The serene silence of the bedroom is quickly disrupted by the harsh buzzing of the alarm clock. The sound blasting through David’s head as he jumps up in bed slamming an arm down to silence the infernal machine.
“Crap! 7am on a Sunday, who the hell does this sort of thing?” he mumbles to himself as rays of sun peek through the closed bedroom blinds.
David stretches and climbs out of bed to the aromatic smell of fresh coffee brewing. He tosses his sweat pants aside and heads to the shower to prepare for his fist hiking trip. Recently separated after two years of marriage, he found himself bored and without purpose. Several co-workers suggested he join a Meetup group with similar interests. This was his first time out of his apartment since the separation.
Stumbling about the apartment David gathers up his new hiking gear, removing price tags and fitting on the overpriced hiking shoes he bought the day before. Knowing there would be a waterfall on the trail, he opted to buy the most expensive hiking shoe on the shelf. Backpack packed with energy bars and water in one hand and a coffee in the other, David runs to the door already behind schedule for the carpool meeting.
Navigating with Google Maps on his brand new iPhone he gets to the exit and realizes the address for Bi-Lo meeting spot was incorrect and now he’s lost. He pulls into a parking lot and grabs the phone for assistance. Weak signal, slow page load, time is now running out. The meeting was at 8 and it’s now 5 past.
“Aha!” David says to himself as he realizes the meeting spot is just across the intersection. He drops the car in gear and the powerful BMW engine roars, the tires squeal as he takes off out of the parking lot, into the busy main street and realization hits, there’s no left turn.
“Ok, red light, what to do? U-Turn at the plaza down the street.” David mumbles out loud as the clock is counting the minutes he is late. A stickler on time, but always late his world is a hurried paradox.
Green left arrow hits, but distracted, David is still looking at his phone figuring directions, the car behind him beeps and he looks up, drops the phone and hits the gas. The tires squeal for a split second then the car lurches as the traction control kicks in. The U-turn was made and he takes the turn into the correct parking lot as a Jeep loaded with Kayaks is driving out. There’s a small group of people still there starting to walk towards their cars. David quickly parks, grabs his bag and runs to the group just barely remembering to set the car alarm.
Seeing a person who looks important David goes up to them and introduces himself, “Hi, I’m David, here for the Dupont Hike”.
“Great, you’re riding with those two” the organizer says. A strong willed medium height blond girl.
“But, well, I could drive if needed.” David mutters back, as if his soul had just been ripped from his body.
“Carpools have already been established and there’s limited parking at the reserve. You can ride with Rich” She snaps back pointing over to the last group of people.
Looking over at the group David recognizes one as a former co-worker and Toastmaster club member. “Steve, hey, how’s it going? I guess I’m riding with you guys.”
“Yeah, hey Dave how’s it been? Drop your stuff in the trunk and we can get going.”
“Where can I park? Will my car be safe here?”
“Sure just move your car behind the building over there. Have you met Richard yet?” Steve says in his even tempered voice.
“No, not yet, Nice to meet you Rich” Dave says as he reaches his hand out. Richard gives a look as if sizing up David’s very essence, gives a firm handshake and gets right to business.
“We’re already ten behind schedule let’s get rolling.” Rich says. A medium sized guy he has the posturing of a soldier and the gaze of a sentry. You can almost see him assessing the area looking for hostile threats in a long former life.
David tosses his backpack in the trunk, barely getting his hand out of the way as Richard slams the lid shut. He then scrambles to move his black BMW 540i, a beloved car he recently bought and spent far too much money to rebuild after breaking a bolt in the engine block. Car parked, he gives it a loving glance as he gets into Richard’s car. Squeezed in next to a box in the backseat their journey begins. A two hour car ride into Transylvania, North Carolina.
“I think the turn was back there” Steve gently says as Richard reaches for the printed directions and scans them quickly as he still navigates the narrow mountain roads.
“You’re right, traffic ahead I’ll turn her around.” Richard says with a stern certainty. He pulls to the side of the road, shifts the manual into first gear, engine stalls. “Sorry this is my girlfriend’s car, I’m still getting used to driving this thing. I ‘tried’ to get her to sell it.”
All Steve and David could do was chuckle amongst themselves as Richard fumbled with the gear box to turn the car around.
“That was a quick 2 hours.” David groggily says just waking himself. Excited to partake on his first adventure since moving to North Carolina a year prior, he barely slept the entire night.
