(As I try unsuccessfully to come up with a sermon for this week, this is the story that has been on my mind instead.)
We were on our third date when Pure Luck said, “I have to tell you something that you won’t like hearing.”
A number of dreadful thoughts raced through my mind, foremost being, “He’s married!!” Nervously I said, “What is it?”
“In thirteen days, I’m leaving to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.”
“Oh.” I was relieved, but really didn’t know what that meant, exactly. “How long will you be gone?”
He explained his plan to start at the end of July and finish before Christmas.
In the remaining time before the hike, we determined that we wanted to see each other during the hike. We determined that about three weeks in he would be as close to where I am as he would ever be, and we made plans to meet in a touristy town in that neighboring state.
On a Tuesday morning I waited nervously for a phone call. About 8 a.m., the phone rang. He would wait for me in a certain golden-arched fast food palace on the main drag of North Outletville. I hopped into the car and began the 90-minute drive, excited and nervous. We hadn’t discussed our plans at all. Would we spend the day together? Would I spend the night? Would he expect me to camp out? In the early months of this relationship, I was very quiet, unusually quiet, afraid of putting a foot wrong. I packed a bag with everything I thought I might possibly need.
When we met at Golden Arches, his scent reached me as soon as I came through the door. He stood up, thin and tired-looking. It became clear that a shower and a Laundromat were the first priorities of this “date,” followed closely by a good meal! First, a trip to Wal-mart to buy something to wear while the other clothes were in the wash. Then we sat in a Laundromat, waiting and talking, beginning to tell stories of our parents and childhoods we hadn’t yet shared. I remember his leg flung across my lap. After the clothes were clean, we went to Breadstick Hut for his favorite meal.
We went to the grocery store to replenish his supplies. I had the pleasure of watching him move his groceries into ziplock bags and stow them efficiently in his enormous backpack.
Somewhere along the way, we got a room. This was a first for me, staying in a motel with a man neither my husband nor my father. We enjoyed a heart-shaped Jacuzzi, another first for me, and I’m sure a relief to his tired muscles. You see, he crossed an enormous range of mountains all in one day in order to meet me on the appointed day. He came down the mountain in the dark and slept on a bridge, then hitch-hiked to the Golden Arches. If you’ve ever done long-distance hiking, or even known a long-distance hiker, it will come as no surprise that he fell into a deep sleep at 6:30 p.m.
Fine, I thought. He’ll take a nap, and in an hour he will wake up and we’ll go out to dinner. You see, while he was eating pasta and every breadstick in sight, I was pushing a salad around my plate. Many hours later, I was hungry! But I felt sure dinnertime would come, and I read a book quietly.
An hour went by, and then two. I nudged him. No response, other than deep and sleepy breathing. The room was very humid, because we hadn’t drained the Jacuzzi. I considered pulling the plug, but by then I had realized he needed the sleep, and I didn’t want to disturb him.
I thought about eating some of the chocolate chip cookies I had baked for him.
Around 9:30, people began returning to the neighboring rooms. I could hear their TVs, their parties, their fun.
I thought about going home.
I didn’t really know what to do. The early night and the unbreakable sleep didn’t make me feel very alluring, but his affectionate gestures earlier in the day had left me feeling beautiful and treasured.
Eventually, I feel asleep.
He woke up about 6 a.m., refreshed!!
We went out for a big breakfast, for him, anyway. He enjoyed blueberry pancakes. I pushed some more food around my plate. I drove him to the trailhead and got out to say goodbye. Off he went, up the trail, without a word about seeing each other again. I called his name, and he came back to find tears escaping my eyes. He put his pack down. We talked. He promised e-mail and then he kissed me. Salt mixed with the flavors of blueberries and maple syrup. When he strapped his pack on and hiked away again, I was still teary-eyed, but also smiling.
Was it a good date or a bad date? It seemed to depend on how I told the story. I must admit that I teased him for a long time about falling asleep so early, but now that I have done the same thing (right after dinner on Valentine’s Day last year), I don’t anymore.
We were married on a mountain west of North Outletville, and returned there for our honeymoon. One of my favorite moments was driving out to see the bridge where he slept the night before our good/bad date. I guess it was good, after all.
(This is Pure Luck a few weeks later, when we met again. You have to love those hiker thigh muscles! Do you think you could carry that pack?)