Strangers and Even Stranger Friends
(Thanks to Rick Harding for supplying the photo)
I’ve been hiking close to forty-five years and have seen and experienced all types of terrain, weather and trail conditions, and an unbelievable hodge-podge of humanity. I have hiked and backpacked in almost every state and many other countries around the world. I’ve met Latins, Germans, Swedish, French, Italians, Russians, Japanese, Canadians, Africans and others that I could not determine their country of origin. I’ve heard almost every major foreign language on the trail at some time or other and my ability to converse, albeit sparse, in Spanish, French, and Swahili, has enabled me to meet and befriend many of these people. Even though English is my major language, my ability to speak the language ‘Southern Redneck’ has benefited me the most. I know most of you are saying to yourself that ‘Southern Redneck’ is not a language but a dialect. I disagree. Try to find some of the words a southern redneck says in an English dictionary and you will discover that perhaps it is another language altogether. Words such as ‘hawngree’ for hungry, ‘mater’ for tomato, ‘tater’ for potato, ‘vittles’ for food, ‘dreckly’ for directly or right-away, ‘crick’ for creek, ‘deech’ for ditch, ‘ya’ll’ is short for all, ‘aint’ for not and the list goes on and on. Also Southern Rednecks will use phrases that at times can not be ‘dreckly’, sorry, directly translated into the more common English language, such as ‘I crossed the crick up yonder a ways’ (I crossed the creek further back). ‘I’m bout to pop’ (I am so full), ‘I’ve a mind to’ (I’m thinking about doing something), ‘Cain’t never could’ (means you will never do it if you don’t try), and ‘hit the bushes’ (go to the bathroom).
There are also colorful remarks or exclamations that are commonly used by the Southern Redneck that separates their language from the more commonly spoken English, such as:
He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket
He squeezes a quarter so tight the eagle screams
He doesn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of
He’s about as useful as a pogo stick in quicksand
If brains were leather, he wouldn’t have enough to saddle a Junebug
Well don’t you look prettier than a glob of butter melting on a stack of wheat cakes
You could start an argument in an empty house
These are just a few examples of the differences I’ve noticed between Southern Redneck and the English language. The reason I even bring this topic up is to try to illustrate the difficulty of conversing with the varied group and-or groups of people one meets on the trail.
I have met people of all ages, from infants to seniors in their ninety’s. There have been yuppies from suburbia, old hippies from the days of Woodstock, ministers, swingers, moonshine toting hillbillies, ex-convicts and I think even some present convicts. I’ve met women; at least they claimed to be women, that could carry a pack twice the size of mine, scale rock walls with more balls than I would ever have. They could eat, drink and cuss as well as any man I’ve known. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have made the acquaintance of tiny, petite, debutant types that whined, moaned and screamed at every spider or insect that made an appearance. It has become quite evident to me that hikers or backpackers that frequent the wilderness is as much varied as the general population of the world, the only difference being is that at times they are few and far between.
When one encounters these assorted souls on the trail, you almost always take the opportunity and exchange pleasantries, some small talk, and sometimes if taking a rest from the hike, one can have long discussions on a variety of topics from A to Z. Even though these random encounters are at times between people that are as different as night and day, the unspoken brotherhood of hikers and backpackers seem to take precedence, and this provides a path for friendly banter.
This past weekend, my buddy Rick and I headed off to Panthertown Valley in North Carolina for a three day, two night backpack trip. We had originally planned to find Dismal Falls, which we had failed to locate on several attempts in the past, but once we got settled into camp, we decided to kick back and relax for three days instead. The only thing we did during the three days, besides hiking to the campsite and back to the trail-head the last day, was to gather a little firewood, eat, drink, read and sleep. Sometimes it’s nice just to relax and enjoy nature and not have an agenda or destination to accomplish. So we chilled!
The first afternoon (Friday) that I arrived, I set up camp beside the Tuckasege River, in the valley between Little Green Mountain and Black Rock Mountain. It’s a large, flat area, surrounded by tall pines and a few hardwoods. The forest floor is thick with years of fallen pine straw and this makes for perfect sleeping, almost as good as a ‘sleep number’ mattress. There was a group of six to eight, young adults camping across the trail from us and at first I thought I recognized the group from a few months back. They were wearing orange vests; similar to those worn by road crews, and most of them also had orange hooded sweatshirts. As I was gathering firewood, I realized that this was not the same people that I had met previously, but were of the same organization. The group consisted of at least three counselors, ranging in age from the early twenties to late twenties and the rest of the group was in their teens. They were not overly friendly, the counselors merely nodding at me to say hello, and the group continued about their business almost oblivious to everything else around them. I thought this was rather odd. One of the female teens, strolled down the path in front of our campsite and every three seconds yelled, “Monica”. She repeatedly yelled this every three seconds the whole time she was away from her campsite, which was about ten minutes. I assumed she had gone off into the woods ‘to hit the bushes’ (redneck for going to the bathroom) but was clueless as to why she would continue to yell Monica. Each time she yelled she did so as “Monnnn---nica,……….Monnnn---nica,……..Monnnn---nica.”
Later, after dark, Rick and I was sitting around our campfire, when once again, one of the girls strolled up the trail past our campsite, with headlamp on, yelling “Monnnn---nica” every three seconds till she returned from her excursion into the bushes. Rick and I discussed this strange behavior, attempting to arrive at some explanation. Rick mentioned that their orange outfits resembled some of North Carolina’s State prisoner’s clothes, which began to make us think that maybe this group was possibly juvenile delinquents from the State’s Prison system out for some wilderness rehabilitation. That was the best explanation that we could come up with. The counselors exhibited very disciplinary behavior and we heard them give a series of orders to each of the younger teens throughout the evening and the next morning. They definitely were not your normal group of friends out for a backpack adventure. As Rick and I extinguished our campfire and each of us retired to our tents we heard in the distance, “Monnnn---nica,……….Monnnn---nica,……..Monnnn---nica.”
