Today’s Miles: 17.5
Total Miles: 3,131.3
Pforzheim, Germany – December 2, 2016
The sun was bright that day, I remember that. I remember her green van passing by as I held my thumb out. I remember her face, framed in the square windshield, her smile, her brown hair in the light, her rainbow tinted sunglasses, the white coat of her dog sitting shotgun. She looked like summer distilled into a person.
I frowned down at my hat when she didn’t stop. Then I laughed at ever thinking she would. Pretty girls never stop for hitchhikers.
I don’t blame them.
But her van came back like someone had rewound the tape, same color, same sunlight, same bright face in the window, but this time she stopped and I realized I didn’t know as much about pretty girls as I thought.
I remember the drive up together, still strangers, but spilling our stories out, each word inching us past the mutual fear and hesitation of hitchhiker and driver until we both forgot all the bad stories you hear from the scared world. We rumbled north past the ocean, past rocks, rolling across the tundra toward the end of the continent.
“We can walk together if you want,” I said in the parking lot.
I remember the trail to Knivskjelodden, the green tundra, the rocks, the land whittling down into the sea. I remember laughing as we reached out to touch the water at the northern tip of Europe, the seaweed making the rocks slip under our feet, and the long cross-country trek to Nordkapp.
There were so many people there, hundreds crowded around to see the midnight sun. We waded in together, dirty and tired among a sea of visitors who drove RVs and cars, who arrived in giant buses from cruise ships, who still smelled like fresh soap. I think that’s where we became friends, in those crowds that reminded us that we were no longer strangers.
We stayed until the crowds left, the two of us huddled against a building to block the wind. I remember sharing cookies for dinner, teaching her my trick of smashing a spoonful of hazlenut-chocolate spread in the middle, and her telling me that they made a special noodle dish called spätzle in her part of Germany. Then we snapped pictures and walked the road back to her van.
It was long after midnight as we walked, but I remember the sun still blazing in the sky, the Arctic on fire with its golden light, a herd of reindeer grazing near the road. I remember saying goodbye in the parking lot, giving each other a big hug, and wishing each other luck on our journeys.
“If you’re ever near Florida,” I said.
“If you’re ever near Stuttgart,” she said.
The train doors opened and I stepped out, walking along the platform in a crowd of people. They were all coming home from work and smelled too clean for me. It’s been five months since Nordkapp. Five months to the day. My backpack felt out of place in the crowd. I felt out of place. I walked along in the flow of people, feeling alone, then she was there, in front of me, an old friend running to give me a hug.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Miriam said.
I stared at her, thinking back to Nordkapp, to that single day we spent together at the top of the Europe, to that moment she trusted me enough to pull over. How far Stuttgart felt that day.
“I can’t believe it either,” I said.
“Come on, my family’s excited to meet you,” she said. “We’re making spätzle.”