
I know Katherine had a plan and all, but lack of sleep and no food are not a good combination–and the forest is scarcely lit by the moon, so the trees and the few shrubs look just wrong enough to be disturbing–I think my frustration was justified at that point.
“I just want to go home and sleep, Katherine. I’m sorry for yelling, but this is just insane.”
“I actually have some food in my purse, if that’ll help,” she responded after slowing to a stop, unsure of how to handle the situation.
“Yes,” I said as there comes a point where pine needles start to look appealing and whatever Katherine had would be more edible, “of course I want the food.”
Katherine resumed walking as she started rummaging through her purse for her snack. We were going to keep going whether I, the birthday girl, wanted to or not apparently.
“I can never find anything in this bag.”
“Of course... Why can’t you just tell me where are we going anyways?! My legs hurt, it’s cold, and I want to go back to bed!”
“Well since you asked, I was thinking that we should head up the hill, climb a tree, and watch the sunrise.”
“Seriously? That’s why you dragged my out of bed at three?”
“Of course not.”
“Look. You need to live a little and I thought doing something like this would be exciting.”
“I don’t like where this is going...”
“It’ll be fun don’t worry.”
To make everything all the more painful, old sneakers and pajamas don’t make the best hiking attire: the shoes already had some holes to begin with, the pajama bottoms were quickly accumulating a collection of burrs, and the top provided little protection from the biting early morning chill.
“Please tell me that you planned a surprise picnic at the top of this infernal hill. Something warm, too.”
“I won’t lie, Meg, but I do have a plan.”
“And that would be?”
“A surprise. Ah yes! I Found it! Here’s my granola bar.”
“Just answer the question please,” I said, snatching the granola bar from Katherine’s outstretched hand.
“Can you just wait and appreciate the effort that goes into a surprise for once?”
“If you aren’t going to tell me about the surprise, can you at least tell me where you got the idea behind planning whatever this is?”
“Do you remember that time in third grade when you told me about that one time you went camping with your grandparents?”
“Yeah, they just got marshmallow stuck to my hair and decided to take me home before sunset.”
“It has nothing to do with that at all.”
“Then why bring it up?”
“There will be marshmallows though…”
We walked on in silence for a long while, listening to only our breathing and the occasional snap of a stick crushed under foot. It would be nicer if we could see more than a dozen feet in front of us, but at least the usual morning fog hadn’t rolled over the surrounding hills yet.
“This should be the last switch-back.”
“Woo-hoo! Please tell me there’s more food. I would hate to kill the surprise and eat it.”
“That would be very disturbing. You know, even though I woke you up super early this morning I haven’t said ‘Happy Birthday’ yet.”
“We’ve been walking for almost an hour and you’re only bringing this up now? Isn’t all of whatever this is for my birthday?”
At this point, We could see some flickering light up ahead. It appeared to be from a large bonfire and there were a few people sitting around it on logs, most with their backs to us as we slowly made our way through the last few yards. In the early pre-dawn light, it was beautiful. The orange fire complemented the rustiness of the redwoods, and I could still make out a few stars that outshone both the light pollution from our hometown in the valley below and the first rays of the sun peaking over the opposing hills. It would bring a tear to anyone’s eye if they could see it in person or if a true master of color painted the scene over the course of her lifetime–it’s that perfect.
“Hey guys! They’re here!” called out the only man facing them.
“About time! We’ve been waiting! I have some marshmallows,” said one of our mutual friends, Jenny.
“Let’s get this party started!” yelled Katherine
“Thanks for planning all of this for me,” I whispered into Katherine’s ear.
“Anytime, bestie. Now let’s go get you some cake.”
“I knew there had to be food!”
Katherine had never been the planning sort of person, and the effort she must have put into this secret plan goes beyond any expectation; she almost forgot about my birthday last year, and no one has actually planned a party for my birthday since second grade. Even though she woke me up at three in the morning just so we can have cake on a large hill and watch the sunrise on my first day of official adulthood, it was an amazing experience.