If you have not read part 8 yet, you can check that out here

Finding Your Personal Hell

Somewhere on this same hater of a mountain, my good bud P-Mac toiled through the laurel in his own slice of personal hell. Finding an impostor of a tree, he pulled himself up to get a look around in hopes of spotting a vestige of a terrain feature to orient him. He suddenly lost his footing and fell from the tree, landing on his back. Below him, he felt a struggling movement. He sat up immediately. He had landed on a black bear cub. Rather than marvel at nature and the beauty of flowers, he was keenly aware that where bear cubs were found, bear moms lingered. A quick scan of the laurel tops revealed the tremendous head of a mother bear, her eyes driving daggers into Mac’s heart. For lack of anything better to say, Mac waved and called out a nervous, “Hi….” Rifle and ruck, Mac was the fuck out of there.

Never come between a mother and her cubs…or else.

The ground beneath me inched toward horizontal once again. The laurel thinned and even gave way to patches devoid of the pernicious plant. There appeared paths and corridors through the laurel, and even something other than laurel, thank God. My compass squirmed in my breast pocket, entreating an exit so it could be put to use. I could certainly see on my map where my next RV was, but where was I? That was the million-dollar question.

The (10th) Mountain Man

I zigged and zagged toward the summit of Mozark, looking for footprints or tire tracks, any sign of something other than myself and laurel. Then I saw them—his footprints. He was hands-down the fastest and best cross-country navigator in the class. We had all seen his footprints throughout the course because he was always out in front of us. He never saw our footprints and didn’t care because he was the fastest and best navigator in the class.

He came from Camp Ethan Allen in Vermont. He was from the elite 10th Mountain Division. He had a special customized sole on his high-speed mountain boots that were far superior to any of our boots. They left a unique print in the soft soil as he blazed from RV to RV. The “Mountain Man” had, in fact, blazed the fastest 40-mile path that day and was first at the coveted end-of-march traditional fire pit.

The Mountain Man, though composed of superior physical genetics, was afflicted with a minuscule personality flaw. The specific pathology was assigned the clinical term Flamingassholeitis. He was a profound asshole. The commander’s board was lightning-fast at detecting his disease, even without a blood test. I envisioned the Mountain Man in an old western movie, sauntering before the commander’s board through the double swinging saloon doors, spurs ringing as he slowly swaggered in…only to moments later come flying fully airborne through the swinging doors as the bosses tossed him out on his ass.

Now I was faced with a dilemma: continue to zig and zag, or follow the prints. I had about one pound of energy left in my gizzard before I would collapse and turn on my emergency radio. I gambled that one pound on the footprints. I paused for my eyes to obtain my target lock, turned on my afterburner, and introduced myself to the sound barrier as I fixed my gaze on the prints in the dirt. The prints passed by faster and faster until I almost rammed headfirst into a military pickup truck with a stone-faced Delta operator in the driver’s seat.

Colored balloons by the hundreds slowly fell from the sky. Confetti by the bushel scattered in the mountain air. Triumphant music blared from horns and trumpets of every sort. Gorgeous models in skimpy bikinis sauntered out of the laurel, placed leis around my neck, and kissed me on the forehead or cheek. The Delta Force commander himself came marching out smartly carrying a giant, oversized golden key to the Unit, which I graciously accepted. “I just want to thank God, my parents, and the academy!”

Not Quite Done Yet

“Here are the coordinates to your next RV,” the cadre stated unemotionally as he handed me a card scribbled with bullshit. No…no, there must be some sort of misunderstanding, I insisted. You see, I’m finished…I’m at the top of Mozark Mountain and finished with the long walk. You, sir, are surely mistaken. Let me see your map and your location on it. I got a letter from Delta saying they wanted me. I made it to the top of Mozark. I am finished with this walk, and I don’t have an atom of energy left to entertain your bullshit!

OK, OK…I’ll play your silly game. Go ahead now and hand me the “coordinates” to my next “RV,” ha ha ha. This is going to be a riot. I plotted the coordinates, and then I plotted them again…and then I plotted them one more time and nine miles to my next RV. “You are free to depart this RV,” the cadre deadpanned. “There is water in the container behind you,” he continued. “Candidate, do you hear me? What are your questions, candidate?”

Slowly, I turned and faced the entrance to the nine-mile stretch of Plantation Trail. I walked out onto the trail. It was steep, and I would be traversing the entire way, which meant I would be walking on the sides of my feet. I turned and looked behind me. There, at some 75 meters to my rear, was my rear, my ass, dragging along obediently, leaving a noticeable linear impression as it progressed. I knew I wouldn’t be needing my ass to complete this last trek, only my legs, so I left it up to my ass to catch up on its own. Historically, it was somewhere around this point that candidates were known to wander off course at high speed and literally walk out of West Virginia into neighboring Philadelphia and Maryland.

Plantation Trail

I stepped out, splashing along Plantation Trail, as there were hundreds of rivulets flowing downslope and creating giant pools of water on the trail every 100 meters or so. I don’t know why I even took a step at all because I was finished—incapable of walking another step forward. Stick a fork in me because I am done. I tiptoed around the giant puddles because I was finished and was no longer required to suffer in soaked boots. Somewhere on the road, I had designated dry feet as the measure of my success as a man. I would preserve the integrity of my dry feet as a symbol of my victory, and I would continue to walk.

I strolled along now, not as a man driven to succeed but more as a guy just curious to see what would happen next. I saw an illusion to my front. A ration cracker, whole and intact, laying just above the muddy water on new grass sprouts, perfectly captured above the contamination of the mud. I gently lifted it and gobbled the crispy goodness. I would later learn how Mark “Cuz” C. had ventured to eat a ration cracker while on the move on Plantation Trail, only to lose control of it and drop it. That would not be worth the effort to retrieve.

When I had taken my last step of the day, I pushed up the slope of the trail a few meters to reach a dry spot and flopped my rucksack onto the ground. I stretched my legs out straight in front of me. This was the first time of the day that my feet had not been on the ground and rested. I regarded the sun getting low on the horizon. I acknowledged the distant sound of freeway traffic far off to my rear. I looked at my map for signs of a freeway. Nothing. By this time, off-course candidates were already crossing state lines into Maryland and Philadelphia.

I heard a string of epithets to my right. I shifted my blank gaze to the swearing sound and saw the Fat Man sloshing his way down Plantation Trail to my front, right smack through the middle of the wide puddles that plagued the trail. “Goddamn,” he shouted, “How much fucking farther do we have to go?” I listened with apathy. I stared at nothing for the longest period of time. I regarded my feet, which I had ignored for countless hours since I left the departure point in the rain and the dark, facing the anguish of the unknown.

Editor’s Note: Let’s all do Geo a solid. Go out and buy his book and visit his website. I promise it’s all good stuff. — GDM