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Finding Love On The Appalachian Trail-A Memoir
“Junior Camp, time to wake up! Let’s go!” The Commander shouted through his blow horn. “Ughh” I moaned, groggy and sleep deprived. I sat up in my warm blue sleeping bag, stretching my tan arms over my head. It was 5am, and the soft grayish light of an early summer morning came in through the open “windows” of my two-person tent.“ OUT OF YOUR TENTS! MOVE IT! Not wanting to be the last person out, I unzippered my sleeping bag, and pulled on my cozy black sweatshirt. I stuffed my feet into my sandals, closed up the tent, and followed all the other girls, away from the tents, over to the open space where the two flag poles stood. The Commander was there, a young man in his late twenties, dressed in a navy terrycloth bathrobe and flipflops, blowhorn in hand. His outfit made me giggle- I wished I had a camera to capture it. We waited a few more minutes, as more girls, and guys, whose tents were more in the forest that ours, shuffled out for morning exercise. Everyone was chilly and tired that morning-shoulders hunched up to their ears, heads down, hair messy. Finally, everyone, all 170 junior scouts of us, and our 20-something leaders, made one big circle with our Commander standing in the middle of it. “Okay, I know its 5am, and it’s a very busy day, so exercise this morning is going to be quick.” He led us through a series of quick, easy exercises, that most people (including me) half- assed out of exhaustion. After about 10 minutes we we’re done. “Okay so the time is…five ten. You have forty minutes to wash, finish packing, and get dressed, then we will all meet here to announce the groups for the three day expeditions. This morning’s opening will be held in handkerchiefs only. Understood?” “Understood!” we all chorused. After we were dismissed, everyone ran back to their tents to get their toiletries before lines formed at the sinks. I grabbed my toothbrush and toothpaste before walking over. I brushed my teeth and splashed the cold water over my face, saying hi, smiling and waving to people I knew before I walked back to my tent, passing the big white circus tent where one of the leaders sat on a silver laptop, probably finalizing the expedition groups. I navigated carefully in between the tents on the way to my own, not wanting to trip on a string and go flying like a complete dork. I overheard bits and pieces of typical girl conversations, “what top are you wearing? Should I wear this one?” or “oh my god, I DO NOT feel like hiking! Somebody please shoot me!” I was the only girl in the whole camp who was sleeping in a tent by herself, but I didn’t really mind because I had plenty of people around me. It was actually kind of nice to be by myself and have privacy and ample space. Plus, I always gotta kick from overhearing my neighbors’ conversations.
I slipped off my shoes, bringing them into the tent, as I would not be taking them on the three-day with me. With a somewhat fractured but healing L5, I needed the lightest backpack I could possibly pack. I slipped off the oversize soccer camp t-shirt and dirty shorts from the day before off and threw them into my ‘designated for dirty laundry’ plastic garbage bag. I swiped deodorant on before dressing in the outfit I had laid out at 12 am, which was my cutest hiking outfit I had (if a hiking outfit can even be cute?) which was a raspberry colored quickdry nylon athletic tshirt, and black athletic shorts. I brushed my thick dark hair into a high ponytail, along with an apple green headband to keep the stray wisps of hair out of my face while hiking. After applying sunscreen, it was time to finish up my packing. I had most of my things packed already, but threw in my toothbrush, toothpaste, mini hairbrush, flashlight, and sweatshirt. Next I stuffed my sleeping bag into a stuffbag, before rolling up my mattress, and tying it with string. I clipped everything onto my big hiking backpack. I’m at Scouts camp. I’ve been doing Scouts since I was a little girl, both of my parents had been involved as well at my age. It’s fun-during the year you have meetings and during the summer you go to camp, making friends from other cities. I am from Boston, which has a small scouts program, but other kids were here from Hartford, Passaic, Newark, Syracuse,NYC, Albany, D.C, Seattle,L.A., Detroit, and Chicago. There were also people here from all across Canada, because this year was a mixed gathering of scouts from the US and Canada, held in New York State, at our Scout Program’s Camp Ground. I tied my black with a white ribbon trim hankie around my neck. ‘Tweettweet, tweettweet, tweetweet” blew the whistle that called us to the day’s opening. I headed out of my tent and walked over to form the five lines that we formed for opening and closing. We sang morning prayer, before putting up the flags and singing the camp song. Afterwords Commander said, “okay, now we are going to be splitting up the groups. First off, canoers follow Counsellor Andrew, everybody else stay over here. The canoers walked away, but I stayed put. Most of the kids were put in hiking. “When you hear your name, go over to your assigned counselor.
