It began with an innocent hiking trip down the Appalachian Trail, one famous for having the most beautiful scenery east of the Mississippi. I’m Adam Capobianco, just a guy from the Bronx, New York, who teaches high school math, loves hiking, old movies, and coffee. I try to take a walking trip every summer, but this summer turned into something my wise old granny could never have predicted.
The trail starts in Maine and winds south to Georgia. I pick it up in North New Jersey and began southbound with a backpack, walking stick and a thermos of coffee cut with some hazelnut almond creamer. I will replenish along the way every four to six hours, if possible. It’s just after Memorial Day and my goal is to finish by Labor Day, when I will fly home to New York from Atlanta.
You meet all kinds of people making the trek. Good people from all over and all walks of life. The weather is perfect, but it will turn hotter soon and the insects will become voracious. I am prepared for both. I recharge my cell phone with the solar panel on the outside of my backpack, perhaps the greatest invention of the modern era. If only my backpack could brew me a great cup of coffee.
Days pass and I am loving the fresh air, the gorgeous foliage and the prospect of meeting a cute girl to accompany me the rest of the way. That doesn’t happen and foolishly I am still hopeful. The days turn into weeks and the weeks into three months as I am approaching the Tennessee-North Carolina border. By then I have consumed over 200 cups of coffee, gallons of water and countless energy bars.
It’s late afternoon, time to refuel, and I go off trail following a sign to the People’s Temple, whatever that is, hoping there will be night lodging. The trail turns into a gravel road as I open my thermos to pour the last of my coffee. Up ahead I see it. A stone structure that looks like a Medieval castle in the middle of the woods. It starts to rain. I pick up my pace to avoid getting drenched, but by the time I arrive at the front door, a big old wooden one with cast iron hinges and a giant iron knocker, I’m soaked. But covering my thermos lid keeps my coffee from getting watered down. I take a slug to warm up and pull back the doorknocker which returns back with a very loud bang.
A few long seconds later, the door opens slightly and a tall, long-bearded old man in a monk’s robe carrying a tall wooden staff peers out suspiciously. “Yes, what is it, we are not open to the public” he barks in a deep ominous voice.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m looking for some lodging for the night. I’m tired and it’s getting cold out. And this is my last cup of coffee,” I smile.
“We do not drink coffee here!” the old man bellows. “And we do not provide lodging for strangers.” He starts to close the door when I use the old door-to-door salesman’s trick and stick my foot in. It’s a heavy door and, man, that hurts a bit.
“Wait,” I inject. “Can I just come in from the rain for a few moments? You wouldn’t want me to catch cold and die on your doorstep, would you? You’d have to call the police and answer their questions. Talk about invasion of privacy. I just need a warm place to sit down for a short while.”
Begrudgingly, the old man opens the door and mumbles, “Father Damian won’t like it, but you may come in for a very short stay.” He gestures, “Over there by the fireplace you may sit.”
I walk gratefully across the stone floor to the large stone fireplace and plop myself down on a bearskin rug. “Thank you, kind sir.” He turns and leaves, adding “Do not leave this spot.” I nod in agreement and take another sip of coffee. It’s cold now, so I put the cup down on the floor, take off my backpack and warm my hands toward the fire. The heat is soothing and I am feeling tired. I lay down and within seconds I am out.
Six steely eyes are peering at me when I awake. They are old men with long beards who do not look happy. When I try to sit up I am restrained by ropes on an incline board. The room is dark and dingy and as I look around there are bars on the window. “Where am I?” I ask. “Who are you?” I struggle to free myself without success.
The oldest of the three men leans over me, “You are the one who invades our peace and drinks coffee.”
“What? What about coffee?”
“You defile this sanctuary with brew of the devil,” the old man declares.
“You’re mad,” I respond.
“No! It is YOU who are mad. Your world is filled with distractions and impurities. You are a mad coffee drinker.”
“Hey, I like coffee. Is that a crime?”
The three men turn to each other and turn back to me and answer in unison, “Yes! And you must pay for your pleasures.”
I struggle again with the ropes that bind me to no avail. The men bend down and arise, one holding my thermos and the other two large daggers. They raise their weapons over me.
”Repent, coffee drinker!” the old man demands, waving my thermos about. The other two raise the daggers over my chest.
“NO!” I scream. They lower the daggers headed for my heart as I close my eyes.
“Mister… Mister…” a quiet female voice calls. I open my eyes to see a young woman gently pushing my upper arm. “Are you all right?”
“Huh? Yeah,” I answer groggily. “Where am I?”
“You fell asleep by the trail and were screaming. Bad dream?” she asks.
I sit up. “Yeah. Really bad.” I shake my head to clear it. “Boy I could use a good cup of coffee.”
“There’s a coffee shop right down the road. Come on, I’ll take you there.” I look at her. She has long brown hair and kind eyes. She extends her hand. I take it and get up. We start walking.”