The next morning, as Rick and I sat around our morning campfire, eating our breakfast and drinking coffee, rubbing sleep from our dream filled eyes, the juveniles once again captured our attention. We watched as they systematically disassembled their campsite. Tents, tarps, and gear packed per precise orders from the counselors and eventually, each member shouldered their packs and single file disappeared ‘Up yonder trail.’ (Redneck for further up the trail). I started to yell, “Hey Monnnn---nica wer you’ins goin?”
Rick talked me out of it.
During the day, we napped, read, gathered a little more firewood and prepared for another bone chilling night. It was going to be a full moon and the skies were crystal clear.
Mid afternoon a group of sixteen to eighteen adults, carrying large backpacks, strolled into the campsite across from us. They were a mixture of male and female, some appearing to be friends but most appeared to be merely acquaintances. They ranged in age from early twenties to fifty. Some were couples, some appeared to be alone, and they began setting their tents for the night. After about thirty minutes the campsite across from us looked like a tent city. There were probably twelve to thirteen tents, ranging in size from a small one man bivy tent to a large four to five person tent in a varied pallet of colors. It was a strange site.
This group was much friendlier. One guy from the group, Nick, came over and introduced himself to me. He explained the group was an organization from Charlotte, N.C. called CHOA, which stands for Charlotte Outdoor Adventures. This is an organization for young professionals that enjoy hiking, backpacking and camping.
After Rick got back from ‘hitting the bushes’, I explained to him where the group was from and who they were. We watched them as they hurried, gathering firewood, for the cold night ahead. They apparently had no means of cutting the wood they gathered so I offered a bow saw that I always carry. With eighteen bodies scouring the forest’s floor for dead wood and the bow saw, they had a nice pile of wood stacked and ready to burn before dark.
The sun seemed to plummet behind Big Green Mountain to the west and the temperature began to plummet as well, as night fell upon us. The moon, which was to be full, did not rise above the eastern horizon till two to three hours after dark, allowing us to enjoy the multitude of stars, winking from the heavens above. Rick and I sat around our campfire and watched as the moon slowly rose in the eastern sky, eventually casting melancholy moon shadows through the forests. The soft glow of the moon was illuminating the tall, straight, trunks of the yellow birch trees, causing them to have an eerie glow against the backdrop of the dense stand of conifers. We listened to the cacophony from the large group across the way as they sat around their fire, eating and apparently drinking their way to bliss.
As I poked at the fire, stirring it just enough to heighten the flames I said to Rick, “I’m Hawngree!” Rick gave me a blank look, trying to interpret what I had said, but before he could figure it out or simply ask “What?” I restated, “What’sha gonna have for vittles?”
Another blank stare…… then almost by divine intervention he said, “Don’t know, how about you?”
I took a sip of my Maker’s Mark Whisky, and said; “Only thing I got left in my bag…it’s called Beef Broccoli Stir Fry.” I began preparing my stove, arranging my utensils around me realizing that it had been at least two to three hours since I last ate.
We ate our supper discussing world affairs, differing opinions on the major religions, whether true love really exists or not and then onto other important topics such as what makes farts smell different and what makes women so bitchy. We just about had everything figured out when two or three ambassadors from the large group across the way, strolled over carrying plates of food. They explained they had way too much food left over and a good deed deserves a good deed, I guess they were referring to me loaning them my saw. They had huge chunks of Chicken, doused in a variety of spices and herbs, grilled to perfection. Although neither Rick nor I was the least bit hawngree, we thanked the goodwill ambassadors and consumed the parcels with great speed.
The large CHOA group continued to get more boisterous as their adult beverages began to take affect, causing the group to be in a state of constant giggling and laughter. The leader, which I think was named Carlos, initially spoke relatively good English, leading the group in their activities, but by this time, with the alcohol apparently flowing rather freely, he was speaking in a language which was beyond my language abilities. Actually I think he was speaking in ‘tongues’. Maybe this was what the group was giggling and laughing about, who knows?
Two more headlamps, more goodwill ambassadors approached our camp, carrying more plates of food. “Did you guys save room for dessert?” The first guy asked.
Rick and I glanced at each other, rubbing our bellies and I said, “I’m bout to pop!” (Redneck for I’m completely full).
“Got hot pumpkin pie covered in Cool Whip”, the guy said.
“Thanks, guys…..how’n the hell do you get pumpkin pie and Cool Whip out here in the boonies?” I questioned as I grabbed the plate and shoveled a spoonful into my mouth.
The goodwill ambassadors were pleased that they had impressed us with their food. They could tell we were greatly appreciative and I considered sharing with them what Rick and I had concluded earlier in the evening about what causes farts to smell different, but I decided loaning my saw had been enough.
Rick and I stayed up late, watching the moon begin it’s descent to the west, the moon shadows casting ghostly images across the pine straw floor; embers from our fire floating skyward, eventually dying and fading into the blackened sky. With full stomachs and unstressed minds we retired to our tents. As I buried myself into my sleeping bag to thwart the chilled air, I could hear the group across the way, still laughing, talking, some still speaking in tongues and I realized that even though they had been strangers in the beginning, we eventually connected and now I could consider these not strangers but stranger friends.
Rick Harding and I took this trip to Panthertown Valley on November 19th thru the 21st. Great weather, great friends and a great time. Special thanks to Rick for letting me use the photo of the 'tent city'.