From the ‘Check it Out – Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy’ chronicles, this new series is born of a desire to put a face on Who I Was Before I Was A Mom for my kids so that some day, when I’m an old crazy person with a bad reputation of being The Troublemaker at the Home for Cool Old Folks, my kids will be forced to remember that I wasn’t always old and gumming stewed yams.
In 1997 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Most of you know this for, as long ago as it was, it was one of those deeply affecting sort of things that to this day I still can’t help but blather on about. Too many amazing things happened on that trip to not want to share them once in a while. This is one of those stories:
A little backstory – the AT is a 2180 or so mile-long trail that goes from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME, or vice-versa if you happen to be going south-bound. At 25 I found myself on this trail hauling a 35 pound pack 15-30 miles a day. It is a grueling trek, not in the ‘escaping a gulag and hiking 4000 miles across barren tundra with no gear and no food’ sort of way but in a deliberate, acutely, frivolously American sort of way. It’s physically and mentally challenging, facing day after day of hard hiking in all kinds of weather, whether you want to or not. Because failure is not an option. It’s like going to work with a lot more calorie burning.
As you plod along you hit roads, many of which hold the promise of taking you into happy little towns that abound with Places that Sell Food. You can only carry so much, you see, so regular trips into these towns is a necessity. You get into these towns, down these interrupting roads, by sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best.
Now, as a woman hiking the trail alone you’d think that I would have had more opportunities to take my solo female chances at road crossings, and yet when I came to the road that would deliver me into Waynesboro, Virginia, it was one of the few times I found myself alone in the venture. It is a very social trail and you often find yourself in good company at such an intersection. Alas, I hit the road without my crew, stuck my thumb out and waited.
The first vehicle that came by pulled over. I watched dubiously as the world’s oldest running pick-up lurched to the side of the road and rolled to a stop. I walked up to it like a kid turning the knob on a jack-in-the-box and took off my pack to throw in the back. As I did so I went to climb in after it when this crazy little toothless cajun guy got out of the passenger side and screeched ‘NO GIT IN THE FRONT!’ I blinked at him and said ‘oh no thank you sir, I’m happy to ride in the back’ you know, so that killing me is that much more of a logistical problem. He said adamantly ‘GIT.IN.THE.FRONT’. It was just one of those moments where you have to roll the dice, make a command decision and hope you don’t end up dead.
I got in the front.
He stood by the door so that I could get in. Yup, not only was I to Get In the Front, I was to Sit In The Middle. Driving the truck was what appeared to be a 100 year old woman who glanced at me not unkindly though silently. As she eased the ancient rig into drive her little cajun companion started hollerin’ immediately ‘PUMP THE BRAKES, PUMP THE BRAKES!’ The road into Waynesboro, you see, is down a steep hill from the pass at which I had emerged from the trail.
Realizing that the most likely cause of death on this ride would probably be mechanical instead of human-inflicted, I did my best imitation of Relaxing and Enjoying the Ride. As we rolled along, in between yelling PUMP THE BRAKES, my cajun companion reached down underneath our seat and came up with, you guessed it: a gun. Tired and resigned, I looked at him and asked ‘are you going to SHOOT me?’ He laughed hard, flashed his big toothless smile at me and said ‘NAW, the LAW likes me to keep this where they can SEE it.’ He set it on the dashboard where it jiggled precariously every time the brakes were pumped.
I watched in wonder as my little buddy then went under the seat – I just couldn’t WAIT to see what came up next – and brought up a dirty plastic cup which he handed to me. Yummy. One more trip under the seat and out came an ice cold 40-ozer. He unscrewed the cap, filled up my cup and hollered ‘DRINK UP! YOU LOOK THIRSTY!’ Did it matter that it was 10:30am or that the cup was of Unknown History? You bet your ass it didn’t. I chugged that beer because goddamit I WAS thirsty and I was trapped between an ancient driver and a gun-totin’ Cajun in a truck with no brakes going down the longest hill in America. Holy crap.
Sooner or later the road stopped careening downward and we rolled into town. They asked where I needed to go and I told them ‘anywhere in town is fine.’ He said ‘NO. Where do you NEED TO GO?’ I reluctantly told him as I knew it was out of the way. The delivered me right to the doorstep and adamantly refused any money for their trouble. He shook my hand and I his and he said ‘now you be SAFE, understand?’ I promised I would do my best (seeing as though the world is kind of a crap shoot) and I watched them lurch back down the road. Before I stopped watching, their truck turned off the road and into a parking lot where I saw that a woman had the hood of her car up and her hand on her hip looking lost. The cajun and his ancient lady-friend pulled right up, hopped out and started looking at the woman’s engine. I knew that she was in good hands.
The trail revealed to me on so many different occasions that People Are Good. It pushed my trust-o-meter a little bit further into the green and filled my heart with bottomless gratitude for the kindnesses I received. Was I very lucky that things turned out the way that they did? Of course. But that luck was delivered at the hands of human beings who were just out to be selfless and kind.