#8 Greg the Hiker
A Bar in Lake Tahoe
Strangers always talk to each other in bars, so what made this "stranger encounter" stand out?
Greg was not a Lake Tahoe tourist or a local, stopping by for a drink. He was a hiker who had just finished a 26 mile day.
Quiet October Evening
My husband and I were watching the 2011 World Series at our hotel bar when Greg walked in.
He juggled two trekking poles a pack, bed roll and a steel water bottle. He had just stepped off the "Tahoe Rim Trail" and was looking for a food store before bedding down for the night. Billy, the bartender welcomed him in and poured him a complimentary beer. Greg moved towards the stool gratefully, but took a few minutes stretching his weary muscles before settling down.
It seems like anyone who hitchhikes from Fresno, California to start a 165-mile hike that loops Lake Tahoe at elevations up to 10,338 feet... might be a loner.
But Greg was animated and chatty with our small group. He paused a few times to absorb the baseball on TV. He seemed a bit nostalgic when he mentioned how very different he and his Dad were, yet they always enjoyed watching sports together. I had a feeling there was a lot more to that story.
Billy offered to microwave some leftover gourmet mac-n-cheese for Greg. After devouring the steamy dish, Greg offered to pay for the kindness by helping Billy with a furniture moving chore. It was pretty cozy inside, as temperatures were dropping to freezing outside. I kept wondering how it would feel to go back outside and sleep on the ground after hiking a marathon.
In the following days, Don and I hiked a number of trails in the area and I couldn't stop wondering what it would be like to hike alone.
If I didn't have someone to chat with, would I talk to myself? Would I sing, or write stories in my head? Would I ever be afraid? (yes) Would I make up games like kick the rock or count the birds? Would I think more of the past or the future?
On our last day in Tahoe we drove I-80 towards Tahoe City. There was a moment when Don and I both gasped to notice a figure beside the road, hitchhiking in a red shirt. Don braked and turned the car around to greet Greg who had finished his Rim Hike. He was heading home to Fresno, the opposite way we were going. We wished him luck and got back on the road.
Thanks Greg! I've done a lot of hiking since we met you 9 months ago. There's always plenty of thinking time on a hike, and you often come to mind when my feet get into that rhythmic mode. You make me stop and wonder about solitude. You seemed to appreciate it. I'm sure you've had many adventures and much to ponder, since we met you!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers