An unsettled beginning…

July 20, 2012

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After only four hours of sleep, I woke up at 4 in the morning to shower, eat, and catch the early train to Boston to make my way to the airport. Instead of taking my last few hours at home to prepare my backpack the night before, I chose to spend a bit of time with an old acquaintance that I had just recently re-met. He had promised that he would see me before I left for my hike, but did not fulfill his words. Because I had had the expectation in my head for weeks, I didn’t feel complete without the time with him, so I didn’t get on the 8:30pm train home and stayed in Boston instead. My acquaintance was extremely distant during this time, so it wasn’t a pleasant couple of hours, but the mission was fulfilled. On the train ride to the airport the next morning, I regretfully realized that I had forgotten my headphones (with the microphone for an occasional Skype call). And then I realized I had also forgotten my tweezers, a pen, Arnica for muscle pain, gum, ibruprofen (my period was about to begin! What was I going to do without ibruprofen?!), and the english muffins and bagels that I was keeping in my freezer. Oh, dear… I should have taken the proper time to pack. That would have been the better way to spend those last couple of hours…

My flight was delayed and I wished I could have taken a later train in order to have had a little more sleep or packing time. During the flight, I was seated next to a man who was reading a mountaineering guide. This was the first time I had ever sat next to someone where it was apparent we had something in common! He was headed to climb the Tetons- real technical climbing. I would just be walking. He was jealous that I would be out for five weeks, though. Although I tried to empty my bladder several times before boarding the plane so as not to make my neighbors have to get up, it only took a half an hour into the flight before I really had to go again! Apologizing, I excused myself. My neighbors unbuckled their seatbelts in turn and stood up to let my by. I walked down the aisle to the rear of the plane to find the toilet occupied. As I waited, the flight attendant at the front of the cabin jumped on the loudspeaker and called out, “Passengers standing in the aisles- immediately go back to your seats! You are putting yourselves and your fellow passengers in danger in the turbulence!”. I looked back at my seatmates and saw them staring back at me. With my hand on my forehead, I looked down at the floor and sheepishly made my way back to my row. (Why do I always get in trouble for the most innocuous things?) My seatmates unbuckled their seatbelts and stood up again to let me back in, all unnecessarily. A couple of minutes later, the seatbelt sign went off and they stood up again to let me out without even asking. I spend most of the remaining time on the flight asleep.

As we arrived and waited to de-board, the man in the row behind me pointed to the seatbelt sign and said, “It’s off. You can get up.” Thanks…

After picking up my monstrous pack (“don’t mind me everyone”), I eventually found my way onto the bus into Denver. I needed to pick up a canister of fuel for my stove, as well as a lighter, both of which are not allowed on planes. And so, I had to spend the night in the city at a hostel. I was surprised to see the flat, brown, desolate landscape. Where were the mountains I would be climbing? I wanted to see the mountains like I could see when I flew into Switzerland! As I emerged onto street level from the bus station, the sunlight immediately burned my eyes. I suppose it was the dry air. They watered and watered and turned red and I wondered how I would be able to hike like this. (This was one reason why hiking the PCT worried me… I had damaged my eyes on the AT and every day now, they water and are very susceptible to dry air and wind). I put on my backpack and began to walk along the hot shadeless city streets in search of the hostel. It was far away… A girl pointed to me, calling out to her friend, “Hey. Look at her! It looks like she is carrying her house on her back.” In fact, I was. The hostel was not air-conditioned. This was one of the hottest and driest summers on record. Many people were complaining in the city. After setting my pack down, I walked back into town, finding a Walgreens to buy a bottle of ibruprofen, and then hopped on a bus that would bring me closer to REI. A man asked me if I knew what time it was. I told him and after mumbling something, he asked me if I worked here (dressed in my hiking clothes, carrying my smaller stuffsack as a purse, I really stood out…). “No,” I told him. “I just flew in from Boston. Tomorrow, I am going to start hiking from here to Durango.”
“Where?” he exclaimed. “Oh, that’s a long way! 3 1/2-4 hours.” I told him that it was 486 miles and that it would take 5 weeks. “Are you an athlete?” he asked. “No,” I answered. “I’m just a regular person.” He told me that he once had a teacher who wanted to climb K2. He subsequently did some research and discovered that many people had lost their lives trying to climb that mountain. The following day, he asked her why she would want to do that. She answered that it was what she desired. It was what made her happy. Too many people don’t do the things that make them happy. Even if she died trying, it would be worth it. I told him that is why I hike long trails. “What will you do when you are finished?” he asked. I told him that next year, I would walk the PCT from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. “Wow! You walk full-time! You ARE an athlete! That requires training and discipline and dedication.” I thanked him. The bus doors opened and he stepped off. I remained where was I was, smiling and waving goodbye to him. He kept looking at me… “Aren’t you getting of?”
“Oh, is this the last stop? Then I guess I am!” I walked with him for awhile, not having any idea which direction the REI was.
“I’m Calvin. What’s your name?”.
“Wendy”.
A smile spread over his face. “Wendy? That’s a nice walking name!” He thought for a bit. “Maybe you will meet some people who are headed in the same direction”, he continued, “and hopefully”, he added, “they’ll be genuine people.” (It was almost if he knew about my troubles on the Appalachian Trail…). He told me that he was finished with the active part of his life and that now his life revolves around work and school. He asked me if I had a partner, and when I told him no, he commented that that wouldn’t bring me happiness. “The guy would expect you to stay home, push out babies, and walk them in a stroller. That’s all the walking you’d be doing!”. He said that I should do the trails now- when I’m young. He then asked if I would be coming back to Colorado. He said he wouldn’t be able to walk far with me- maybe just from the bus stop, but that he would enjoy “conversating.” I stopped to check my GPS to point me in the right direction and we headed our separate ways. “I’d like to stay in touch” he said. Calvin- my first companion in Colorado.

I made my way to REI, bought my fuel, sat down for a snack and coffee at Starbucks and texted my acquaintance back home to tell him my new story. It was Friday evening in Boston, and he was drinking. What started as a friendly chat suddenly turned 180 degrees. On a dime, I was being railed into. My smile turned to tears and confusion. What just happened? I packed up and headed back into town to buy a pen and a lighter and find some dinner. I called my friend, Laura, still crying, hoping for some reassurance. She didn’t answer, so I left a message. But she didn’t call back. Another friend had urged me to eat at a Mexican restaurant while in Denver. I asked the cashier for a recommendation. The restaurant had loud music blaring, the food was awful, and my tears wouldn’t stop. I was alone in a city that I had no desire to be in, and couldn’t understand why a friend would say such harsh things to me when all I do is try to be supportive. I headed back to the hostel for a night of hot, restless sleep. This is not how I expected my journey to have begun…

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