Total Miles: 2,771.4
Near Kleinenburg, Germany – November 13, 2016
I met them on an old road along the slope of a low hill. Trees hung above us, their brown leaves breaking away and swirling down in the wind to cover the trail. Below us, a green, frost-bitten field stretched out to an old farmhouse.
They were an old couple out for a walk. The man with tufts of white hair sticking out of his cap. The woman with a bent back, short steps, and a cane. They’d just turned down a side path when I passed, the old man a few steps ahead of his wife as she smiled at me and said something in German.
I stopped and smiled at her, apologizing and asking if she spoke any English. She shook her head and kept smiling at me, then said something else in German. I answered in English without really knowing what she said.
She pointed down the trail and said something else. I looked back from where I came. I tried to think of the last town I passed through then gave up.
“Norway?” I said, pointing north. “Norway?”
She looked at me strangely. I grabbed a tuft of my beard and pointed again.
“Norway,” I said.
She nodded. I nodded. I made my fingers walk across the air as my other hand pointed south.
“Spain,” I said. “Norway Spain.”
Her face stared at me in confusion.
“Spain?” I said again pointing south and walking my fingers in the air. “Norway Spain.”
Her face lit up. Her smile glowed. She turned and yelled at her husband, something something Norway something something Spain. He smiled and his face glowed. Then he waved at me and said something in German. I waved back. She turned and looked at me and said something else in German.
I shrugged, helpless, wishing I knew even a few more words. She held her arms around her and shivered.
“Yes, yes!” I said, copying her shiver and smiling. “Cold, very cold.”
She looked worried so I pointed to my backpack and pretended to wrap an imaginary blanket around me, then drew a tent in the air, and held my hands to my cheek like I was sleeping.
“Warm,” I said.
She nodded, smiled at me, said something else in German. I smiled back, not sure what to say, knowing I didn’t have the words. We never really got more than Norway and Spain, but it was enough for me, that smile, that excitement, the way her eyes brightened with wonder and joy.
She hasn’t been on this trail for five months. She hasn’t grown used to the grind, to the miles, to the cold. She hasn’t forgotten the adventure of it. It was all there in her smile, the wonder in her eyes, the joy on her face, all there to remind me, to inspire me forward, to make sure that I also didn’t forget.