Group One: Anthony Zagatto, Klara James, Aaden Cole, Jessica Michaelson, Oliver Gorloff, Julia Zorykowski, Beccalynn Pierre, and Heather Chappel, with Counsellor Mia and Counsellor “Prince Charming” (some counsellors had funny nicknames). Group two with…” I zoned out , playing with a blade of grass. But during group three, I heard my name: Kaya Maxwell, Mark Mytrasko, Mytrowsko? and Damian Nolan-Liber! You’re in group three!” I got to my feet to go meet with the rest of the group three. Who the f**k was Matthew Mytrasko? I followed the other people over to our leader, whom I recognized as Daniel Doolinay. He had taught me to windsurf in Canada three years ago! Everyone knew him as a hard-core, well-respected, experienced Scout Leader. He looked the same, middle aged but in good shape, with wavy scraggly shoulder length light blonde hair, and blue eyes behind old-school glasses. He looked the wacky, but smart and really cool science teacher that everyone wanted to have. “Hi, everyone! I’m leader Daniel. Now who are all of you?” We went around and said our names and where we were from as he checked off our names. “Now go over and pick out your food for the next three days” he pointed to the circus tent. I picked out some snacks and instant meals for myself. After jamming everything in our backpacks, we headed to breakfast. After a nutritionally deficient but good fake camp food breakfast, I gathered with my group, scoping out the scene.Mark Mytrasko was chubby with dark hair like mine, and a pimply face. Damian Nolan-Liber and his friend, Jenny O’Connell, were going to be the jokers of the group, no doubt. I actually new Jenny from before, and earlier she had asked to be my tent partner, which I agreed to. Andy Chen and Mikey Eeller were both on the quiter side, but nice. Christa and Fiona, two best friends from Alberta, Canada, were kind and giggly. I was too tired to talk to anyone else, so I drank hot chocolate and sat on my bag as we waited for the bus. Finally, it came. We dumped our stuff in the lower compartments before settling up above.I got a window seat, and a boy I had met the other day, James, sat next to me. Tall and skinny, James was cross-country runner from Connecticut. We chitchatted for a while as the bus drove down the camp road, through the small town, and onto the highway. I fell asleep as we headed to Vermont. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to have the time of my life. And more.When I woke up, James was gone. Two groups had already been dropped, and we were next. Great. Groggy, I looked out the window at the beautiful Vermont scenery. Green pastures of cows, and red barns. Ah, New England. We went down some random road away from the main street of a small town. “Here it is. Let’s go” Daniel Doolinay said. The bus grumbled away down the country road. I ate a squished ham and cheese sandwhich for lunch, along with an apple. After peeing in the woods one by one, we strapped on our backpacks, and set off into the forest. Four hours later, I was sweaty and thirsty. We stopped on a rock over the side of the cliff, overlooking a small airport where plains were landing. After the break we kept going. Eventually we came down the mountain, crossed a cow pasture( the cows chased us! It was actually kind of scary!),
Then crossed a highway. We were almost done! Then we heard the rushing. We came to a drawbridge over a swiftly rushing river. “Can we stop and swim?” I called out. Below, a guy with a big tattoo of an eagle on his chest sat in the current, water flowing over him. “Sure!” Daniel said, a big smile on his face. We changed and swim in the cool water. That’s when I noticed him. He was taller than me, with a nice tan, and sweet smile. He was the first to go into the water. Oh, and he had flat abs. “Well, at least there’s one attractive guy on this expedition. Not like anything’s gonna happen.” Because let’s face it, nothing ever had happened between me, Kaya Maxwell, and a boy. For the rest of the day, I observed from afar. He was the chattiest of all the boys. He talked about computers, Canada (where I learned he was from), and other things with the other boys.
It only took a few hours for a crush to form. Later in the day, we reached our campsite, and settled down for the night. I fell asleep dreaming about him.
