Happy summer! Walking outside to let out the chickens this morning, I felt the familiar stickiness of humidity hanging heavy in the air. The cool mornings of June have left for the warm mugginess of July.
Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you are enjoying a bit of summer during this crazy, unpredictable time of COVID-19.
Before diving into my latest post, I wanted to give you some quick updates.
First, I’m excited to share that I will be heading back to school in August. I was accepted into the graduate program at Friends University where I will be working on a MA in Christian Spiritual Formation and Leadership. I knew as soon as I read about the program that it was the one for me. At times, I feel nervous about juggling my job and graduate work simultaneously, but mostly I’m excited about what I’ll be learning.
Second, I’ll be taking what a colleague calls “frequent sabbaticals” in this space for the next while. If you’ve been a regular reader, you already know not to expect regular posts. Thanks for hanging in there with me anyways! 🙂
Lastly, I’m sharing a new piece. Every once in a while, you have an experience that begs to be told as a good party story or, if you’re so inclined, one that needs to be told in writing. I knew right away that I needed to write about this one.
For Dillon and Jamie
When I agreed to backpack a section of the Appalachian Trail with my husband, I knew there would be surprises. No amount of planning and preparation can completely eliminate the unexpected when backpacking.
The hike was hard, more so than I imagined, but that didn’t “surprise” me. The kind of surprise I’m talking about was coming face-to-face with some of my oldest childhood fears.
That was unexpected.
On our last day hiking together, Brad and I needed to hitchhike. The hostel where we planned to spend the night was nine miles from the trailhead and we had no desire to walk the extra distance. Hitchhiking is a common practice amongst backpackers; locals living in New Hampshire and Vermont routinely offer lifts to hikers. Brad assured me we would be fine.
I hadn’t spent the last week of our trip worrying about hitchhiking, but now that we were actually on the side of the highway and sticking out our thumbs, I felt some nervousness. I had never done this before.
I think in extremes when I’m scared or nervous. Thoughts like, what if we are picked up by a serial killer or what if an escaped convict gives us a ride and holds us hostage crossed my mind. Out on the trail, we often had cell phone reception, but at this moment neither of us had any signal. If something happened to us, our kids would have no idea where we were.
It took several minutes, but eventually an older, rust-colored car slowed and pulled over. An adult male opened the door on the passenger side. As he exited the car, he moved awkwardly as if something was in his way. Brad jogged forward to greet him. The man had long blonde hair and wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes—just board shorts. He explained that they didn’t have a lot of room, but they were happy to give us a lift. He introduced himself as Dillon. Watching this exchange, I felt low-grade anxiety building in my stomach.
Dillon looked harmless, but suddenly I had a flashback to one of my childhood fears about people with long hair. At the time, I thought people who had long hair were rebels and might do bad things, like kidnap young girls.
We managed to squeeze our trekking poles into the crowded trunk, which was filled with black trash bags. Dillon told us not to worry about the dog in the backseat, but to push him out of the way. Opening the car door, a huge, brown dog stared back at me. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t bother me. Our family owned a dog for ten years. But there’s something nerve-wracking about pushing a massive creature out of the way, especially one that you don’t know and who doesn’t know you.
Somehow, Brad and I managed to wedge ourselves into the backseat with our packs on our laps and a 100-pound dog sitting between us. I noticed that a woman was driving the car. Dillon introduced her as Jamie. Also, sitting on the floor on the passenger side in the front seat was another huge dog. We said hello as she peeled out onto the highway. I held my breath and said a silent prayer. Like Dillion, she was dressed in beach attire.
Over the next ten minutes or so, we made small talk with Dillon and Jamie. We told them where we had been backpacking. Eventually, Dillon asked us what we did for a living. Brad told him we were teachers at a school in New York. As a follow-up, I asked Dillon and Jamie what they did for a living.
Meanwhile, the 100-pound dog squished between Brad and me had begun to shift his weight towards me more and more. His head was literally as big as my own, and he casually rested it on the top of my pack. His face was inches from mine. I saw flashes in my mind’s eye of the dog ripping off my face with one bite. Stay calm. Dogs can sense fear I told myself, avoiding looking directly at the dog, which I knew could be viewed as aggression. It was hard not to, though, in such a cramped space.
The next few words out of Dillon’s mouth caused my heart to beat even faster and my stomach to drop. In response to my question, what do you do, Dillon responded, “We pick cannabis buds.”
As in, they harvest marijuana. I had NO idea how to respond to this statement.
Without missing a beat, Brad kept the conversation going, knowing I was FREAKING OUT. He asked about the growing conditions for cannabis, and when was the best time to pick it, and how much sunlight cannabis required, acting like this was normal, everyday kind of conversation. All the while he’s chatting with Dillon and Jamie, it dawned on me that the garbage bags stuffed in the trunk were probably filled with marijuana.
We hitchhiked with drug dealers!
I will be forever grateful for my husband’s ability to talk to people and his ability to ask questions. At times, when I’m tired and want to leave a party or head home from an event, this trait drives me crazy. But, in this moment, I thanked God for Brad’s gift of conversation, promising never to complain about his gift for gab if we survived this car ride.
A few minutes later, we pulled into a gas station and extracted ourselves from the car, thanking Dillon and Jamie for the lift. Weak with relief, I wobbled on shaky legs to the convenience store to buy some drinks, fear and adrenaline releasing from my body with each step.
Once inside the store, I turned to Brad. Did he know that I had just faced some of my most frightening childhood fears in the span of ten minutes? Riding in a car with a man who had long hair? Riding in a car with strangers? Let alone, riding in a car with strangers who also sold drugs? He could barely stop laughing as my shaky voice spluttered out my list.
As he continued to laugh, I realized, though, that he had missed a key detail. He was seated directly behind Jamie, the driver. What I could see from the angle of my seat and he couldn’t was that Jamie wasn’t wearing any clothes from the waist down—just a bikini top and a fishnet cover up. If Brad was laughing before, he could barely contain himself now.
We hitchhiked with nudists!
Standing in the drink aisle on that hot July day, a revelation dawned on me. I had faced fear and was on the other side of it—intact and unharmed. Certainly, I had been afraid. But, I was okay. Those childhood fears, which were so real and so vivid as a young girl, were no longer so threatening and intimidating as a grown woman.
Refilling my cup with another round of Diet Coke, I was able to identify a truth that eluded me up to that moment: fear distorts reality. Fear turns us into irrational beings, unable to think and see our circumstances with clarity or reason. Situations are blown out-of-proportion—as in, every person who picks up a hitchhiker intends to cause harm. This isn’t to say that fear doesn’t serve a beneficial purpose. It can give us the adrenaline rush we need in a crisis. It can caution us—causing us to pause before acting. But when fear debilitates or makes us immobile, it is no longer helpful. How long had I carried around those unhelpful fears?
Walking the final blocks to our hostel, I continued to replay the events in my mind, the last remains of adrenaline leaving my body. With each step, I felt a surge of newfound self discovery—a realization that I had come full circle and shed a final vestige of childhood. Something else struck me too: we’re never too old to learn about ourselves. Thankfully, not every lesson comes to us in the form of a hitchhiking tale. As nervous and unsettled as I had been, I was grateful for this experience. My childhood fears were not the undoing of me.
Walking up the steps to our hostel, the skunky smell of marijuna wafted out the open window. Knocking on the front door, we waited until a man with long hair opened the door.