It was only eight o’clock in the morning, but the humidity was already thick – as thick as the swarm of gnats hovering around me. Sweating profusely, I continued plodding over the rock-strewn terrain, which for the past several days had rendered my feet into hamburger. I had been warned earnestly by other hikers about the rocky trail in Pennsylvania and so was expecting this; however, I was rather disappointed that upon crossing into New Jersey that the rocks didn’t suddenly and magically vanish. The trail had beaten me down, but there was still a slight spring in my step this morning, all because of the promise of a hearty breakfast and a hot cup of coffee awaiting me just a mere six miles away at a diner located just off the trail. And so I trudged on, doing my best to ignore the throbbing of my feet and the constant, maddening buzz of insects in my ears.
As I reached the road crossing, I could make out the diner in view just to the west. Temporarily forgetting my fatigue, I nearly skipped to the building. And in an instant, I stood there, crestfallen, in front of the restaurant. “Closed! They can’t be closed!” I exclaimed aloud to nobody in particular, but the “for rent” sign in the vacant building made it very clear that it was indeed closed. I disburdened myself of my pack, dropping it carelessly on the ground, and crumpled down onto a rock by the roadside and moped. It may seem silly to you that I would be so dejected just because a little local diner was out of business, but at that moment – amidst all my physical and mental weariness – that one seemingly small disappointment was a major blow to me. Had I been able to, I would have stopped hiking for the day right there at that road crossing.
As I sat there, downcast, a fellow thru-hiker approached me. A kind gentleman in his sixties, he introduced himself as “Lucky Dog” and asked if he could pull up a rock beside me. He, too, was greatly disappointed by the closed diner that had held such promise to us tired and hungry travelers. We had a nice chat, and, by the by, I came to find that he was from the same area I grew up in, and we had a lot in common between us. He additionally let me know that a bait and tackle shop a little further down the road had cold Gatorade for sale, and while it didn’t provide the same kick as a freshly brewed cup of coffee, it was some consolation at least. As I sat outside of the shop, savoring the ice cold beverage, a mother and her two young daughters came by.
“Oh my, look girls at her big pack. She’s out hiking!” The mother explained to the girls, then addressing myself asked, “Are you out hiking the Appalachian Trail?”
“Yes, the whole thing, God willing,” I replied.
“Whoa! Are you serious!? How long is that?”
“In total, about 2,200 miles. I’ve made it about 1,300 so far,” I explained.
The two girls, about five and seven in age, looked at me and my gear with growing curiosity. At the end of their inspection, the seven-year-old officially declared, “That’s cool!”
After asking a few more questions, they wished me the best with the rest of my journey and went on their way. I couldn’t help but smile after my encounters that morning. At one minute I was throwing a rather grand pity party, and the next several strangers had come by to lift me up. Sure, a nice hot breakfast and coffee would have been nice, but it’s those random interactions with others whom I would have never met otherwise that I most cherish. Life is full of unexpected obstacles and disappointments. But if you don’t allow yourself to get so tunnel-visioned on a specific set of expectations, you may find that there are bigger and better things just outside of your blinders.
Until our paths cross again,