After parking the truck, the Lumberjack grabbed extra water bottles and started towards the trailhead. The route followed a creek similar to the one in which I’d fished the previous day, cold and chattering its own language on its way out of the wilderness carrying the lingering snow from the highest peaks. The canopy of trees offered a shady, level stroll and flat wooden planks without railings created petite bridges over additional flows feeding into it. The stream took a casual turn to the south but the trail continued northeast and as we went our separate ways from the water, the hike’s incline drenched in sun and lined with sage brush and the occasional wildflowers altered our scenery.
Unusual as it happened, I walked ahead of him. He politely offered me the option to begin the trail, as if holding a door open to it. All of our previous hikes, even our walks ferrying back and forth for fishing, involved me following him, and inevitably I trailed significantly due to his long strides, so I made an effort on this excursion to move more briskly than I would if I climbed alone. I rarely looked back to gauge how close he was expecting it would slow me down, or worse he’d have stopped entirely, waiting for me to keep moving, and so I focused on doing exactly that.
Not quite a half hour into our walk, a cattle gate across the trail simply labeled, “Please close gate,” halted our forward movement, and where three hikers likewise paused from their journey. They took advantage of the granite stones along the trail, and I casually engaged them in small talk merely due to our paths crossing.
“Hey, guys, how’s the hiking today?”
“Not bad,” one of them answered, “but we thought we’d stop for a moment for a little fresh air.” One of the others chuckled at his friend’s remark and I considered the freshness they were enjoying was inhaled, or more specifically, smoked.
“Are you on your way up the trail or headed back down?”
“Yeah, we got a bit of a late start today, we’re just heading out. We got in late last night.”
“Oh, from where?”
“Colorado. We drove up for a week, just got in last night.” Geographical and repetitive insight confirmed my assessment.
“Well, enjoy your hike.” The Lumberjack stood back at a distance, close enough to hear the conversation, but far enough to appear uninterested.
As I opened the gate, one of the trio stood up and approached me, and for a moment I thought he might be offering to help. “Do you mind if we join you? Hike a ways?”
I glanced back to get an opinion from the Lumberjack, but still disinterested, he made no comment.
“Sure, why not.” I didn’t mind the additional company.
“Hey guys, let’s go, okay?” His two friends slowly gathered up their packs, and their size and ease with which they lifted them revealed that they couldn’t have contained gear enough to head into the wilderness overnight. “By the way, I’m Eric. That’s Ethan and David.”
“Eric? Nice to meet you.” I extended my hand with no clever experiment in progress, he shook it, and we kept hiking. I waved to David and Ethan who walked a few paces back, and lastly the Lumberjack followed, securing the gate behind us.