Like any real adventure, mine didn’t start smoothly. Originally I had planned to leave Monday morning, but on Sunday I realized I still had many necessary arrangements to prepare, so I decided to postpone my departure by one day. Many people fall into a trap once they postpone something, and I nearly decided to delay by two, or even three more days, just to make sure “everything is ready.” But the truth is that you can never be ready for everything, since the universe is infinite in its surprises, and we are very finite creatures. You have to prepare your body, your mind and your tools as best as you can with the time you are given, and then, with a roguish smile, cast yourself in the void of the unknown.
When my parents dropped me off at the intersection of Hunt Highway and Empire Boulevard, the air was cool and the sky was clear. They were sad to send me off, but the call of adventure couldn’t be ignored, and after a last round of hugs, kisses, and goodbyes, I set off for Florence. My mother, bless her soul, tried to give me a huge 3-foot long umbrella to use as sun shade, but I gently told her my hat and clothes would have to do. Bring one tool for every situation, and soon you’ll find yourself pinned by the weight them.
The first few miles were uneventful, and mostly involved me adjusting to the weight of my pack and secretly considering if I made it too heavy. About three hours in, I stopped in a Walgreen’s to buy some wet-wipes, and to use their phone to contact my friend’s aunt Debbie in Florence, who offered to let me stay at her house for a night. By this time I had also developed a blister on my right big toe, so I had to lance, drain, cushion, bandage, and tape it while sitting on a bench near the storefront. Getting a blister after only nine miles into a twenty-four mile hike that is increasingly becoming hotter and hotter, is a disconcerting sign, but I had to trust in my healing skills and press onward.
After I had gone about 13 miles, I encountered a “Welcome to Florence” signpost that gave me confidence I would reach my destination on-time and with water to spare. Although I couldn’t see anything other than desert and sagebrush down the road, I saw it turning out of sight a few miles up ahead, and assumed I would soon be in the town proper. And after coming out of that turn, a hospital lay to my left, representing many various metaphors of healing and respite. But the hospital also had a very non-metaphorical, very large “EMERGENCY” sign on one of its walls, and it turns out the place could also foreshadow my future as well.
Hot, tired, and reeking of sweat, I shuffled into the (curiously) empty lobby, and filled up my water containers after drowning myself in cold fountain water. But, thinking that I was within a couple hours of Debbie’s house, I decided not to fill my big 70oz water bag, to save weight and get there a bit faster. A great idea, a fantastic idea, one that could only be weakened by a second “Welcome to Florence” sign three miles later, and then crushed by a “Florence – 5 miles” sign two miles after that. By now it was 6pm, I was nearly exhausted, and only a cup of water left in my pack. I tried to ration it, like how one would sip an ill-tasting cocktail their earnest friend made for them at a party, but unlike the previous simile, it lasted far shorter than I would have liked.
As doubts began to fill my mind and I confronted the growing existential terrors consuming my thoughts, such as Holy Christ, am I actually going to walk to New York?, my pace had slowed to a steady limp, and I was getting a headache from dehydration. Now, three miles isn’t that far to go when the sun has nearly set and the air is cooling down, but I realized I would be over an hour late (as Debbie and I were expecting each other at 7:30pm), and that would mean I might fall out of her good graces, and I would not have enough time to update my websites and get enough sleep to continue tomorrow. Plus I was really, really thirsty.
Shamefully, after much debate, I took off my pack, and began hailing the stray passerby’s for help. Hitchhiking, as an art form, hasn’t been practiced by nearly anyone in decades, and my only real knowledge of it comes from PeeWee’s Big Adventure, so when sticking my thumb out like a moron didn’t work, I resorted to a kind of slow, two-handed wave that transitioned into pointing at an empty water bottle in my hand. After a dozen or so vehicles passed me by, finally a police SUV flashed its lights and pulled ahead of me. I asked the officer for some water, and he, (after running my ID to make sure I “wasn’t an axe-murderer”) offered to take me to Debbie’s house. I swallowed my pride and agreed.
A few minutes later, I found myself at Debbie’s doorstep. But since I was now actually 10 minutes early from hitching a ride for the last three miles into town, I laid out my sleeping pad and napped on her porch until she came home. The old tales say that kindness to strangers is one the highest virtues, and in that regard Debbie was very virtuous indeed. I had a cold bath and a hot shower, two awesome roast beef sandwiches, a clean bed, washed clothes, internet access, and food for my pack, all without asking anything in return. If only the rest of the world was this kind to each other!