“I remember when we left that bakery in Sisters and you had too many donuts to fit in your pack,” Fester said. “I thought I’d bring you a few more.”
He held out a cardboard box with “Dixie Donuts” stamped on the top in black ink. The lid flipped open to reveal ten donuts lined up side by side.
“A few didn’t make it,” his wife Holly said with a smile. “They’re my favorite in Richmond.”
Fester and I hiked most of the last 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail together, Oregon and Washington, snow and rain. He’s in a picture that I kept on my desk at the law firm. It’s all of us that finished together standing side by side for the last time in a parking lot at the end of the trail. We’re all smiling and not quite ready to say goodbye.
I remember how we peeled away in pieces, one or two at a time, until I was alone in an airplane at the Seattle airport watching rain run down a window and crying quietly. It was a hard goodbye because we weren’t just loosing each other, we were losing our anchor, our sense of place, the chance to look at someone else who understands what it feels like.
The wind hit me as soon as I touched the water out of Elizabeth City. It licked up black waves and shoved me backwards. I fought for inches along the curving river, watching rain soak into the hanging moss and run down the cypress. Then a horn rang out over the trees, distant and hollow, and I knew I’d missed the last lock into the Dismal Swamp.
But the portage didn’t matter. Same for the rain and wind. They didn’t have an edge to them, they couldn’t cut, because I knew Fester and Holly were coming on their way down to Myrtle Beach and even if they could only stop for a moment, just a moment, nothing else mattered because Fester knows my trail name better than my real name and he understands all this better because of it, and that matters more than portages and rain on a grey day.