David reaches into his pocket and pulls out his iPhone. Barely a week old he is still trying to figure out how it works. Just a hint of signal he looks at the map software and notices the points of interest in the area. Hooker Falls most notably stands out.
As the car wound its way down the narrow mountain road David peered out the car window amazed at the beauty his new home state held. The sun was high in the sky, which was a clear blue color. There was barely a cloud to be seen and the mountains were green with lush trees and vegetation. He was far removed from the drab concrete city he lives in. Just the sight of nature in its raw splendor lifted his heart and delivered calm to his burdened mind.
As the car pulled into the parking area the group organizers earlier comments became reality. There were no more spots to park. A swing around the lot and a makeshift parking job to the side near the entrance later and the group was ready to disembark.
David snatches his pack from the trunk as quickly as he can in fear the lid would again be slammed shut upon his fingers and joins Steve.
“C’mon let’s find the group and get you introduced.” Steve says as they start walking towards a group of people. “half the group will be here a little later, they were out tubing last night”.
Walking down the short extent of the parking lot the group was starting to gather as stragglers started to arrive. Scanning the area, David realized one important thing, he needed to use a restroom and none were visible.
“Hey fella’s I’d like you to meet Daivd, he’s new to Meetup and we used to work with each other”. Steve says introducing to a small group. Matt the group leader, sitting on the trunk of his car looked up with a smile.
“Nice to meet you David, what brings you to our fine group?” Matt asks in a straight to the point fashion.
“Just needed to get out of the house for once, been bored all summer, you know and Steve here told me this would be a great way to escape for a bit.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, hope you have fun today”.
David looks around a bit nervously “Hey, would you um, know where, you know, I could ‘go’?”
“Yes, right up the path over there about 100 feet in, but I wouldn’t recommend it”. Matt says as David darts off.
There were two portable toilets standing there in the pathway and David approaches them cautiously. He opens the door to one and stands back. The stench emanating from the portapottie was overwhelming. It was a surprise it hadn’t killed all wildlife in the surrounding area. He quickly closes the door and nonchalantly walks back to the group as more people are arriving.
Steve gives a smirk to David knowing business has not been concluded.
“David, I’d like you to meet some more people, Stephanie, Sarah, Frank…” and the list of names went on as a blur in David’s head. He’s never met so many people in a single day. Names came as a fleeting moment to David. Not meeting anyone outside of his family and their circle of friends since moving, it was all new and overwhelming.
“Nice to meet you all” David says as he gracefully slips away to attempt the portapottie once more. Insanity can be defined as trying the same thing expecting different results. David has reached that on attempt two. There was no amount of bleach or Febreze to penetrate the stench those two portapotties contained within. He opened the door one more time to attempt to brave the penetrating odor only partially entering the unit and seeing the walls coated in some unspeakable substance.
Back at the gathering David was introduced to yet even more people. One noticeable person was a girl off to the side sort of quiet, creepy, wearing a hat over straggly brown hair, dark sunglasses and white shirt. She was staring at him with a locked gaze. David was attractive, having worked out and dieted religiously all summer losing 30 pounds. He wore for the first time a fitted golf shirt and khaki shorts. His hair was cut short with a wild spike for bangs. His face chiseled and sporting a goatee. The diet worked and he was flaunting, even though his esteem hadn’t caught up.
David nervously reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. No signal, no internet he was trapped disconnected from the outside world and now forced to socialize. Anxiety swept over him like a tidal wave. Steve perks up as two new arrivals show up. David looks over and from across the lot two girls in a hurried march walk past with a “walk-by” hello wave. They shout a few things, bathroom being one of them.
Caught in the moment David shouts to them “There’s two up there but it’s not advisable…”. David’s words fell on deaf ears as the two kept the hurried march, vanishing into the trail ahead.
Someone in the remaining group mentions there’s one more portapottie up the hill. An older gentleman heads for it. David follows the guy and catches a glimpse of the two girls vanishing into the woods just past the portapottie he stops at.
“How was it?” David clumsily asks as man climbs from the portapottie.
“Bearable” he replies as he emerges and heads back to the group.
David cautiously opens the portapottie door. A horrid odor wafts past his nose. To not go in now would be weakness. David takes a deep breath of fresh air and hurries in. Dazed, yet refreshed he wanders down the hill and reunites with the group. Steve reaches into his bag and hands David a hand sanitizer sampler.
“I think you’ll need this.” Steve says jokingly.
