Turning about face, Joe began to hike back up the winding trail. In the distance, the call of an owl could be heard bouncing off the trees around them.
“Must be… hunting for its dinner,” Evan huffed out in labored breaths.
“I’m getting pretty hungry myself,” Joe said. “We’ll get the tent up and make ourselves one of those bag meals. You doing okay?”
Evan let out heavy bursts of air from his nostrils.
“Yeah. Just… steep.”
“Damn dude, I know we haven’t hiked as much this summer as we normally do, but it’s not that bad.”
“We’ve only gone a mile, do you have bricks in your pack or something? Shit.”
Rounding one more switchback that led to a long, flat straight, Evan took a break to lean against a large boulder on the side of the trail. After taking a long drink from his Nalgene water bottle, he took in deep, slow breaths to get his heart and lungs under control.
“Well on the plus side, it’s not like you passed out.”
Evan gave him a one-fingered salute as he took another swig from the bottle. Five minutes later, he finally felt as if his lungs were under control, standing to continue down the soft dirt path.
“You’d think with all that sex you have, you’d be in better shape for strenuous activities,” Joe’s face a smirk, although his cohort couldn’t see his face being behind him.
“She usually does most of the work, likes it better that way.”
“I bet she does…” Joe mumbled to himself.
While passing the mile marker post signaling 2 Miles, two coyotes could be heard off in the distance, calling to each other in the fading daylight.
“See, that’s why I brought the fucking gun.”
From behind him, Evan threw his arms sarcastically about like one of the inflatable tube men at the local gas station.
“They’re more scared of us than we are of them,” Evan said, grabbing his water bottle to take another drink while keeping pace.
“Tell that to those mountain bikers.”
“Okay first, that was a cougar. Second, they said something was wrong with it, probably starvation.”
“Who says the coyotes couldn’t be in the same boat.”
Evan let that sink in, but at the same time didn’t want to worry himself. He knew coyotes were skittish around humans, they’d want their food but that was about it. That’s why he brought his bear bag to hang items from, even if the food was freeze dried and the deodorant capped, the used food bags and other smells would attract critters and larger animals alike.
They trudged along past the three mile mark, the path having become mainly flat, with very little incline. To their left, they saw the trail had wound its way back to following the Boden River.
“We should probably fill our bottles before the trail diverts back away from the river where we’re going to camp tonight,” Joe said, looking for an easy path down to the river that past hikers may have forged.  A few hundred feet ahead he found one and took off his pack, setting it against a tall pine.
Evan did the same, taking out his handkerchief to wipe his face free from beads of sweat. Unzipping the top of his pack and reaching towards the bottom, he brought out the Katadyn water pump purifier. Taking it from the pouch, he handed it to Joe to place the hose in the river and start pumping into his bottle. Once full, he held it out to Evan so he could fill his own bottle.
Bottles once again full, Evan repacked the filter system and they swung their packs back on, clicking in the buckles and tightening the straps to once again become comfortable for hiking the remaining mile to the campsite.
Joe once again led the way with Evan closely behind, around them more noises of the late afternoon emanated throughout the woods. Birds mainly, but a few more howls in the distance as well.
Back to hiking, Evan began whistling a made up tune to the surrounding wilderness. Not long into his song, he felt a quick presence behind him before a sharp pain erupted on the top of his scalp.
“Jesus motherfuck!” his screaming filling the open space, frightening Joe who was instantly ducking down, not knowing what was happening to his friend.
“What the hell, man!”
As the words left his mouth, the screeching of a great horned owl could be heard from the trees above them. Joe pulling out his pistol, taking aim at the large bird, its golden eyes glaring down at him.
“Dammit dude, don’t shoot the owl,” Evan continued yelling, clutching onto the top of his head, still kneeling on the soft dirt.
“He attacked you though!”
“He probably thought I was some sort of food, I don’t know. It’s later in the afternoon, must be his feeding time. Can’t really blame it, we are kind of in its territory out here you know.”
Lowering the pistol to his side, Joe did not take his eyes off the owl.
“You’re lucky you piece of shit!” Pointing a finger at the bird, Joe did his own yelling.
“Yeah, like he can understand you, dumbass.”
“Hey, you know what? Makes me feel better.”
“You know what would make me feel better? If you’d check out my scalp considering a goddamn owl just sunk its talons into me.”
Once he replaced the pistol into its holster, Joe turned towards his friend and began to look at his scalp for signs of the injury.
“Just a little blood and a half-inch long cut, it’s not even that bad ya puss,” Joe scoffed.
“It hurts a lot worse than it looks then, damn man. It’s like a searing hot knife was pressed against my head.”
“Seriously, man up. Want me to rub some dirt on it?” Joe said, picking up a handful of soil.
“Shut up,” Evan was grimacing, pushing himself up from his knees. As he did, the owl took flight further into the woods, letting loose a few more screeches as it did.
“He obviously was pretty pissed to find you instead of an evening meal.”
“Ha,” Evan said while pouring a little water over his head to wash away what little blood came from the cut. Satisfied his scalp was cleansed, he placed the bottle back in the holder of his pack.
“Hopefully you don’t get rabies from that stupid bird.”
