He was the good-looking cousin of my college best friend — tall, tan, and bearded. Throw in a killer smile, and he added up to gorgeous. For me, it was love at first sight.
Marcus had moved from Minnesota to Colorado to be near his sister. He asked if I wanted to come out and go backpacking with him. I said yes but that my girlfriend, Elaine, would be coming, too.
Marcus said he had all the supplies and not to worry about anything. I had my favorite down-filled sleeping bag, a jacket, some tampons in a plastic bag just in case, my I.D. and a little cash. Otherwise I left the rest to him.
When we got to our campsite spot for the night, Marcus built a nice fire and started a pot of water to boil. He pulled out a packet of ramen noodles like we’d eaten in college at night when the dining hall was closed and we were studying and starving. Then he pulled out some dried beef jerky, some coffee, and an apple.
We’d been hiking nonstop all day. This was dinner? I must’ve looked disappointed.
“Don’t worry. I’ll fish in the lake,” he said.
We waited for supper, sipping on our brothy ramen, our stomachs gurgling.
Marcus only had one set of utensils and one bowl. We had to share everything — spoons, cups, and the lonely fork.
“I thought you said you’d bring everything,” I said.
“I did,” he answered. “We’re camping.”
Elaine and I looked at each other. We were good friends but not used to being so intimate with our germs.
After Marcus pan-fried the two meager fish he’d caught, we devoured the meat right out of the pan, passing the single fork. Nothing tastes as good as hot food after a day in the wilderness.
“Where’s the tent?” I asked.
“No tent,” he said. “We are sleeping under the stars.”
“No tent?” I said. “Don’t we need a tent?”
“Hey, I’ve been to Vietnam,” he said. “We are safe in the wilderness.”
“But what about bears?” I asked.
“A tent wouldn’t stop one.”
It’s true that if a bear wanted to get us, a wall of canvas wouldn’t have added much protection. But I didn’t sleep at all that night, worried about a bear licking my face as I lay under the stars with no roof over me.
And then it happened. I got my period. I knew it was a possibility, but in the middle of the night in the Colorado Rockies, it is traumatic.
“Bears can smell blood,” Marcus’ cousin had warned me on my first-ever backpacking-hike that I’d taken with her and her boyfriend the previous year.
Great! I was in my burgundy bag by the lake, leaking my scent. Marcus, on one side of me, was snoring away, and Elaine, on the other side of me, wasn’t moving.
At least the bear will get one of them first, since I’m in the middle.
Unless it drags me by my feet or my head since I’m the one that smells so good.
If there ever was an OCD moment in my life, that was it.
The next morning, I went off to the woods to do my business and change my undies. I washed them out in the lake and put them in a plastic bag to carry out. Another less conscientious hiker might’ve left them behind, but it seemed wrong on so many levels.
Tired, achy, and grumpy, I followed Grizzly Adams and Elaine down the mountain, where hours later we found a real bathroom, a pitcher of beer, and some potato skins.
Sitting across from him in the bar, I drunk in Marcus’ beauty.
Damn, you’re good looking.
“Feeling better, babe?”
You got me out alive.
“Yeah, you know, cramps.”
“It was fun,” Elaine chimed in.
She was rolling with it.
Then Marcus smiled. All was forgiven — the lack of silverware, the lack of a tent, the sharing of the cup whenever anyone got thirsty.
That was the last time we went backpacking together, and on all future outings, I brought back-up supplies.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If Marcus and I would’ve made it as a couple, he would’ve continued to appall me with his lack of planning, and I would’ve taken over the checklists for any and everything we did. He would refuse to father my children since he’d been to Vietnam and had been exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical proven to cause birth defects. We would go on short day trips when hiking and leave the overnight trips for those without OCD.
RIP, Marcus. Your cousin told me you passed away this year.