As David is done applying the sanitizer the two energetic girls come down the hill and join with the group standing just opposite Steve and Dave. They all seem to have a familiarity with each other. Steve offers them sanitizer and David looks at the two and he does something not within his character. He introduces himself.
“Hey, I’m David, nice to meet you.” He says reaching out a hand.
“”Hi I’m Michelle” she starts and reaches out her hand to shake. Then as their hands meet she pulls away quickly “Oh, and my hands are clean” she thrusts into the conversation. She returns her hand with an awkward smile. David gently takes her hand, looks briefly in her eyes then retracts away, looking down.
David quickly recovers and the two laugh over the off the wall comment. So distracted, Michelle barely remembers to introduce her friend. “Terry have you met David yet?” Michelle asks as she regains composure.
Terry, caught up in conversation with Steve pauses for a second to greet David. “Hi David, nice to meet you. Where are you from?” she politely asks.
“Boston area. Just moved here last April, still learning the area.” David replies in a word explosion. Lack of sleep, coffee, strange new location and people overload has his brain frantically adjusting to all the new data. Now a new feeling has flooded his mind. He’s strangely drawn to one of the girls in the group.
Michelle cuts in on the conversation “Boston? What made you move down here?”
“My father lives down here and has been trying to get me to move here for years. I worked at a hospital up north and the economy was hitting us pretty hard. So I took a chance and moved.” David responds, with his bad habit of giving too much information on a simple question.
“Oh really? I work at a hospital too, what did you do there?” Michelle responds inquisitively.
“I worked Information technology there. Are you a nurse?” David asks now dodging talking about himself and gaining a curiosity in Michelle. He looks her over. She’s a short wide eyed peppy girl. She’s wearing a light blue sun visor which holds back her thick shoulder length brown hair. Her red v-neck t-shirt larger than it should be colliding with the grayish green shorts. Her clothes a few sizes too big. He couldn’t discern too much about her face, the visor obscured it in shadow from the sun, which now held itself high in the sky. She looked to be a mess, yet David was strangely attracted to her.
“No, I’m a doctor.” Michelle replies, her tone changing from peppy to a more matter-of-fact tone.
David was slightly taken aback by this. His experience at the hospital, knowing many of the doctors scared him. They were mostly all business, above it all and seemed to lack a certain aspect of humanity. Trying to be more open minded and less judgmental he puts the thought to the back of his mind.
At this point a welcome break in conversation occurred as the group was mostly together now and the organizer Matt speaks up. Everyone turns to listen to him speak. “Ok, it seems we’re all here now. This should be an easy hike. We’re going to run across two waterfalls and take about 15 minutes break at each one today. On the way back we can stop at a third waterfall.”
David fades away from listening. His mind stuck thinking about the mysterious Michelle. He was so attracted to her and now she seems so far removed. As he stood there listening to the organizer go over the coming hike he couldn’t help but glance over to Michelle standing directly next to him. She was listening to Matt talk, eyes wide, energetically rocking forward onto her toes. Her glance moves ever so slightly towards him and he quickly looks away.
Matt hops off the car trunk and starts leading. The group of 30 or so hikers starts following in pairs. David ends up walking next to Michelle, with Steve, Terry and the others behind them.
Finishing off a string of grapes Michelle starts wondering outloud if it is littering to toss the stem.
“It’s not really littering because it’s nature and biodegradable” David interjects in.
“Just throw it in the woods” Steve responds from behind the group.
“There’s a stream, toss the stem.” David suggests.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt and if they’re strong they’ll grow into a vine and make more grapes next year.” Michelle says as she tosses the grape stems towards the stream.
“That’s very Darwinian of you” David responds, a little annoyed at the difficulty in tossing simple plant remains back into the wild. At the same time he was rather intrigued. She obviously cared about the natural balance of the world.
“If it’s meant to be, they’ll grow. Maybe if we’re here next year there will be a vine waiting.” Michelle says in her dual meaning wording.
Shortly up the trail Michelle politely dodges David’s conversation with a graceful handoff “Natalie, havoc you met David? He’s from Boston.” she says as she gracefully scoots up the hill to converse with Terry and Steve.
“oh you’re from Boston? You don’t have the accent.” Natalie says slightly awkwardly. She’s a tall skinny girl, black hair, glasses and and an intelligent look. Her shirt was tightly fitted showing off her slender body. She walked with a slouch, slow and cumbersome.
