The Origin of Squirrelfight      by Jonny Lane
Deep Gap Shelter, Georgia - 63 miles down and 2105 miles to go

      Squirrelfight was not alone when he received his name from the woods. At that moment his path was not along the white blazes of the trail, and he kept his company not with humans, but with angry, wild animals. The beasts he encountered were the masters of that ground and the man had no right or desire to intrude. He did have time, however, to watch.
      The first seven days of hiking the Appalachian Trail hadn’t left him a lot of time at the end of his days. The few daylight hours that March afforded were swallowed in the course of breaking camp, hiking all day, making camp, preparing food, and cleaning up. Of course, there were breaks during the day when Fly, Aces, and Squirrelfight would sit on a ledge to snack and relax and rest. None of them were used to pulling their 50 and 60 pound packs over the mountains day after day. Those days were full of joy and wonder, but they could be so full as to not leave much time to relax. So when Aces mentioned a ten-dollar hostel a day up the trail, it sounded like a fine place to rest. They planned on hiking their normal ten-mile day, which would only leave half a mile of walking the next day to reach the hostel, but when they came across Deep Gap Shelter after seven miles, they decided to cut their day short and start their relaxation time that afternoon.
       The three hikers were all from New England and had known each other before they began their hike. Fly and Aces were college students who had been dating each other since their freshman year in Boston. Squirrelfight had lived in New Hampshire almost all his life and had worked at a summer camp in the White Mountains with Fly. They had hiked a couple sections of the A.T. in the White Mountains on their days off and had talked about how great it would be to thru-hike some day like their friends Mike and Joyce, but it was Fly who had finally initiated this adventure. She had called up Squirrelfight early the year before, shortly after he had moved to San Francisco. She and Aces were starting the trail in the spring and asked if he would like to join them. So on March 9, the three of them crammed their packs and themselves into a car with Squirrelfight’s father and his father’s friend, Bob for the 24-hour, nonstop drive to Amicalola Falls State Park in northern Georgia where the trail begins. Fly’s trail name was her nickname before she started the trail, and she would sign each register with a dizzy, weaving fly and the words, "fly, fly, fly." Aces’ trail name (actually Pair-o-Aces) came from the two Ace bandages he always had wrapped around his knees.
       Now a week into their hike, they had been in the woods for twice as long as any of them had been before. They had been sunburned, chafed, and their feet had blistered. They had slept with many mice and had begun to lose feeling in their toes. The night they slept in the shelter on Springer Mountain, Squirrelfight had thought his feet were going to freeze and fall off. It was good to have some company in those first, fumbling days when everything was new and uncertain and questions had no obvious answers. The decision to spend the night at Deep Gap Shelter, however, was an easy one. It was the sweetest shelter they had seen so far. Instead of the
usual three-sided, open-faced lean-to, it had four walls with a wide doorway and was covered by a large, overhanging roof. Against the back wall was a ladder, which led up to a loft on either side. There was a big porch with a bench, a cooking table, and a fire pit nearby with more benches around it. The shelter was three-tenths of a mile off the trail so it was secluded in the quiet March woods of beautiful Deep Gap. Moreover, they had the place all to themselves. The finest thing about Deep Gap Shelter on this particular day, though, had to be arriving early in the afternoon.
      The three hikers made themselves at home, emptying their packs and claiming their space in the lofts with sleeping pads and bags. Squirrelfight wrote a letter to a friend and made his daily journal entry. He made a list of things to buy in town the next day and since he would be able to call his mother from a phone in town, a list of things to have her send him in his next mail drop. Then he wandered into the woods by himself without his pack. Without the pack, the woods felt even more open, extending behind and around him. He came to an old logging road, which had not been walked on for some time, at least since the last rain. He wandered in silence, listening to the woods and the occasional airplane overhead. Then he heard the beasts.
      It startled him at first—a big rustling in the woods next to him. He stopped and stood still, looking at the young trees moving back and forth. A deer, he thought, maybe two. The trees kept rustling, and Squirrelfight saw an animal much smaller than a deer jump from one bending tree to another, causing it to bow under its new weight. The first tree continued to quiver, though, and another beast bounded from it to another. Squirrelfight stood silent as he watched the rustling not only continue, but build. It spread out to a larger area and began to be accompanied by a chorus of squeaks. As the shrieking grew louder, one of the bushy-tailed participants ran up to a high branch on a leafless tree and began barking to the swarming crowd below. This seemed to seize the attention of many, and the noise in the lower trees softened as the ranting beast jumped up and down, emphasizing his point. Suddenly one of the savages below bolted up the tree to the speaker’s perch and knocked him off, chasing him into the tree where he fell, screaming in his pursuit. Squirrelfight was frozen as he watched another barker take over on the high branch, repeating the terrifying antics of the first while yet another scrambled up and unseated him only to have the whole ordeal repeat itself again a moment later. Was this some kind of vicious town meeting or an all-out gang war? Did they know he was there, and if they did, what would they do with him? Before he could process any of the questions that lit like a string of firecrackers in his head, he had run back down the old road and into camp where Fly and Aces were getting ready to cook their dinner. He slowed to a lope when they saw him and then chanced a look backwards, half expecting to see the ground alive with varmints, but there were none. Not yet anyway.
      That evening as the hikers cooked supper, they could hear coyotes screaming in the distance like tortured women. Perhaps the beasts had been planning a night raid on the coyotes, or perhaps they were all in league. Around the campfire, the three clutched their empty Nalgene water bottles between their knees, and slowly drummed into the dark.
     "My trail name is going to be Squirrelfight." Across the fire, Aces looked up from his drum a little puzzled.
     "That’s kind of weird." Aces said, Fly nodding slowly in rhythm with the drums.
     "Tell me about it" said Squirrelfight, switching the beat a little, the fire lighting the edges of his shoulder length, fraying brown braids as they tried to keep up with his bobbing head.