One of the most astonishing experiences of this walk has been that of serendipitous providence, by which I mean being serendipitously provided for. I’ll be in need and, almost magically, a stranger from out of nowhere or a set of unforeseen circumstances will save me. A strange string of perfectly aligned chances, all the mysterious conglomeration of untraceably infinite decisions and happenings. One great example: I needed a haircut by the time I got to southern North Carolina. Planning on getting the job done in Charlotte, I decided to remain a bit unkempt through the small towns approaching the city. Two days before I arrived in Charlotte, however, a man, Lee Taylor, pulled over on the side of the road before passing me. “Walking to listen,” he said of my sign, “What does that mean?” We had a lengthy roadside chat on life and purpose and God, and eventually it came out that he lived exactly where I was going to be finishing my walk the next day. It also came out that he was a world-class, top-of-the-line hairstylist – like, people-flying-in-to-have-him-style-their-hair hairstylist (check out his website at www.leetaylor.weebly.com). Lee invited me to stay with him, and as he was driving away he said, “Plan on a haircut.” Sure enough, Lee made me beautiful.
Providence struck again yesterday. The heat has been stressing me out ever since I crossed into Texas. I’ve been anxious to get a cart as soon as possible to make things easier, but I decided I’d wait until Austin to make the transition easier. That meant, of course, prolonging my relationship with the backpack, which is to say, my sweaty, stinky suffering. Fast forward (or rewind?) to yesterday, 2:30 pm. I’m in the middle of one of the most beautiful stretches of walking I’ve seen since Pennsylvania. The wildflowers are erupting in flowery celebration and if you listen you can almost hear the reveling in their colors: soft pinks coo, softer lavenders whisper, scarlets and sapphires howl happily with their bold red neighbors, yellows and azures warble a harmonious duet, burning desert orange – the fat Viking warrior in this dramatic opera – nails the climactic high note. It’s sunsets and treasure chests and rainbows on the roadside. The names of these flowers spoken aloud is enough to put me in a trance: prairie paintbrush, Indian blanket, bluebonnet, goat-foot morning glory and golden-eye phlox.
I take my peanut butter and jelly lunch under a bridge where a flight of swallows have made their mudnest homes. They circle the bridge above and dive below, weaving so delicately between the cement columns underneath, never making a false move, always adapting to the flight patterns of their fellows. Cars pass overhead, oblivious. Rather abruptly, I feel ready to move on, so I do, which puts me in exactly the right place at the right time one hour later. Just as I’m crossing a group of mailboxes and a long dirt driveway that disappears into the low hills, a pickup pulls over and stops. It’s Peter McMinn, a member of the family who lives on the ranch here. He’s just finished up a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail a few months ago, so he’s inclined to helping hikers on the road having been the recipient of so much generosity himself during his four and a half months on the trail. Sure enough, Peter says I can stay on the ranch if I’d like. “Yes, I’d love that,” I say after thinking about it for about half a second.
And here’s where the providence really kicks in. It turns out the local REI puts on an unadvertised scratch-and-dent sale four times a year, pennies on the dollar for some incredible (and incredibly expensive) stuff. The next one is tomorrow morning. “Maybe they’ll have your cart,” Peter says. So at 8 pm, I join Peter and his friend Ben to camp out in the parking lot to make sure we’re in the first group of 30 let in. A night of diner cinnamon buns and glaring white security lights, the doors open this morning, and sure enough, there he is, marked down $250: Bob, the jogging stroller, the letters “B-O-B” flourished extravagantly across his bright orange umbrella cover. Perfect. Even more perfect that there were two Bobs, because right after I claimed him, a young mother, baby in arm, rushed up to seize the other. I would’ve hated to have had to fight a mother for a baby stroller. No doubt I would’ve lost.
Oh, and I’d be remiss to forget that two new friends, Susan and Deanna, generously gave me some money to help pay for the cart two days ago. It was exactly Bob’s price.
So, it’s all gratitude as always from me. Sitting here on the swinging bench at the McMinn’s ranch looking out at the yellow and white fields, just having taken a horseback ride, about to take a swim, Bob sitting in the driveway…thank you.