“Yeah, I’m from Boston.grew up in a small fishing town.” David replies, pausing for some form of response. When she lumbers on, he continues, “I have the accent, it’ll most likely come out more when I get tirerd. I do say ‘pahk'”.
As Natalie continues the conversation, her voice fades into the distance, barely paying attention. Ahead in the trail Michelle is bouncing along with them immense supply of chatting with Steve and Terry. They thoroughly enjoy her company and she seems to make others glow when they speak to her. There was something about her and David needed to know, and his chance was quickly approaching.
The group leader stopped at the tops of the stairs. Hot and sweaty he pauses to take a breath. “These stairs lead to the first waterfall, we’ll rest here, take some pictures and get moving again in about 30 minutes.”
The group talk among themselves and start meandering down the steps to the waterfall. Stuck behind the group David makes the way slowly down the steps. Michelle is far ahead and out of view.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs David is greeted by solid rock ground, with a raging river running along side. He turns right and a good 100 feet of rock away is this majestic waterfall, 50 or more feet high. Walking towards the rushing river to take a look he takes notice the massive rock he is walking on is wet and very slippery in many areas. “This is nothing to the ice in Boston” he thinks to himself and proceeds to glide towards the river.
Using the front camera on his phone one of many phone “firsts” David snaps a picture of himself standing right by the river. Then the waterfall comes back to mind and he walks the path towards it. Halfway there he catches up with Michelle who is just standing near a small water runoff.
“Pretty waterfall isn’t it?” he says with hesitation.
“It’s really wonderful, but this slippery stuff is scary.” She says so matter of fact. Michelle takes a step forward, swings out her arms a bit as her foot loses grip. David gently catches her hand and they both pause.
“Let me help you, I was going this way anyway.” David tries to say with a nonchalant tone. Her hand still in hers he guides her over the slippery portion of the rocks. On the other side they stop, forgetting they still hold hands.
Michelle realizes her hand is still in David’s and quickly pulls it away. “Thank you, that was, um slippery.” She clumsily says.
They turn to walk to the waterfall, though each person is not in a hurry “No problem, so what kind of doctor are you?”
“Internal medicine” she says.
“Interesting, so do you need a pager or anything?” David asks as they arrive at another slippery portion of rock. This time he darts forward a little and slides a few feet across the rock surface. He turns to see a slightly exasperated face on Michelle.
“Please don’t hurt yourself, I’m off duty this week.” She says with a concerned voice concealing a more caring tone. A tone hiding a growing feeling that she may want to see David again after the hike. “and no I don’t have a pager, I work 7 days and then have 7 days off.”
“Wow, that’s a cool schedule you have. What do you do with yourself on the 7 days off.” David asks slightly sarcastic.
“I keep myself busy, this and that on those days.” Michelle replies as she takes a step forward onto the slippery rock. She again slips and loses balance. She flails her arms about again and David catches her. “You’re from up North too, you should be able to handle a little slippery surface.”
“I’ve been down here long enough to forget how to walk on ice. I really don’t like slippery stuff.” She snaps back at him.
The two chuckle slightly and David again slides across the wet, slippery rock face. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about me, I don’t hurt easily” he says with a cocky expression.
He takes Michelle’s hand once more and leads her across the worst of sections, finally arriving at their goal. Standing face to face with the massive waterfall they both look in awe as the power of nature presents itself in force barely feet away.
“That is one awesome waterfall” Michelle exclaims as she looks up in Awe. She hands her phone to David and asks him to take a picture of her by the waterfall.
“Oh you have a iPhone too? Oh it’s the older version, maybe you should upgrade.” He says, his geek side coming out in full color for that split second.
“I’ve had this for a few years it’s a good phone”. She says as David snaps out a few pictures. “Ok gimme your phone and I’ll take a picture of you.”
They finish up the photoshoot and admire the waterfall for a few more minutes. They look back and see the group starting to depart. David helps Michelle across the dangerous portions of the rock and meets up with Steve to talk again.
They talk for a bit as the group migrates up the hill. David finally mans up enough to ask Michelle for her contact information. She looks perplexed for a moment. She smiles and blurbs out her email address. “Here’s my email address, smallbear” and she makes a bear gesture with her hands and growls “at popularemail.com” she finishes.
It caught David off guard, but he never did forget her email address.
David and Michelle say their bye for now, as her group is now breaking off to return home, while David has a torturous few miles to go.