TRAIL TALK

Josh Boardman



I backpacked in the woods for three days alone.

Maybe it’s unsurprising to those who know me.

But even alone in the woods I talked more than I should have.


I talked to the server at the restaurant at the park’s entrance.

I asked if I could have five packets of saltines to eat with my can of mackerel.

She told me she would have to charge me like a dollar.

I said I understood.


I talked to the dog that crawled out from a woman’s bag.

I said that looks like a comfortable place to sleep.


I talked to the rock where I rested in the middle of a rushing river.

I thanked it for being a nice place to lay my head a while.

(The rock didn’t respond.)


I talked to the fisherman when I approached the lake.

He said howdy.

I asked is there a good spot to pop my tent around here?

He said all around. Just follow the lake.

(Later he staggered up to me while I drank from a halfpint of tequila on the lakeshore.

It was getting dark.

He tucked his hook into the chartreuse lure and held it inches from my face.)

He said this is how I go weedless. I don’t get caught on any of the junk.

I said nice.

He asked my name and I told him it was David.

(I dissociated when he repeated the name David so I didn’t catch his.

He caught a bass but couldn’t remove the hook from its jaw.)

He asked do you have a pair of pliers?

I told him no.

(He cut the line and released the bass with the hook still lodged.)

He said I’m sorry you had to see that.

He made me keep the lure and I said thank you.


I talked to the abandoned stone outpost I found the next morning.

I said you look like a nice place to live.

(The walls were coming down.

The bluestone fireplace rose over the lake.)


I talked to the yellow trailblazes that appeared on treetrunks as I went on.

I said hello yellow trail. I’ve been looking for you.

(I lost the yellow. I wandered along an unmarked trail for a long time.)

I cried why have you forsaken me yellow trail?

Wasn’t I good enough for you?


I talked to the low-res black and white trail map I printed off at home.

I said I sure wish you could show me what colors I’m supposed to be following.

I said the trail ended here. But I’m still here.

I said I guess I’ll just keep going.


I talked to the doe who stood in the middle of the trail.

I said hey stupid are you just going to stand in the way?

(She wagged her tail.)

I said I guess you are. I’m coming through. You’ll want to move.

(She finally hopped off through the blueberry bushes.)


I talked to the bear scat I found in the middle of the trail.

I said are you still nearby Mr. Bear? (I stomped.

I sang as much Hop Along as I could remember as loudly as I could.)


I talked to the gnats that haloed my ears through a layer of 99% deet.

I said Fuck You.

(I started saying fuck a lot more after this.)


I talked to my backpack as I crawled up a bluestone scramble.

I said Fuck You.


I talked to my water bottle when it ran out of water.

I said Fuck You.


I talked to the trail when it went downhill only to rise back up a hundred feet later.

I said Fuck You.

But you’re a trail and you do whatever you want.


I talked to the yellow trailblazes once I found them again.

I cried yellow! I’ve been searching for hours!

(I sat down in the middle of the yellow trail.

I had snaked down a ridge then climbed back up in switchbacks.

I was startled by the sound of chipmunks crashing through the brush.)

I said I don’t care—so long as I’ve got the yellow trail.


I talked to my can of mackerel when it popped open and sprayed sauce all over my shorts.

I said Fuck You.

(But then I ate all of the mackerel and the five packets of saltines.

I was exhausted.

The sauce tasted like it came from the last tomato ever smashed on earth.)

I said you aren’t so bad are you?


I talked to the thunder that blew in from the other side of the ridge.

I said it wasn’t supposed to rain.

(My fingers pruned up.

The stones I used to cross watersheds were slippery.

But the thunder never passed directly overhead.)

I thanked the thunder for missing me.


I talked to the pretty couple who were staying at the shelter that night.

I said howdy.

They said hi. (They didn’t say anything else.

I didn’t force them to take my new chartreuse.)


I talked to the blinking light that descended the hill to my tent site in the middle of the night

I called who’s there?

(The light sped down the bluestone before humming overhead.

I recognized the light to be a lowflying airplane.

I couldn’t sleep for hours.)


I talked to the firefly painting Js over the polyester of my tent.

I wondered do fireflies ever get confused by the blinking lights of planes?


I talked to the perfect hole for shitting I found the next morning.

I said (pumping my fist to the heavens) success!


I talked to the doe eating from the bushes while I sat to rest.

I asked did we meet yesterday?

(She wagged her same tail.)

I promised she didn’t need to worry.

I didn’t have any expectations.

We can just be.

(She munched closer until I could almost touch her.

My butt was wet on the stone seat. The sun was drying me.

Eventually we passed each other like wild beasts.

Never entering one another’s boundary.)


I talked to the old man taking his daughter camping.

I said how much farther until I hit the road?

(He took out his trailmap—laminated in full color and rainproof.

Mine had frayed at the creases. My planned lines smeared.)

He said 0.9 that way—or 0.7 that way.

I said even better!

(His daughter laughed.)


I talked to the forest ranger who yelled at me through a megaphone on the side of the road.

He was saying I couldn’t rest on the side of the road.

I said Fuck You.


I talked to the young athlete who picked me up on the thumb.

I told him he was only the second car that passed.

He said he used to run those trails all the time—but he’d never backpacked.

Once he ran the entire length of the yellow trail.

(I looked at the ridge run on my map. It was 21.4 miles.

He dropped me off in the parking lot of a restaurant.)

I told him thank you—thank you.


I talked to the same server at the same restaurant at the park’s entrance.

I told her my name was David.

(It didn’t feel strange anymore. I had started to like being David.

But when I had to pay via credit card

I thought my new identity might complicate my ability to pay.)

But she said on my way out—it was very nice to meet you David.

(Despite my credit card reading Josh—)

Yes I said. It was.