“Because I Can…”

My birthday was last week. I invited several people over for a little gathering because I did not want to spend the day alone (yet again). Because it was a long weekend, many people were unable to attend, but the ones who came made it a very special day for me. I didn’t expect anyone to bring anything except for a little food or drink to share, so I was very surprised and touched at the cards that I received with such loving and meaningful words. And even more surprised that several people wanted to donate to my upcoming five-month long hike! The person that made the biggest donation was a woman who I have known for the least amount of time. I felt stunned and very grateful, and when I thanked her the following day, she reminded me that I was the one who had put the suggestion out there, and that she had given me the donation because she could.

These words, “because I can”, reminded me of something I did for a person I met on my thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. During the time of my hike, there was a mountain bike race from the same starting and ending points of my hike. It was a self-supported race, where the riders sleep as little as possible, and race throughout the night and day. On the tenth morning of my hike, after having hiked alone the entire time, a rider, carrying his bike over the train tracks, walked towards me as I stood on the trail, snacking on a power bar. It turned out that he had started the race two days earlier than the main pack and was doing the race on a time-trial basis. He told me that he was completely broke, and that he had run out of gas money on the way to the trailhead and had to have his brother wire him money from Japan. He said that he was going to try to make it to Durango with the $80 remaining in his pocket. I was completed astounded at what he was telling me. How can someone feed themselves for over 400 miles of effort, on $80? At first, I thought that he was going to ask me for money, but he did not. He ended up walking his bike alongside me for about 2 miles until we came to the trailhead where I would attempt to hitch a ride 11 miles into the town of Leadville for my next resupply. Along the way, we told each other stories about how we feel protected on the trail. When we strip away all of our comforts, and become our most vulnerable and exposed, we discover that our needs are somehow taken care of. He had debated for awhile, whether or not he should do this race with so little money available to him, but he kept receiving the message, “Go and you will be taken care of.” And so he went.

At the trailhead, when it was time to go our separate ways, I offered to give him $20 because I had the money. He declined, telling me that my company was more than enough. We exchanged contact info and he asked if I could take some of the extra food he was carrying, and mail it to him further ahead on the trail. I bought some extra snacks for him in town, wrote him an encouraging postcard, and mailed off the package (although he did not end up picking it up).

We didn’t connect again until I was near the end of my hike. He finally told me why he had no money and I also learned that his 40th birthday was coming up, and that he would be spending it alone. So, upon arriving home, I bought him a (hopefully inspiring) Pema Chodron book, made him several CDs of some of my favorite music, wrote him 2 birthday cards with uplifting quotes, re-sent him the package of food that had been sent back to me, and wrote him a check for $100 so that he could enjoy his birthday and not worry about where he was going to get money to pay his next bills from.

Coming from a family that was always financially strapped, where the word “money” brought such fear to my father that he could not help me with any math homework that involved money, where my siblings and I had to start working jobs at age 11 to help pay my mother’s bills and pay for our own clothes, I have always had to rely solely on myself, knowing that if anything happened to me, I had no one to turn to. (My father has not communicated with me in over seven years, largely because of his irrational fear that I will ever need something from him…). Luckily, I learned to budget my earnings well. I almost never go out to eat, I don’t drink, and I don’t spend money on entertainment, which is what has allowed me over the course of many, many years, to be able to fund my long hikes. I knew at the time of my Colorado Trail hike that I would be losing my job and source of income soon, and that my PCT hike was going to cost a lot of money. My first instinct was (as always) to hold onto the money I have, knowing that I will be spending my savings extremely quickly, with no plan as to how I will earn my next dollars to pay my own bills. But I knew that at that moment, I had enough to share, and I wanted to help a person who was in need. Even though I knew that I might soon be in a position of needing help, at that moment, I understood that I was in a position to give help. I did it because I could.

And then, unexpectedly, when my birthday came around, the universe returned to me exactly what I gave to someone else by way of some amazingly loving people who I met by doing what I love. And so, I am learning that by simply relaxing and releasing my grip and fear around what I think is limited and lacking in my life, only then can I be open enough to receive what has always been around me in abundance.

Thank you so much to each person who has written me a card, offered me a hug, or given me a gift! It all means so much to me and I am very grateful!!

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