NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST
– J.R.R. TOLKIEN –
Forests, rivers, wanderers in pickup trucks.
A man with a cardboard sign stands on gravel across the road from a bar called the Plantation, a Chinese restaurant that smells like stale cigarettes and an unfinished church office, all on the same corner. My brain goes off on a tangent that I believe was caused by the Chinese restaurant. Something about how the one downtown is better because the manager is kind and pretty and the wonton soup tastes even better when it rains… Before I can continue on to puddles and wet hair and all the best things that come with rain, the truck jolts and I’m back by the bar, the Chinese restaurant and the church office. My dad is pulling over…
With a smile and a nod, the hitchhiker jogs up to our Ford.
“Hey, do you mind riding in the back?” my dad asks pointing to the bed of the truck.
“Not at all, man! I’m trying to get to McCall.”
“Alright, we’re headed that way, hop in.”
My dad gets out to help the man and his bike safely into the bed of the truck. I just smile and wave. Dad helping out wanderers is commonplace. Honestly this bearded roadside guy appears to have more figured out in life than I do. He can say with complete confidence that he would like to go to McCall. I can say with complete confidence that I would like to go… somewhere with coffee…? Or without coffee. I really don’t care at this point as long as I get somewhere.
There are a few things I learned about this man along our journey: His name is Steve. He had just completed biking the state of Idaho when he met us. He has a friend who is also named Kira. He likes the way she says, “Keep it real, always.”
As we drive I glance at our wanderer in the rear-view mirror. He’s looking around, eyeing Idaho and all her beauty. She’s a curvy broad with her rolling hills in all the right places, flowers at her feet and birds in her hair. Staring at her is a given for anyone who is not blind.
The road continues on to the winding Lewiston grade. I think I’d be scared if I were in the back of a stranger’s truck, rushing past so many semis and clunkers turn after turn. But not this guy… If he ever had a worrier’s mind, he let it go a long time ago. He has the look of someone who’s known peace not just as a passerby but as a close friend.
When we drop him off in McCall, he still seems genuinely grateful, even though he just spent hours in the freezing wind, sitting on bark in a truck bed. What matters to him his that he’s made it to his next step. He’s that much closer to home in Oregon.
As less than inspired conversationalists, my dad and I speak to him briefly and without much intention. Then my dad shakes his hand and hitchhiker Steve walks out of the gas station parking lot and down the sleepy streets of McCall.
“Sorry I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say to him,” my dad says to me as we climb back into the truck.
“I think helping him and saying nothing is better than saying the right thing and doing nothing.”
“Very true…” he replies, “That was deep.”
“Any deeper and I’d need scuba gear.”
I smirk. The line about deep conversation requiring scuba gear is from another traveler he once met along the way.
“Keep it real always…” I say in my best Steve voice.
“Keep it real always,” he laughs.
And we wander on.