Tallahassee, FL – January 2, 2013
I walked Giulia as far as I could, past the ticket counters and the gift shop full of Florida merchandise, down the long, empty corridor of Tallahassee’s airport at 6 am. I walked until I needed a ticket and a photo ID to go any further, then gave her a big hug, and said goodbye. The line moved slow–people taking off shoes, emptying pockets into plastic bins, stepping through metal detectors–but I stood and waited, watching her inch away from me until I felt silly standing there and I walked a bit away, turned, and stood again.
I love being alone. I’ve traveled for almost seven months on my own. I’ve spent days where I didn’t see a single person. I’ve gone a week talking to no one but Frank and Ali, and Ali never says anything. But I also love crowds and I’ve never felt lonely. I’ve met hundreds of wonderful people. Made friends I hope to keep throughout my life. Shared dinners, slept in houses, and ran around playgrounds with grandkids. Every person I’ve met has shared a piece of the trip, a slice, a glimpse, a few moments, but Giulia was different.
We listened to the weather radio because we had to deal with whatever came. We found perfect beaches because we slept on the sand. We woke up to look at the waves. We watched sunsets paint the sky and stars fall and burn. We read the ingredients to instant mashed potatoes and we ate them anyway and they tasted delicious because we had been out for three nights. We divided up our chocolate bars and parceled them out one by one. We crossed bays and found calm water. We jumped out of sleeping bags to make breakfast in the cold air. We set up a tent and waited for a storm. We listened for rain. We packed and unpacked boats. We spent Christmas with Captain Lori and Mike and we marveled at how delicious pecan pie is. We hid from the wind. We explored abandoned forts and watched dolphins play. We floated in the Santa Rosa Sound with a broken rudder and waited to dash for shore.
“Tell me a story,” she said, just before the rudder broke as the waves turned the edge from fun to nasty.
I didn’t know what to tell her so I started telling her about every day on the Pacific Crest Trail because I felt so alive out there that I can still remember the first days one after another after another.
“Day one,” I said. “I hiked to Lake Morena and ate ice cream. Day two, I hiked to Mt. Laguna and felt cold. Day three, a snowstorm caught me in the desert and I learned that a snowstorm is a poor time to figure out how to set up a tent. Day Four,…”
I talked until the rudder snapped and we crashed on the beach and laughed about how terrible I was at telling stories. Then we dragged the boats across sand to a parking lot and called home.
“I am certain,” she told me later, “that years from now, if someone was caught in a wave storm and needed a story, I could begin: the first day we waited out a storm at Lori and Mike’s, putting on mermaid tails and eating pecan and cherry pie; the second day, we braved the chop, saw killdear that were actually plovers, and landed on a white sandy beach just as the sun was making the most incredible sunset….”
For five days, Giulia got every bit of the trip, not a glimpse, not a moment, not a bite. She got days swallowed whole, spines and all. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss knowing someone else understands all the little pieces.
She slid her bag onto the x-ray machine, walked through the metal detector, and turned one last time to wave goodbye. I lifted my hand into the air. She put on her shoes and disappeared.
Damn, I thought, I should have slipped a knife in her carry-on.