I had just been dumped by my longtime girlfriend and I was wallowing in my own misery when my cell phone rang. It was early (for me), but I was awake. It was Friday morning and I had the whole weekend free. Especially now. No plans at all other than a private pity-party.
"Pack your bags, man. We're heading up north," the voice said. It was my best friend, Chris, and he was apparently taking it upon himself to get me out of my funk.
"Buddy," I started in protest, "I don't think I'm up for that..." It sounded a little whiny and pathetic, even to me.
"Nonsense," he retorted cheerily. "I'll be in your driveway in 15 minutes. Be ready!"
I groaned as he hung up, but his call did put me in motion. Maybe a camping trip would do me good. It couldn't hurt, right? It was late September. Still a little early to be competing with the leaf-peepers and too late in the year to deal with the hordes of families still on summer vacation. It might still be busy, but Chris had a bunch of secret spots off of otherwise busy trails and paths that he liked. I'm sure he could find a good spot for him to do his thing (fishing for dinner, usually) and for me to stew in my own juices. At least it would be pretty. The weather was supposed to be great, although chilly during the nights, for the next couple of days.
I got my gear together in record time. I'd camped enough to know what I needed and what I didn't for any given climate and length of stay. On a whim, I packed Michelle's sleeping bag, too. The witch. She wouldn't need it and I wasn't sure why I packed it. It faintly smelled like her, though. Damn.
Chris rolled into the driveway in his pickup truck around 10AM. He helped me throw my stuff into the truck and I hopped into the passenger side with hardly a word. We drove most of the way to NH in silence, alternately listening to music or the latest sports radio talk. The Red Sox had a forgettable year after much general success, so the wolves were circling the current manager. The Patriots were on-and-off so far this year, and that added to the gnashing of teeth and general un-rest is sports talk radio-land. At one point, it got to be too much and I switched it off completely.
"You OK?" Chris asked.
I just grumbled something about 'cheating' and 'girlfriend' and 'back-stabbing, former friends' and looked out the window. Chris let it be.
The early fall colors, while not spectacular, got progressively more beautiful as we got further north and that helped my mood a bit. I loved the Fall. I wasn't even sure where we were, but trusted Chris knew his way around and where he wanted to go. If not, a GPS or a smartphone would likely rescue us or send help our way. Sudden bumps and ruts woke me out of my reverie as Chris had turned off a small two-lane highway onto a dirt road and headed into the woods by some old cart path or logging trail. We rode that way -- bouncing and bumping along -- for about a half an hour and came to a small parking lot at the end of the road. There was another vehicle there, an expensive SUV with stickers from Boston-area colleges and a license-plate surround from a dealership in a posh Boston suburb.
"Great," Chris muttered, but then recovered, seeing my scowl. "Well ... it's a big forest."
It was mid-afternoon and in my funk, I hadn't noticed where we had gotten off the highway. Given the time, I figured we were somewhere in the White Mountains, but didn't really care and didn't ask.
"Want to eat before we head out?" Chris asked. "It's about a two hour hike to the spot I had in mind."
"Sure," I said. I hadn't even realized how hungry I was. A cup of coffee and a rest-stop donut weren't quite cutting it. We ate the sandwiches that we had bought at a market a few miles ago while also stocking up on our food supplies and then headed off into the trees. Chris has an inhuman sense of direction and didn't have a map or a compass out. I knew he had a GPS in his backpack (somewhere), but he didn't navigate with it like many people do these days. I gave him a quizzical look.
"I've been to this spot a dozen times," he answered, sensing my questioning look and immediately knowing what I was about to ask. Ah ... best friends. Chris and I had been friends since the cradle. Our parents had been close, so, growing up, we were always together. It didn't hurt that we had similar tastes in everything from sports, to hobbies, to favorite beers. Everything but women. He preferred, almost exclusively, blondes, which I typically stayed away from and described -- teasingly -- as his 'Barbie fetish'.
Of course, my recent 'ex' had been my one dalliance into the fair-haired maiden (yeah, right!) pool and had just about turned me off them for good. I know this is an unfair assessment, but it was my experience. Hard to break a stereotype of which you've had nothing but personal, first-hand confirmation.
