Travels Without a Donkey

“Have a cranberry,” Nick said. “I want to sit down and think this thing out some more. It’s worrying me.”

“Don’t let it. We’ll get on all right.”

“Yes–but I haven’t even got a decent map of that country. I don’t know that there is one.”

He waved his arm off toward the southwest. We were sitting in a cranberry patch on one of Katahdin’s enormous high plateaus. It dipped off toward a blue wilderness sprinkled with ponds and big haphazard lakes gleaming in the afternoon sun. Perhaps a temperamental giant had once stood here, carelessly flinging quicksilver until the countryside was strewn with shimmering pools of it.

Nick had pulled out a battered sketch given him by Mr. Dudley, and was for the hundredth time anxiously studying it. I looked over his shoulder at a jungle of six- and eight-syllable Indian names–unpronounceable concatenations which constituted nearly all we knew about this country to the southwest.

“We want to get to Moosehead Lake,” he said. “That’s the whopping big one you can see just a bit of, way off.”

Silver arms and bays, very faint in a distant haze, shone beckoningly across the unknown.

“I think it’s exciting,” I said, “taking off into nowhere.”

“Exciting, all right,” he agreed. “But I feel sort of–well, responsible. We may hit old tote roads, or we may not. We may have to bushwhack for miles.”

“I don’t mind bush-whacking.”

“Strenuous–with a pack. Through raspberries, maybe.”

“We can eat the raspberries–and as for the thorns–my dungarees — ”

“Swamps, maybe,” he went on.

“Well, where we can’t wade we’ll swim.”

“Strenuous–with a pack. Suppose we get stuck in the mud? And suppose we under-estimate about provisions, and get stuck with miles of swamps and raspberries between us and sugar?”

“You’re a nice cheerful person, I must say.”

“And how the hell are we going to get across the wide roaring Penobscot River? The old dam above the Sourdnahunk has gone out, they tell me.”

“Wait a minute! Why do we have to get across the Penobscot so soon? Aren’t we going up it to Ripogenus Dam anyway?”

“Well, Roy says that on the other side we’ll hit a little tote road in decent shape, and that this side would be awful. He knows–he’s trapped around here for years.”

“Might build a raft,” I suggested hopefully.

“It’s probably too swift to pole a raft across–if I could build one, that is.”

“And even supposing we do escape all these various disasters,” I put in, “the bears will get us, anyway.”

“You’re right–that’s another possibility.”

“Let’s go home to the island in the sun,” I said.

“Much more sensible,” he agreed. “But who the hell wants to be sensible?… Come on, child, let’s get going. We can easily enough get to York’s Camp on Daicey Pond, and that’s a beginning.”

“Shall we stay there tonight?”

“No–I thought we’d stay in a–well, you’ll see. Let’s go–sun’s going down.”

This upper end of the Hunt Trail was rough. It fell off very steep, with nothing underfoot but edges and pinnacles and uncomfortable crannies. We scrambled over huge rocks, and squeezed cautiously through crevices between them. Two or three times we had to take off our packs and push, haul, or lift them through. Sometimes they got stuck–worse still, sometimes we did.

We were not yet used to those packs of ours. Eventually, we thought, when we got in training, we’d slide lightly over the countryside, all unconscious of the seventy pounds of worldly possessions which between us we were carrying on our backs. That time seemed distant; but already we had a feeling of triumph because of our complete self-sufficiency and independence: we could go anywhere and stay as long as it pleased us. All very gipsy-like; only right now we were a trifle more tired than first-class gipsies ought to be.

“Perhaps we should have brought along that second-hand donkey, after all,” I suggested.

The trail dipped into woods, and remained very steep. We climbed down ladders formed by tangled roots. After a while we came out into a green clearing, velvety with moss, and here we found a sort of cave, a crude shelter made by one enormous rock leaning against another.

“Well, here we are,” said Nick. “This is it. Our first night out on the A. T.–in a cave. Romantic enough–isn’t it?”

We set to work, he getting firewood, I cutting fir boughs for a bed. We hauled out the food bags and cooked supper over a small crackling fire. Clouds were drifting in; it rained a little; the sunset came through rose-colored mist. But when we curled up for the night stars were to be seen through rifts in the clouds. They seemed friendly.

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