As Stretch hiked along the Art Loeb Trail south toward Butter Gap from the 6000-foot high balds of Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob of Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina, he noticed the little monkey following him. Every now and then he would stop striding and look around and catch the monkey dodging behind a blueberry or hawthorn bush or a tree in the more forested lower areas below the balds. The curious thing was, other than the fact that you don’t generally see little capuchin monkeys in the Appalachian Mountains, was his outfit: the monkey wore a red felt fez cap with a gold tassel hanging from it and a blue felt vest with gold buttons and gold stitched embroidery.
Stretch got his nickname as a trail name given to him on one of his Appalachian Trail thru-hikes. He did one southbound hike and one northbound, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, where he was quickly tagged with that moniker because he was so lanky and long-legged — a long-strider. He could make up some serious ground if he wanted to or had to. He loved the outdoors and the hiking and backpacking lifestyles so after his last thru-hike he bought a used trailer and lot in the Asheville area near Brevard and Pisgah Forest where the Appalachian Trail passed through North Carolina. It was also near where the thousand-mile eastward Mountains to the Sea Trail began, and where the thirty something mile long Art Loeb Trail was that crosses four 6000 plus ft. tall mountains from the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp and Cold Mountain through the Shining Rock Wilderness area in the north of Pisgah Forest to Davidson River Campground and the Fish Camp at the south end. His trailer did not have any electricity, only a gas generator to run the fridge, an electric stove, water heater sometimes, and a lamp or two at night. He rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle and worked on them some when somebody asked him to, to get by, but other than that, he did not work much. He had very little money preferring the freedom of the woods to working for the rich man and the damn government.
So that day when he first saw the monkey, Stretch slowly paced to Butter Gap, got some water from the stream and sat down on the shelter’s edge. He pulled his lunch out of his backpack and slowly peeled a banana as the shy monkey watched from behind a tree. Stretch also had an aromatic peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some peanuts. The monkey was highly curious and with good instincts had started following Stretch on his hike south that day.
“Come here boy, it’s okay,” Stretch said to him. “Want some banana?”
He slowly walked toward him about fifteen feet and laid half of the peeled banana, half the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some peanuts down for the monkey and went back to the shelter. The monkey, wary, but hungry, retrieved the food and devoured it eagerly. He jumped up and down and waved to Stretch, grinning like little monkeys do.
“See, I told ya. It’s ok little man.”
So, the monkey followed Stretch home.
About six miles down a red clay dirt road from Stretch’s trailer and a couple roads over, on the way in and out of there, was a biker bar called The Boondocks. It was built with green painted cinder blocks and had no windows in the front but did have a heavy iron-clad door. There were usually 7-15 Harley Davidson motorcycles parked out front. Inside it smelled like beer and cigarettes. You could get a Schlitz or a PBR in there or some kind bud or crystal meth too if you had the urge and knew them. Other than that, they had four pool tables they gambled on, a couple topless waitresses, a juke box loaded with classic rock, metal, and country and they sold hamburgers and hotdogs from a little kitchen behind the bar. Sometimes they’d cook a pig out back and have a hundred bikes out there for the party. Stretch had dropped in there three or four times and knew the leader and owner was a burly guy with a thick, curly, black beard, two sleeves of tattoos and a deep gruff voice and manner. He was called Osso. That name came from the word for bear in Spanish, oso, as he resembled the black bear of that area. Fit him just right. Osso was mean, but having never been convicted of a felony, had his right to carry license and toted a .45 caliber on his side. He wore jeans and a leather vest and/or leather jacket most all the time and a necklace with a cross on it around his neck.
The monkey ended up moving in with Stretch, who had gained his trust with his gentle ways and the sharing of the food. They became inseparable. The monkey had the word “Ramses” stitched into the inside of his blue vest. Stretch assumed that was his name and he responded to it well so he now knew that much about him. He sure seemed to be a smart monkey. Ramses was intensely curious. God knows where he came from. The day he followed Stretch home he was weak and hungry but after getting stronger and resting he watched with great interest everything that Stretch did. For example, when the generator ran out of gas, Stretch would take a three-gallon jug and siphon some gas out of his motorcycle with a small three-foot hose in the jug and then pour it into the generator. Ramses watched this routine where he put one end of the hose in the gas tank and the other end into his mouth, then sucked until the gas was almost to his lips and then put the end into the jug and it would flow from the tank to the jug. It was not long before the monkey wanted to try it himself. And he jumped up there and did it.
“You go buddy,” Stretch laughed.
One morning, in fact, the generator quit — ran out of gas — a normal occurrence around Stretch’s trailer, without electricity. Stretch went to get his three-gallon gas jug to siphon something out of his bike. But when he went out there, the three-gallon jug was already full of gasoline. Stretch was tripping out on that. Blew his mind.
“How the hell,” he scratched his head.
Stretch poured two gallons into the generator and one in the bike. Ramses just grinned and jumped up and down as he was wont to do when happy or pleased. But then, the same shit happened again. Two days later, the three-gallon jug was full of gasoline again. Stretch suspected Ramses. So that night he snuck out and hid within view of the jug. Around two a.m. he saw Ramses climb out the window, grab the empty jug and take off, not quickly but at a saunter like he was in no hurry. Stretch followed him to the Boondocks biker bar and watched him from the woods, siphoning gas out of one of the bikes out there. He was stealing from the bikers.
Osso, and the other members of the gang, realized before too long that someone was stealing gas from them. They had even gotten Osso’s bike one night and the guys were bitching. They decided to set up an all-night watch to see if they could catch the thief and see what was going on. Ramses, however, was no dummy. He always spotted the hawks out there, watching. He just went to the bike furthest away from the guards and squatted low. They could not see his little ass on the side of a Harley Davidson with a tube in the tank. Then, Stretch got him a little Halloween costume with a set of devil’s horns on a headband to wear at night and a little red silk cape that they sell in the box with those horns to tie around his neck. Ramses was not averse to a new costume and was the perfect little devil.
Well, as you might have heard, one night around three in the morning, Osso himself was on guard duty. He actually saw Ramses, who was playing on the seat with his hands on the grips letting his cape blow in the wind. Osso dropped his cigarette. It was the devil he saw.
“It’s the devil, the devil has been coming. I saw him. Satan’s demons.” Osso shouted inside after about breaking his damn neck getting in there.
He was freaked the hell out. They thought he had lost his mind in the bar. But the next day, he closed the bar down, got rid of all his drugs, quit drinking, gave his ex-wife some child support money, got a haircut, started reading the Bible, and began attending church services on Sundays and a prayer group on Wednesdays.
“I really did see the devil,” he told the preacher as the hair stood up all over his arms.
“Sure you did son but the Lord will save you now. Repent of your sins. God is calling you,” the preacher said.
Ramses had to start going down to the nearest Wal-Mart after that for the gas to keep the generator running. It was a mile further in a different direction through the woods but it was downhill coming back so it was easier for Ramses to drag the full three-gallon gas jug home.