She wore a bubble gum pink shirt, carried a backpack that towered above her head and held a sign under the lights of the corner gas station in Independence. Billions of stars illuminated the darkened sky. She’s by herself at night, I thought. I want her safe even though I don’t know her.
I made a U-turn in the sleepy town and vaguely thought about that movie where the guy can’t hitch a ride, but the girl can. What if she isn’t alone and a gaggle of guys come out running of the bushes. Nah, what are the chances? I pulled into the gas station and called out, “Where you headed?”
She turned around, hopeful, “Bishop.”
“I got that!” I called back and started chucking the road trip goodies, CDs and other paraphernalia into the backseat. Blond and about mid-twenties, she lugged her backpack and backpacking poles into the space I had quickly cleared and climbed into the front seat. She introduced herself as Heather and told me she was walking from Mexico to Canada alone. Just like the book and movie, Wild, I thought, but refused to say, lest I sound boringly suburbanized.
As we drove the forty minutes, windows down to allow in the warm night breezes, I realized this would be a ride I would never forget. She was an angel of sorts, and maybe I was one for her too. Friends she had gathered back at Kennedy Meadows had caught an earlier ride and were waiting for her at The Hostel California where she was looking forward to a cooked meal and a little city action. I offered her red licorice, thinking it was a rare treat. She sheepishly and at the same time proudly said, “We carry lots of treats into the back country. After a while, all dehydrated food and trail bars taste the same. I like Jelly Bellies, it’s a blast to get a new flavor, like coconut or mango or peanut butter.”
I asked if she felt bad skipping the forty miles that I was driving her. “No,” she replied. “I’ve logged 770 miles so far, the entire trek is 2,700. At work everyone gets a weekend, a time to relax a few days, that’s what this is for me. I started in May and plan to reach Canada in September. I’ve got a job working for Scott selling ski equipment for six months. If I play my cards right, I can start hiking the Continental Divide next spring.”
I thought about how this free-spirited girl living in the ebb and flow of life is like me, just younger, but at the same time, living a feast or famine kind of life and loving it. She sure wasn’t feeling guilty about a lack of a steady career or worried about security, but she actually sounded like she was dreading the next gig. I had to ask her about it.
“Being alone for 36 hours at a time gets you thinking,” Heather said. “When I started this hike I wasn’t happy with my life. But alone in the woods, things sort of iron themselves out and you settle on what’s really important.”
That made me think of Melinda Beth and her dance with cancer and all the lessons that it’s teaching her (and me) about one’s lovability and value in life, despite the fluctuating bank account or what society expects of you. How important it is to follow my bliss, to recognize that what I think people are thinking about me are illusions and my loved ones want me to be happy (same as you), to walk away from the influence of others’ opinions (real or imagined) and let the mask of what I think I should be fall away so that I can shine brightly as my truest self.
Heather’s last words followed me through a three day backpacking trip through Hilton Lakes with Joey, “It’s about your personal contribution, not your monetary contribution.”
As I walked through fields of wildflowers, paths bordered by grass green aspens and Alpine lakes, along running creeks and through pine forests, I thought about Summer Solstice, astrological interpretations from Stargazer Li and Victoria Bearden – all pointing to expanding into my soul self, my lionheart.