The trail rose up in front of her. The sun beat down on her back. Her already burnt shoulders cried out to her. She ignored it and pushed through. A few more miles and she would make her destination. It was important to have goals and keep them. And this one almost cost her her life on more than occasion. The dog ran ahead of her and over the cusp of the horizon. Sarah picked up her pace to keep her eye on her one constant companion. As she crested the hill, the expanse of the valley laid before her. It was everything she imagined. The mountains stood majestically beyond the valley. Just a little further and she would be at the hikers lodge with hot food and after food, a hot shower. She could smell herself and didn’t blame Aggie for running ahead.
She checked in with the host and was assigned a bunk. After first checking out her sleeping arrangements, she made her way to the shower house. She let the water run on full hot. She cringed as it hit her shoulders but after a few minutes her body became accustomed to the assaulting heat and her aches and pains started to fall away. She had to remember to take an ibuprophen. Her phone, sitting on the chair outside of the shower stall, sounded the alarm and she knew her ten minutes of showering were coming to an end. She was all on board with conservation but would have liked just five more minutes under that hot water. She hurried, dried off and got dressed. She would have to do laundry in the morning. Her bags were ripe with the smell of the trail. She found a tank top, slipped it over her head and threw on a pair of running shorts. The evening was hot, the shower was hotter. More clothing that that would be too much. She stopped back by her bed and then made her way to the dining hall. The aroma of stew and bread was almost more than she could stand. After a week of granola, pouches of tuna and dried fruit, some real food in her stomach would be a welcome treat. The other guests were seated already and as she made her way into the room, a nice middle aged man scooted over to allow her the room to sit down. Introductions were made and one of the other hikers offered her wine. He had hiked the trail before and he and Gwen, the host, were familiar enough with each other that he mailed her a few bottles of wine to enjoy upon his arrival.
Shower, food, wine, conversation, like-minded people. If she were to look up Zen in the dictionary, Sarah was sure a picture of her in this setting, with these circumstances, would be staring back at her. Smiling. And she realized she was doing just that. Smiling. It had been a while. And, although her time on the trail had been one on introspection and reflection, she had not allowed herself a moment to enjoy the adventure she had found herself on. Until now. A man, in his early 30’s, sat down next to her. He was the one who had the forethought to send wine ahead. His name was Stephen. She watched him as he made himself comfortable in the oversized chairs on the porch. He was elegant. How could someone look so put-together all the way out here, after traveling so far, and on foot even. His blond curls were damp with sweat, the laughter from the table had been a workout. His blue eyes were still twinkling with mischief as he smiled at her. “New York?” She smiled, everyone loves to hear about the city so nice they had to name it twice. “Not originally. But yes, New York.” “Where before that?” “Everywhere. I lived in a small town that I left within days of turning 18. I volunteered to help build homes in Haiti instead of going to college. I fell in love with a much older man who also volunteered and when his wife showed up I packed my broken heart up and headed back stateside. Graduated from a small college with a degree in journalism and then started bouncing around from magazine to online blog to newspaper to Johnny-on-the-scene news reels all while trying to decide what my direction should be in life. One morning I woke up and realized that I had so few possessions I could fit them in my small SUV, which I did. My lease was up, after all. I put that SUV in storage not too far from the start of this trail. And here I am now, chatting with you.” Aggie decided to take notice of the stranger and lifted her head from her comfortable place next to Sarah’s chair to sniff at his hand. Unimpressed, she lowered her head and went back to sleep. “That is an impressive resume, if you ask me. My story is a little less charming.” He stopped to take a sip of his wine and then smiled “I lost a bet.”