Last night Amy called with the news that Chris was gone. I wrote about him in my December post, Ghosts on the Trail. I am sad beyond reason, since I hardly knew Chris at all. We only went on one backpack trip, and that was years ago. But we were bound by an invisible tie, the tie of all hikers. Once you have set your boots on a trail with someone else, it binds you in a way that is different. Unique. Undescribable, really, unless you are a hiker and know what I am talking about.
On this hike on the Florida Trail, Chris had enough personality for all of us. He brimmed over with enthusiasm. He marveled at the night sky, at the ankle-deep water on the trail, and at our inability to pack light (Did I mention we brought potatoes? Potatoes for backpacking!).
He will never have to experience what the rest of us will: the gradual decline we fight against, the creaky knees, the packs that get heavier the older we get. He will always be young to me, the big guy with the bandana around his head, bounding down the trail, looking for the elusive markers. Still, it isn't fair that a brain tumor robbed him of the chance to hike more trails, to leave more friends in his wake.
The mark of a person is the ghost they leave behind. Even years after that hike, I remember Chris with a clarity that is unusual. I have forgotten so many people, but never the ones I hiked with, never Chris. In the end, something will always stop our hike. It doesn't matter what it is. In the end, if I can leave behind a handful of memories for those who hike on, like a scattering of jewels on a mountain, I will believe I did okay.