On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
When the doorbell rang during the first week of December, I answered the door to find Stacie Mullenix, my hiking companion for the 48th hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail”, on my doorstep smiling like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Inviting her in while I put on my hiking boots, my husband, who met Stacy the same time I did back in 2005, said something like, “Oh my goodness, between the two of you there won’t be a moment of silence on the trail.” Spoiler Alert: He was right!
The weather was perfect for an afternoon hike…blue skies with the kind of clouds that as a kid I used to imagine seeing all my favorite things: horses, ice cream cones and ocean waves. As Stacie and I started across the field that leads into the woods, we recalled meeting each other for the first time at Gold’s Gym walking side-by-side on treadmills. We didn’t know each other but if you see the same person at the gym at 5:30 each morning, it’s safe to guess you might be kindred spirits. We started talking and never stopped…well, occasionally we would stop long enough to catch our breath and lift a few weights!
It was great to spend time on the trail with Stacie catching up on all that had transpired since we last connected when she was single, working full time, attending graduate school, and just starting to date a wonderful man. Fast forward ten years…Stacie completed graduate school, married that wonderful man, and is pursuing her career as a Rehabilitation Specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education. I had a bsillion things I wanted to ask Stacie, but she kept asking me questions! “Wait,” I laughed, “Let’s take turns! Me first. When did you get married and how’s it going?” Stacie shared that she married her husband, Dan, a pharmacist, seven years ago and they are extremely happy and fulfilled. Marrying at 40, Stacie doesn’t have children but that gives her and her husband time to focus on one another, pursue their careers, travel, and spoil the heck out of her younger nieces and nephews! When it was Stacie’s turn, she asked how long I have been married and how many children and grandchildren I have. I told her that the boy I met in 7th grade and I will soon celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary, that I have 5 amazing adult children living life on their own terms and five wonderful grandchildren who every day fill me with joy and wonder!
As we continued down the trail, we talked in-depth about own personality traits and recognized that the same characteristic can be both an asset and a liability depending on the situation. We share similar outgoing, talkative personalities, which makes it easy to connect with others and put people at ease. However, we admitted that sometimes it is clear we are just a little too much for some people. We hooted, laughed, and expressed gratitude for the men that we married for they, at least most of the time, appreciate our loquacious natures! My conversation with Stacie reminded me of a poem by Nikhil Niks Mishra who wrote, “She was a chatterbox. He was a listener. ‘Do I speak a lot?’ she asked worried. ‘Obviously not’, he replied with a smile. Little did she know, her voice was his favorite stress reliever.”
The trail was a little tricky to navigate in places because the rocky path was completely covered in downed leaves, making our footing uncertain at times. Heading down the incline toward the lichen-covered rock wall, moving with gravity, I was grateful to have my hiking poles which gave me more confidence as the leaves made for a slippery surface. The most unusual aspect of our hike compared with previous weeks was the number of wild huckleberries on the trail…they were everywhere! This week I decided to taste them and, it turns out, they were quite sweet, I’d even go as far as to say they were delicious! If each berry hadn’t contained a hard seed, I might have even brought some home for later.
I asked Stacie about her family and she told me that she has one sister, Susan, with whom she is very close, despite being 16 years younger. She described her parents as very loving but strict, at least with her. Then she explained that Susan didn’t need nearly as many rules and as much guidance as she did…hmm, sounds like some stories there! Stacie asked if my parents were strict and about my parenting style. I would say, that growing up in a family of nine children, there were a lot of rules and very clear expectations but also lots of love and support. According to my own children, I was the “mean parent”, the one who called to make sure an adult would be home if they were going to a party and required them to be home by the designated curfew. It is interesting that Stacie and I and all my adult children now appreciate what was once resented as teenagers. Hakuna matata!
Stacie described herself as an “old soul” or maybe even old-fashioned. “I’m not on Facebook, I wash my dishes by hand, my faith is very important to me and I love cooking old family favorite recipes, like chicken pot pie,” she said. When I asked Stacie what advice she’d want to share she said, “Kindness matters, and regardless of your beliefs, it’s important to live your faith in service to others.” As Stacie struck the strong woman pose, her words resonated with me. As she pretended to lift the tree, I appreciated Stacie’s strength of purpose and resolve to be kind to others, as well as her contagious smile.
The stream at Warner Hollow could be heard before it could be seen. I pointed out some of the damage done by Hurricane Ida and told Stacie about the trees that had come down but have since been removed, thanks to members of the Mountain Club of Maryland. We posed for a few pictures and then headed back up the hill. Climbing the incline, we discussed books, those we are currently reading and the ones we can’t wait to read. Stacie mentioned “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, which I had read years ago. In his book, Dr. Gawande, through honest and riveting stories, makes the case that the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life- all the way to the end. My mother very much agreed with Dr. Gawande and at 86 years of age decided against a second round of cancer treatment in favor of living life to the fullest without the side effects of chemotherapy. It’s crazy the things women wind up talking about on the trail, but I said to Stacie, “At almost 65 years of age, I know I have more days behind me than in front of me. I plan to follow my mother’s example.”
Toward the end of our hike, we talked about our in-laws. Stacie didn’t get to know her mother-in-law as she had passed before she was married. I told her that if there was an award for the World’s Best Mother-In-Law, mine would have received it. Ann Wagner was kind, supportive and never judgmental. She wasn’t just interested in her grandchildren; she was interested in me, too. With the sun low in the sky and our shadows making two short women look very tall, I reflected on how intimate and powerful conversations on the trail can be and how they can remind us to follow our own best intentions. I thanked Stacie for being my hiking companion and then I went home and, following Ann’s legacy, called my daughter-in-law just to ask how she was doing…and then I made chicken pot pie!