My Worst Hike Ever
When I crested the final ski run, I was filled with a sense of disappointment. The top of Mount Sunapee is ringed by trees. It was just as hot and stagnant as every other place I’d seen that day, and worst of all, there wasn’t even a nice view. The summit lodge was locked and dark, but I made my way up the back steps to the third floor balcony. Around the corner of the building, the wind whipped just hard enough to confuse my buggy companions. I could make out a corner of Lake Sunapee and the mountains beyond. It wasn’t breathtaking, but it was the best I was going to get. I snapped a few pictures and then started back down.I picked the steepest, most direct run from the map of ski trails at the lodge and plunged down it, tacking against the grade to keep my footing. It didn’t take long for the black flies to find me, and the swarm was just as thick on the way down as the way up. The cruelest thing about bug swarms is that you can always see the edge of them. You are forever four feet away from a place where there are no bugs. It’s like a carrot on a stick, not so much motivating you as mocking your inability to stop.
Halfway down the mountain, I began to realize the toll the hike had taken on me. Wiping the bugs from my hair for the hundredth time, my fingers came back smeared with blood. Both of my elbows were bleeding freely from a dozen or more bites as well. All of my spraying and swatting hadn’t accomplished anything. I must have killed scores of flies, but the swarm never seemed to thin. To them I wasn’t a hiker; I was a host, and I led my flock pied-piper style down the steep slopes, cheered only by the fool’s consolation of knowing I hadn’t quit.
The bugs departed when I reached the foot of the mountain. I dumped the last of my water in my hair, hoping to wash out some of the dead flies and dried blood. I drove as fast as I could to the Burkehaven Lodge in Sunapee and the cold shower waiting for me there.
My shirt was soaked from water and sweat. My skin was read and my eyes were sunken. I can only guess at my smell. Yet when I checked in, the innkeeper took it all in stride. He smiled at me as I tried to pretend like I didn’t look like some kind of squalid hobo. In an attempt to normalize the situation, I sheepishly asked for dinner recommendations, which he gladly supplied.
I was impressed by the service even more when I finally saw my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Apparently the black flies had gone after my ears as well and both lobes were caked in dried blood. A small scab had flaked off my right ear and has dangling there by a thread. I thought again of my poor innkeeper and laughed before climbing into the shower. Later that night, I jotted down an entry for the Burkehaven Lodge in my notes: “Unflappable courtesy in the face of absurdity. Bravo.”