An amorous encounter in the forest

I was stressed and over-worked again, as I was for a lot of my time in the U.S. But this time I had a cure - a long weekend in the mountains. The Monday was a public holiday, and I could actually take it off. Three days of wandering through September forests, laying by lakes, maybe swimming a bit, generally forgetting about the world of grant applications and projects. The weather was perfect - 60 degrees and clear blue skies, and it looked like everything was set for my long-awaited visit to Ashville and its surroundings, on the western border of North Carolina, deep in the Appalachian mountains.

I left work early, after asking around if anyone knew what time the library closed. I was just curious, you understand, it's not my fault if they leapt to conclusions. But God seems to consider manipulation just as bad as out-right lying, and as punishment sent down a vicious wasp to attack me on the way way home, which pumped so much venom into my temple that it was an hour or so before the pain subsided enough for me to feel able to drive safely. Even then I kept a supply of baking powder and ethanol handy to damp the bite as I cruised my beloved Camaro west though the autumn colours. Carrying an open bottle of 180 proof alcohol and a dish of white powder on the passenger seat could have lead to an interesting story by itself, but luckily no police took an interest in me on this trip.

I arrived in the mountains just before dark, and drove down a fire trail till it ended in the middle of nowhere, and set up my one-man tent. The colours were fantastic, my headache was receding, and God seemed to have forgiven me for leaving work early. At this point, a beat-up red-coloured pickup truck appeared from nowhere (the only place around), and out stepped a beat-up red-coloured guy with a couple of teeth and an unsteady gait. He was friendly enough, we exchanged Hi's, and then the conversation went like this :

"So, y'all here on vacation, huh ?" (That was his line, not mine)
"Err, yes."
"On y'own ?"
(Uh-oh, one-man tent, probably saw me arrive, probably not going to fall for "well, yes, except for Mad Bill who's just counting his ammo behind the tent".)
"Err, yes."
"So y'all jus' visitin' then ?"
"Errr, yes."
"Y'all married ?"
(I guess I could and should have lied here, but I wasn't really up to speed.)
"Errrr, no."
"D'y'all like gay folks ?"
(Eeek ! No right answer to that one. Getting up to speed now...)
"Well, you know, I'm not that way inclined myself, but I have nothing against them." (And I'd like to keep it that way)
"You wanna BJ ?"
"Err, no, really, no thank you."
"Don't y'all wanna have some fun ?"
"I wouldn't find that fun, actually."
"I bet y'all really big."
"No, no, not at all. Anyway, nice meeting you. Goodbye."
"So y'all don't wanna have some fun ?"
"Err, no. Well, good luck. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye."
And off he went.

Have you seen the film Deliverance ? I hadn't at the time, and boy am I glad I hadn't. If you haven't seen it yet, a) Don't. b) The plot is as follows (close your eyes for the next couple of lines if you're going to ignore advice a, or if you are a delicate soul) : Some tough guys go canoeing down an Appalachian river, they meet some mountain men who look like mine, but they didn't give up so easily, and the tough guys end up variously defiled and dead. If I had seen the film at the time, I would have been terrified, but as it was, I thought it was just another brightly-coloured thread in life's rich tapestry, and carried on with my evening.

Since I was still near the car, I thought I would pop back to the road and visit the famous "Bill's Bluegrass and Barbeque", where I could sit in a corner and write letters to my friends over some beers. It was a great place, straight out of The Waltons, with good ol' boys in dungarees drinking Budweiser and hoe dancing till it was time to leave and put their pickups into a ditch. (I think I missed some episodes of The Waltons.) But as I retold my story in letters, doubts came into my mind. What if he thought I was playing hard-to-get ? What if he came back with his mates ? What if he didn't, but an insect goes past my tent and makes a russle ? How peacefully am I going to sleep out there ?
In answer to these questions, I checked into a motel for the night and returned to my tent the next day, expecting it to be ripped open with a big knife, but in fact it seemed to be untouched. On the other hand, my lymph nodes were painfully swollen from the wasp bite, and it was pouring with rain from a uniformly grey sky that showed no sign of breaking up. I drove around the rest of the day wondering what to do in the mountains in torrential rain, didn't much like the answer, camped one more night, woke to the same weather, and drove back home a day early, rather disappointed.

There again, would I remember a sunny hiking weekend this clearly 15 years on ?

© Mark Harris 2001

(More true stories)

(MRH homepage)