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Sex & Sourdough

By:A.J. Thomas

ame south from Maine. I wanted to finish the trail going north this year, but I’m off to a late start. Most people start in March, but I hate the cold.”

Anders knew that was true. He’d rearranged finals exams and done extra papers to get out here as fast as possible. It was only the last week of April, but it would be almost impossible to finish the entire trail before the park service closed Mount Katahdin, the last peak on the Appalachian Trail, in October. Or rather, it would have been impossible for him. The stranger in front of him had hiked up the trail like a mountain goat, as though he’d been born to it, so he would probably finish in time.

“But you’ve already finished the whole thing?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve hiked the entire Appalachian Trail? The hard way?”

The man leaned close. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s the same trail, both directions. It’s no harder going south. There just aren’t as many people. After the hike I did before, doing the southbound hike wasn’t that difficult.”

“What did you hike before?

“The Pacific Crest Trail.”

Anders gaped. “Shit….” He’d heard Joel talk about the much longer, much harder Pacific Crest Trail with awe. The isolated, difficult trail ran from Mexico to Canada, and unlike the popular Appalachian Trail, there were very few towns nearby and none of the shelters and amenities that made the Appalachian Trail seem hospitable. On the Pacific Crest Trail, hikers had to rely on themselves and outside support for their survival. Anders hadn’t given it that much thought, since Joel had said hiking it would be a logistical nightmare.

Spending a lifetime hiking long-distance trails would explain those rigid, lean muscles, if nothing else. Not the shoulders, or the arms that looked like they could break Anders in half, but maybe the man had lifted weights before he started hiking.

“I’m from the West Coast,” he explained. “Yosemite was practically in my backyard growing up, so the Pacific Crest Trail was kind of familiar territory. I loved it by the end, so I thought I’d come out here and see what all the fuss was about. What about you?”

Anders looked around, honestly surprised he had even made it this far. “This has been sort of an obsession of mine for the last six months or so. There’s not a whole lot of outdoors stuff in Florida, and what there is, everybody ignores. There are miles of jogging trails on the University of North Florida campus, and there’s never anybody on them. People there would rather wait in line for an hour so they can hop on a treadmill. I was trying to get my partner to hike out to this really cool beach with me, and he started talking about hikes he’d done before. He said he had done a few big sections of the Appalachian Trail, and he wanted to do the whole thing, so….”

“And then he didn’t show up?”

Anders sighed. He didn’t need to tell a complete stranger about his issues with Joel. He had decided in his freshman year of high school that he was never going to live his life in the closet, but he had grown up a lot in the years since he defiantly told his family, and anyone else who would listen, that he was gay and proud. Most of the world, Anders had learned, was filled with decent people who responded to others with whatever attitude they were met with. So if Anders didn’t point out that he was gay, if he didn’t act like it was a big deal, no one else acted like it was a big deal either.

“Just because he had something come up doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the hike.” The man smiled.

“He didn’t have something come up. He found an excuse not to come with me. The day before we were both supposed to get on the bus to Atlanta, he petitioned to get into a summer class instead.”

“Hmm. Bad timing, or did he just not want to go?”

“Really bad timing,” Anders lied. “I spent all this money buying stuff”—he gestured to his pack—“and saving up so I could afford to not work this summer, and he’s the one who couldn’t make it. But this is all I’ve been able to think about for weeks, so I figured I’d give it a try, at least.”

“Give it a try?”

“Yeah.”

The man leaned forward, staring with his mouth open. “You’ve never been hiking before?”

“I’ve gone hiking before, just never overnight.”

“If I had known down at the parking lot, I’d have told you to go back to the visitor center. It’s still the fastest way back to civilization.”

“I don’t want to go back,” Anders said. The sooner he went back to Jacksonville, the sooner the rest of his life would start. He was willing to do whatever it took to steal a few more weeks of freedom, even if it meant making a fool of himself and inciting Joel’s wrath. “I haven’t done this before, but he walked me through the equipment and stuff. It’s camping. Walking and camping. Like you said, most of it is putting one foot in front of the other.”

“Look,” the man said as he fished out a clear plastic bottle filled with water, “your friend would be the first to tell you that you shouldn’t be out here. And if not, he’s an idiot. This might be Georgia, but it’s still the mountains. It’s going to get cold tonight. Not below freezing, but cold. People die on hiking trails every year—the quickest way to become one of them is to jump into a situation you’re not prepared for.”

“I know there are shelters where you can stay overnight, and I didn’t buy cheap gear. I think I’ll be just fine.”

“Do you have a map? A guide listing shelters, water sources, things like that? A water filter, lighter, and all that stuff?”

“Well, most of it. I mean, we had a map, but it was in his pack. I meant to buy one down at the visitor center, but I….” He’d been too stunned by Joel’s voice mail to walk, much less to think clearly. “I forgot.”

Anders didn’t think it was possible for the man’s mouth to drop open farther, but it did. The man didn’t have to look at Anders like he was a complete moron. He had read the guidebook, even though he didn’t have his

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