“I’m not going to get freaking rabies, man.”
“You never know, weirder things have happened,” Joe said, turning back to continue on the trail for the final three-quarters of a mile to the campsite.
Hiking in silence the rest of the way, the two were overjoyed to reach the campsite with a modicum of daylight still piercing its way through the forest. Placing their packs down against two tall pine trees, Joe unstrapped the tent bag from the bottom of his pack. They worked quickly, the tent raised and ready in just enough time to not need their headlamps for the task.
“Here, take this stake and pound it in over on that side,” Evan said, tossing the final stake needed to secure the rain fly.
“Your moms a stake I’d pound in.”
“Seriously, that shit’s getting old.”
“Not if it still makes me laugh.”
Evan ignored his friend as he dug into his pack for the freeze dried food they would have for dinner. Placing his headlamp on, he began searching the surrounding area for rocks to create a fire pit out of, as well as sticks and dry moss to start a fire and keep it going. At the same time, Joe rifled through his pack to find the Jetboil they would heat the water with for the packaged food.
Having found enough materials, Evan constructed a small fire pit near their tent but not too close. Once a nice circle was achieved, he stacked the moss and wood in the typical log pattern style. He took a seat on the tripod stool he’d retrieved from his pack and threw some InstaFire pellets onto the moss, one of the many items in his fire starting materials bag he always brought on hikes with him. After striking a match off the box, he threw it into the middle of the setup, the pellets and moss igniting instantly in golden flame. Before long, a nice fire was going.
On the other side of their little camp, Joe had begun to heat water over the Jetboil. Only a few minutes later and he was pouring the bubbling water into the pouch of freeze dried beef stroganoff that Evan was holding for him. Sealing the pouch to allow it to rehydrate, the two sat to wait the allotted seven minutes before pouring the meal into two cups to eat from.
“All in all, not too bad of a first day out,” Joe said before taking a mouthful of hot stroganoff. “Hot! Shit!”
“Easy for you to say, you didn’t get attacked by a fucking owl,” Evan said, giving him a glare.
“You’re still harping on that? It’s not like the thing took your scalp off.”
“It sure as hell felt like it though.” Evan took a large bite of his dinner, emptying what was left in the cup. “Hey, you want to boil some more water to clean up the cups and then some more so we can try out that cobbler I bought?”
“You sure? You don’t want to save it for tomorrow after the longer day of hiking? It might be a better treat after all that work.”
Evan thought about it for a moment, figuring Joe was probably right. Placing it back in his pack, he knew they’d enjoy it a lot more after hiking up to Foley Peak the next day.
“All right, well how about just some water to clean out the cups then.”
“Sure, go for it. I’m still trying to finish my damn food here, c’mon,” Joe said, taking in another mouthful of beef and noodles.
Grabbing the water bottle from the side of his pack, Evan filled the Jetboil cup back up and lit the stove. By the time it was ready, Joe had finished his dinner and the two cleaned out the cups, rinsing them well away from the campsite.
Joe packed the stove back into the bag he retrieved it from, then placed it back in his pack while Evan gathered all the materials they would place in the bear bag for the night. Cups, utensils, the used food bag, deodorant, anything that had a smell to it.
Evan securely tied one end of the long nylon cord to a locking carabiner.  After three attempts, he was finally able to get the carabiner over a branch and brought it down to the ground. He attached the bear bag through the clip and began to hoist it into the air. A height of around fifteen feet was reached. Then he walked the other end of the cord to a stake he placed in the ground on the opposite side of camp from the tent. Once the rope was tied, he let go to ensure the bag wouldn’t pull the stake from the ground. Satisfied it would hold, he walked back over to his tripod and the warm fire.
Sitting down, he held his hands out to the fire, having become quite cold while tying up the bag. Joe emerged from the tent, holding a deck of cards and a travelers sized cribbage board.
“Want to play a little before we call it a night?”
“Sure, but you’ll have to remind me of the scoring system.”
“Really, you don’t remember?”
“C’mon, how often do we play?” Evan said, finding a larger flat rock to bring over and place the board on.
“I guess that’s true, not very often. I still remember how it all works though.”
“Chalk it up to having a bad memory and too many other things to remember.”
Joe removed the cards from the tuck box and shuffled them on top of his right thigh. After he felt they were sufficiently mixed, he dealt out six cards to each of them. Thus began two full games of cribbage. Evan started to get into the groove of playing again after a few hands. In the end each of them took a game, vowing to play one more final game for the tie breaker the next night.
Placing the cards back in the box, Joe let out a monstrous yawn.
“All right buddy, I think I’m about ready to hit the hay. What do you say?”
“Sounds good to me, I can barely keep my eyes open anymore.”
The two stood, using their headlamps to illuminate the ground around them to gather dirt and snuff out the remaining bits of fire. To help with the last of the coals, Joe urinated over them, the light gray smoke rose into the air as he did.
Evan reached the tent first and unzipped the front door. Each climbed in, Joe getting the job of zipping shut the door behind them. Inside, each found their way into their respective sleeping bags. Their headlamps turned off, they soon fell victim to the darkness and inevitable slumber.