A few days ago, I wrote about the most trail-magical experience of my life, my meeting Acton’s Teresa and Laurie. The experience touched Ant, Pine Nut, and me deeply, and we thought about it often in the miles from Acton to Mojave. It helped us through tough days, when Ant’s feet refused to cooperate, when I came down with a fever, when we were simply foot sore and road weary.
We thought that the goodbyes we’d wished Teresa and Laurie at our parting were at least for a year and hoped they were not permanent. Imagine our surprise when we turned on our phones in the middle of the woods and found an invitation to return to Teresa and Laurie’s!
As though the message were a friendly reminder from the Universe that all would be well, we received it on a particularly difficult day, when Ant’s feet were keeping him to a very slow pace and when he and Pine Nut were pushing themselves to get to Hikertown, a quirky hostel where Ant could rest. At mile 500, we celebrated for a moment and consulted each other about how to respond to the invitation; some easy consensus calculus elucidated how very excited we all were at the thought of returning to Acton.
It was the incentive of camaraderie and relaxation at Acton that spurred us all on to Hikertown and motivated Pine Nut and me during our epic 30-mile day and the next day of hiking. On the day we were to meet Teresa in town, Pine Nut and I hitched in early and enjoyed the bustling metropolis that is Mojave; we went to the post office and a donut shop and then filled two carts with food at the grocery store and sat out front of the closed library enjoying food, shade, and 4G service until Teresa arrived.
Seeing Teresa again, I was suddenly shy. The last eight days had been trying, and I was covered in dried sweat and desert filth. Apparently, she didn’t care about any of that. Teresa approached Pine Nut and me with open arms and wrapped each of us in a hug before helping us load our groceries into her truck.
Before long, we were catching up on stories from the time that had elapsed since our last visit as we drove back to Acton via Hikertown to pick up Ant. An hour later, we were back in Teresa and Laurie’s beautifully-smelling home, taking turns showering and eating Laurie’s world-class zucchini bread and chopping veggies we’d purchased for a cookout we’d planned with our hosts.
As evening fell, the five of us gathered around a table out back and ate one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. I savored veggie burgers and hummus and veggie shish kabobs and a giant salad with avocados. Perhaps even more than any of that, I relished the conversation. Sitting in the glow of the lantern, looking at the faces of four kind, genuine people I’d come to love, I marveled at how it is that people can come into our lives and touch us deeply, changing us forever.
What if I hadn’t needed to spend a week in Warner Springs on antibiotics?
What if I hadn’t worked up the courage to sit down with Ant and Pine Nut there and strike up a conversation?
What if I’d fallen back into my old habits and dashed off once I’d left town?
What if the KOA had let me charge my phone and I hadn’t hitched into Acton with Ant and Pine Nut?
What if we hadn’t been sitting out front of that post office at the exact moment that Teresa pulled up?
The next morning was spent logistics planning and doing standard zero day errands, but the afternoon involved a pancake cook-off of sorts (in which I simply enjoyed being an indecisive taste-tester), swimming, another fabulous dinner, and Doctor Who. Our dinner conversation stretched well into the evening as we talked about everything from our pasts to our futures. As we asked Teresa and Laurie for their thoughts and advice about such disparate things as adopting children and traveling and finances, it seemed at though we’d gained a pair of aunts sometime over the weekend.
That feeling only increased late the following afternoon, when Teresa and Laurie drove us back to the trail and hike almost three miles north with us. As sunset approached, there were lots of hugs all around as we wished each other the happiest of trails.
When we left Teresa and Laurie’s the first time, I’d thought of them as trail angels. I’d treasured the time I spent with them, but that was in large part due to the trail magic they created. Hiking between Acton and Mojave, I’d thought about the shower and food and Doctor Who time I’d had at their home.
When we left their home the second time, no longer were Teresa and Laurie simply the best trail angels in the world. They’d become friends. Tearing up in the kitchen at the thought of saying goodbye, I tried to express to Teresa how much knowing her and Laurie had meant to me, but I’m not sure whether I could adequately put the sentiment into words. I still doubt whether I can.
Instead, I’m going to rely on the words Stephen Schwartz wrote for the libretto of Wicked, words that I once wrote in the most sentimental trail register on the Appalachian Trail as I thought about the friends I’d made over the summer:
“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason,
Bringing something we must learn,
And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them,
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true,
But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.
Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun,
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood,
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”