The next day, I observed from afar again. Our group got smaller when Fiona and Annie, one crying from the knee pain and the other from exhaustion, as well as Andy, also in knee pain, left our group to go back to the camp. They couldn’t make it through our journey. Now there were two counsellors, four boys, and two girls. The next leg of the trip was brutal. We slowly trekked uphill, my entire body swore. I was ready to quit, but kept going. I knew it would make me stronger. We met people who had been hiking The Trail since journey, who were smelly but nice. We stopped for the night in a little clearing, with a picnick table, nearby outhouse, and two platforms for tents. We ate dinner on the platform together, before it started raining. The dark came, and it was pitch black. Our counsellors hit the sack. “We’re going to bed, but you guys do whatever you want. Just keep it down, and make sure you get some rest for tomorrow”. With that, they headed into their tent for the night. Everyone headed into Damian’s tent to play cards. By that point, all I wanted was him. “Do you have a flashlight?” I asked him (classic camp pick-up line). By that time, I had learned his name. Hunter Harrington. Finally I was close enough to actually see his features closely. He had nice cheekbones, tousled brown hair, and brown eyes with long eyelashes. He was a pretty boy. Hunter wore modern, interior designer that works in the city type glasses. “I do, but I was just about to go to the bathroom”. “Oh, yeah, me too. I’ll come with you”. Together we walked to the forest in silence. He went first, then me. We walked back together, stopping at the tent he was going to be sleeping in with the other guys. Laughter and loud voices rang out from the inside of the tent. They were playing a card game. “Do you want to go in there?” I asked Hunter. “Not really.” “Come into my tent, then. We can hang out in there until they’re ready to go to bed”. He agreed, and I led him to my tent. We slipped off our shoes, closed the screen. “You can lay down” I told him. He lay down on Jenny’s sleeping bag, and I on mine. We talked. Hunter had a twin brother, and a little sister, who was at camp too. He was fluent in French, and would begin pre-Dentistry at the University of Montreal at the end of the month. I told him about myself, how I was about to begin my last year of high school. He told me high school was hard for him, and that he went through a rough time. I told him I had too. As we talked, lying beside each other, I slowly started getting closer to him. I moved myself up against his body, so that his face was next to mine. By then I was so wound up that I couldn’t lie down anymore. I sat up in the pitch-black tent.
“Can I tell you something?”
“Sure. What is it?”
I took a deep breath. “You’re really attractive”.
It was silent for a moment in that tent. It almost felt like time stopped. I couldn’t hear the sounds from the other tent. All I could hear was my heart pounding. “Wow” he said after the long silence. Then I started panicking. Oh my God! What the hell did I just do?! He must think I’m a psycho or something!!! What happened next literally took my breath away. “And you’re just…beautiful” Hunter told me, calmly and evenly. No Frickin’ Way! “Really?” “Yup”
“I really like you”. At this point, I lay down next to Hunter again. I draped my right arm across his chest. He put his left hand on my arm. “I like you, too”. I smiled in the dark.
We were together for the rest of the night. It was surprisingly warm up high on that mountain in Vermont. We sat out in the drizzle, his arms around me, keeping me warm. He put his face next to mine, and I could feel his breath on my ear. He groaned softly. “What are you groaning about?” “Mhmmm….you” Hunter replied, hugging me closer. We walked to bathroom together again, this time, holding hands. Then we went back into my tent. He began to play with my hair, stroking it. “I really like your hair”. Swoon. We laughed as the other tent cussed and yelled about the card game. Then, we fell asleep together.
Hunter and I spent the remained of the week together. We sat next to each other on the ride back to the camp in New York State. We ate meals together, and held hands in the dark. I draped my legs over his at camp-fires. We sang the camp songs together, and I giggled when he got pitchy. He smiled, embarrassed. We danced together, and only with each other, at the camp dance. The last day of camp was the hardest. We squeezed each other, not wanting to let go. I couldn’t stop thinking about him after our good-bye. Sitting next to my best friend, Emily, at a diner later that day, I fell into a daydream about Hunter. Not thinking, I put my hand on Emily’s lap and reached for her hand, thinking it was him beside. “Kaya, what are you doing?” she looked at me, confused. “Sorry, I thought you were…” And the whole story came out. “Aw, that’s so cute!” she exclaimed several times. For the rest of the summer, Hunter was always on my mind-when I was supposed to be doing Summer reading, when I watched movies at my lake house with Emily, when I was at my internship,thoughts about the sweet boy who liked me back. We e-mailed back and forth. We even met up on Columbus Day weekend. He came to my lake house, and met my entire family. We cuddled in the attic, where he was sleeping. We kissed in a paddleboat on the lake at 3am in the morning, and slow danced together. We fell in love that weekend, under the beautiful fall leaves. Now, as I write this in November, Hunter and I are still together. I won’t tell you long-distance relationships aren’t hard, because they are. Like all relationships, they require effort on both parts. We’re making it work. Next week, I’m giving him his birthday gift, a soft gray sweater, a card, and some coffee that he likes. Hunter is my first love, and that summer night was my sexual awakening. I did something I had never done before. I followed my heart, and pushed away my fears. I’m glad I did it, because I have the best boyfriend in the world. If you follow your heart, not just in love, but in life in general, you will not fail.