The Hike – a short story

The angle that the train clacked forward up the mountain seemed impossible from any view. More so from the inside. She thought about how many times they had hiked across the very same tracks — waving to the passengers who had paid for their round-trip to the summit of Mount Washington. Their cheerful faces in wide-eyed wonder at hikers like us, laden with heavy packs and negotiating with boulders on descent or traversing across the ancient sleepy wonder.

Her inevitable ride in the Cog Railway train was planned for several months. The return to the summit to be on this day, every year, for the rest of their lives. The grip she had on the handle of the cooler tightened as she fought back the tears. She smoothed her loose white cotton dress. Memories pressed through, demanding attention.

“You’re getting married at the summit? Isn’t it dangerous? Why do that? We can’t go?” Her mother had these questions and a thousand more. She’d finally calmed down when told that there would be a church wedding in the fall. One that she could easily attend and fuss over the details as was her want.

Stubs, their longtime Appalachian Trail hiking buddy had become ordained online to seal their vows on New Hampshire’s highest peak. It was their luck that the day was perfect. Few of them are on the mountain where some of the top recorded winds in the world have blown. They’d fussed over weather reports until settling on a date that looked like it would work, and it did. Things always went like that for them. So easy. No bumps. No worries.

That was until he got sick.

The train’s whistle screamed a sound she knew you could hear across the valley. Diesel hung in the crisp air. She turned to look at the couple across the aisle — a young boy perched on the man’s lap. His wide eyes stared at her while his parents looked at the scenery.

“Is that your lunch?” the boy said, looking at the cooler.

She smiled and said, “Something like that.”

The boy’s father nodded to her and turned the child to face out the window.

She leaned back into the stiff leather seat, letting gravity rock her.

“We’ll take the train! We’ll finally take the train to the top, on our anniversary!” He’d burst through the door after work and swept her into his arms. “It’ll be all romantic and stuff. And, we can eat that frozen piece of wedding cake at the summit.”

She’d told him how cheesy-corny that sounded and that it was perfect.

The train ground to a halt at the top and the conductor welcomed them to the summit of Mount Washington by doffing his flat-topped black hat. She let the other passengers get off first before struggling to stand under the weight of her growing belly.

“Need some help? Can I carry that cooler for you?” the conductor said.

“No, thank you. I’ve got this from here,” she said.