We hiked for just over two hours and, sure enough, Chris' bird-dog sense of direction (or was that smell in bird dogs? eyes?) navigated our way right to the spot he had in mind. By this point, the sun was getting pretty low, but it was clearly a great spot for a weekend. A small stream was flowing over a rise and making a small waterfall into a good-sized and deep-looking pond or pool below. There was a nice, but small sandy beach and the stream then continued on, slightly wider, off in the same basic direction. The trees were about halfway into their fall colors, so greens were still mixed in with the reds, oranges, and yellows and it made for a really nice spot. Would have been better with some female companionship, but hanging out with Chris was a close second.
"We better get setup. Light's fading," he announced.
We got to work and quickly had our tents set up on good ground and had collected a bunch of stones for a campfire and cooking area. There was still some daylight left and Chris suggested a dip in the pool to clean up before making some dinner and hitting the sleeping bags.
"Don't bother with a suit," he suggested. "I've never run into anyone up here," he added, obviously forgetting about the luxury SUV parked in the lot two hours from here. We both headed down to the pool, shucking clothes as we went, but leaving them in relatively neat piles at the water's edge. Chris and I were strictly heterosexual, but we'd been skinny dipping together on more than one occasion. Sometimes with and sometimes without the fairer sex along. Nothing we hadn't seen before.
The water wasn't as cold as I expected, but still pretty brisk. As we were splashing about, we heard something and stared at each other in shock. Voices. Crap! The pool wasn't very big, but we were on the far side of it at this point, well away from our clothes and trying to yank them on quickly while dripping wet would probably not have gone very well. It might have been humorous for someone watching, though.
"Sure ... runs along ... stream ... somewhere ... been ... before," was all I could make out as the voices got closer. The voice was female.
"You're ... of it, Madel ... lost ... admit it," another female voice added in a bit of a distressed tone.
"Lost ... sure ... late..." said another voice, different than the first two.
The voices were carrying oddly, both because of the sound of the waterfall and the direction the voices were coming from, but no sooner had Chris and I started to swim for shore in a vain hope to make it to and into our clothes than three girls came over the rise near the waterfall. One ... a blonde ... ugh ... had her back to us.
"Told you I'd find it!" she exclaimed triumphantly.
Almost in unison the others responded, "Yeah ... nice find, Madeline. Too bad someone else beat us to it." The two others pointed over 'Madeline's' shoulder at us, naked and somewhat red-faced in the pool, but headed for our clothes.
I wasn't about to jump out of the water at this point, so I quickly took stock of the situation. Based on the sweatshirts they were wearing, one of these ladies was the owner (or at least the driver) of that SUV back in the parking lot ... two hours hard hike away. I looked at the sun's level and thought 'Uh, oh' to myself.
Madeline was the blonde, and as she turned to see what her friends were looking at, I checked all of them out.
The 'leader' was a pretty girl. Blonde hair, nice figure or at least what looked like a nice figure hiding under the oversize sweatshirt. She had nice legs and pretty blue eyes. The day was warm and they had all worn shorts, but as it got later, they must have all pulled on sweatshirts to ward off the coming chill. All three were at least wearing decent-looking hiking boots and had proper daypacks and water. They weren't completely un-prepared, but they were in a bit more trouble than I think they realized. They were clearly just carrying daypacks and couldn't possibly have been equipped for a two hour hike in the waning daylight (soon to be darkness).
Girl number two, was a dark-haired beauty. Not quite 'goth-girl' in look or style, but definitely not your run-of-the-mill Boston co-ed. Her raven black hair was long, straight, and shiny, but pulled back a bit into a braid or tied back. I couldn't be sure from this angle. Her shorts were a little shorter than the other two and her legs were very long, but very shapely. Her face and green eyes were lovely and she had an exotic look to her. Maybe Asian or perhaps Native American? It was hard to get a read. She looked past Madeline and gave me a little smile. I guess I might have been staring. I quickly checked out the last girl.
.... There is more of this story ...