Sunday, June 29, 2008

No Pain


On our gear test trip south of Pine Grove Furnace last April, Ryan and I ran into an older section hiker named Mountain Dog. Mountain Dog took it upon himself to tell us the ways of the trail. And we appreciated the education.

Mountain Dog's stories prepared Ryan and I for social life on the trail. And it was the tales of one individual in particular that stuck with us as we started our own hike. Those were the stories of No Pain. No Pain is an ex-marine who can be found on the trail every summer. He mixes yellow blazing with hiking and ends up wherever he feels like being most. He's a black man (one of three on the trail?) and easy to identify. With three earrings in each ear and one in his eyebrow, the man looks like no other.

Mountain Dog told us one story in particular where, after hiking with No Pain for weeks, Mountain Dog got off the trail and went home. As No Pain continued north on the trail, Mountain Dog decided to surprise him at an intersection with the trail and the road. Mountain Dog, cleanly shaven and not looking like his trail self, sat in his car by the side of the road and waited. When No Pain got to the intersection, Mountain Dog rolled down his window and yelled at him, accusing him of being hiker trash. At first, No Pain was alarmed and prepared for a fight. But as he got closer to the car, he recognized the familiar face. "Mountain Dog, is that you?" he called out.

That story, and that line, became a favorite of Ryan's and mine. And we quoted No Pain's words often on the trail, wondering if we would ever meet the man in person. During a lull in our own conversation, it was not uncommon for Ryan or I to blurt out, "Mountain Dog, is that you?"

Well, this week, I met the legend. I had walked off trail to a shelter to get water from a spring. As I approached the shelter, I saw that a black man was sitting on the ledge, listening to music on his headphones. I nodded, waved, and headed off to the spring. I wasn't sure this man was going to talk to me. When I returned from the spring his headphones were off and I greeted him again by asking his name. When he said he was No Pain, I grinned ear to ear and told him that Mountain Dog sent his greetings. We talked for over an hour and retold all the stories that Ryan and I had heard from Mountain Dog. I didn't leave the shelter until 5:30 in the evening.

That ended up being my longest day, 35 miles. I felt no pain.

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