Thirty-three days and 292 miles in, David loses his tent off the side of a mountain.
It’s all set up but not staked down when a breeze catches it, somersaults it twice across the grass, and sails it over the cliff’s edge and away. David looks up in time to see it hang like Wile E. Coyote over empty air, then drop like it’s just looked down. The bag of stakes he’s just unknotted spills uselessly to the ground.
“No, no, no, no,” he babbles, scrambling to look over the cliff as if he doesn’t already know what’s down there. The FUCK he screams is more vowel than anything and multiplies itself in the echo of the mountain range. He returns to scoop up the stakes, then hurls these after the tent one by one, punctuating his words. “What. The. Eternal. Fuck!”
Patrick watches all this happen from just beyond the clearing, still on the trail. He planned to keep going another mile before making camp, and he still could. David hasn’t seen him. He could just walk away. That’s what this trail is here for, after all. That’s all there is out here. Walking away.
Patrick steps out of the woods.
“That’s not actually a required part of the experience, you know,” he says, forgetting David won’t get the reference. “At least it wasn’t your boots.”
David gives a quick glance over his shoulder, but his feelings about being joined by a stranger at this moment are unreadable. Patrick comes to stand next to him on the rocky ledge. The view is beautiful from up here, but it also lays bare how they’re surrounded by nothing but nothingness.
“What am I gonna do now?” David asks, in a voice that says he knows the only answer is: Quit.
Something about it squeezes a decision from Patrick’s heart. He steps back and starts taking off his pack. “I have an idea.”
His tent stakes are what he unpacks first.