On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
Like the previous 49 weeks, Theresa Waskey, my hiking companion for the 50th hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” followed me to the AT trailhead off Route 77 and parked her vehicle. She jumped out of her car, reached for her backpack and then… BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP and lots of seizure-inducing flashing lights! “OMG!” I shouted over the unexpected, ear shattering loud noise. “What in the world is that?” So began a very memorable but wonderful hiking adventure. It turns out, Theresa had accidentally dislodged the pin in her bear alarm/personal safety device. Trust me, that noise would scare off “would be attackers” and disgruntled bears for sure! It took a minute or two for Theresa to find and insert the pin to stop the alarm and when she did, we laughed ourselves silly. “Oh boy,” I said. “This is definitely going in the blog!”
As we crossed the road and started down the trail, Theresa commented on the bright blue sky and, standing side by side, we took a moment to appreciate the softer, more gentle light of the December sun. That’s when we started laughing all over again! Theresa, looking down at the top of my head said, “How tall are you?” Regardless of what my doctor says, I am five feet tall and have been my whole life! I am NOT shrinking! I can’t help it if my doctor needs a new nurse, one that knows how to measure height! Theresa, who is almost a foot taller, and I stood side by side as we took a selfie in the field that over the year has been covered in deep snow, abundant wildflowers, dried milkweed, and bittersweet berries. From our diverse vantage points we may have seen the world differently, but it was a joy to have our perspectives appreciated. Gosh, isn’t that what we all want, every single day?
I had never met Theresa before our hike, so it was super fun getting to know each other. I’m curious by nature and she didn’t mind answering a bazillion questions, so it was a win-win kind of day! Despite being born in California and living in South America and Maryland until she was twelve, Theresa considers herself a mid-westerner because that is where her parents were from. Eventually, when she was twelve, her family moved back to Illinois where she lived until she was 25 years of age, which explains the slight mid-western accent I detected. After attending Quincy University, a private Franciscan university she moved to Colorado and eventually back to Maryland. Boy, in comparison, my life seems a little boring. In almost 65 years, I’ve lived in exactly two states: Pennsylvania and Maryland. Big whopping deal!
While living in Colorado, Theresa lived the “great outdoor life,” hiking, camping, mountain climbing, biking, skiing! You name it; if it was outdoors Theresa enjoyed it. When she moved to Maryland, she thought she’d never hike again. As Theresa explained, “There were no 14,000-foot mountains to climb, no Pikes Peak from which you can see five states.” But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Theresa, yearning to be outside and to safely connect with others, discovered a different kind of beauty on the 80 miles of trails through the Liberty Reservoir Watershed near her home in Carroll County. We bonded over our increased appreciation for nature due the forced lockdown caused by the pandemic. I shared that “I have always enjoyed hiking but probably never would have started “A Year of Hikes” if it hadn’t been for COVID.” We chatted about the impact of the pandemic and acknowledged that tragically almost a million U.S. citizens have died because of it. Despite the pain and suffering caused by COVID, we agreed that it forced us and many others as well to reevaluate our lives and appreciate some things we had taken for granted.
For the past couple of weeks, my hiking companions and I had seen lots of huckleberries scattered across the trail. Not so this week, unless you count the digested berries, we saw in the animal scat on the trial and near the lichen-covered wall. It’s fun to see the world through another person’s eyes, to try to see what they see, to experience the world from their perspective. I’ve taken photos of the lichen-covered wall every week for the past year, but until Theresa explored the different textures of the moss and lichen with her fingers, did I do the same. And when I got within a few inches of the wall, I realized it looked completely different. Up close, to me, the lichen and moss looked like a modern painting that belonged in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or maybe a microscopic image of life, the kind that you can see on Popular Science’s website.
Heading toward the powerline field, I asked Theresa about her childhood. She is the second of five children and was raised in a close-knit Catholic family. Theresa became emotional as she talked about her father dying of brain cancer in his late 40’s. She said through her tears, “No matter how long ago he passed, I still miss my Dad every day but especially this time of year. My father’s birthday was in December and I feel his absence more keenly during the holiday season.” When I asked Theresa if she had advice for others missing a loved one during the holidays she replied, “It’s okay to miss your loved ones and to be sad. But it’s important to know that your loved ones will always live in your heart. You are never truly alone.” I took a picture of the sun filtering through the tall, leafless trees, creating patches of brilliant light and dark shadow. I thought that’s how it is this time of year when we remember and miss our loved ones…we feel their presence and absence, we feel light and dark at the same time.
As we approached the incline toward Warner Hollow Stream, I asked Theresa, who wears a knee brace, about her injury. She hurt it years ago and has endured three surgeries with less-than-optimal results. Theresa said, “I’ve just decided that I’m not going to let it stop me from doing what I want to do. I might do it a little slower but I’m not going to miss out on any activities that give me joy.” Taking Theresa picture as she struck the “strong woman” pose, I thought, with her “can-do” attitude and determination to live life on her own terms, Theresa would make the perfect poster child (or should I say poster woman) for Prime Time for Women!
We made it down to Warner Hollow and since the sun was shining and making us feel warm and cozy, we stood by the stream and chatted about Theresa’s career as a Real Estate agent and her side-gig with ZYIA Active, an online clothing outlet that specializes in sporty and casual styles for women, men, and kids. Theresa explained that she started selling ZYIA during the pandemic to connect with others who like outdoor activities and because she loves the way the clothes look and the way they make her feel!
As we headed back up the hill, we realized each of us had taken a trip over Thanksgiving to a National Park, Theresa to Joshua Tree in California and me to Big Bend in Texas. We shared stories and our favorite memories. Theresa loved learning about the Joshua Trees, which aren’t really trees but cactus that can live to be a hundred or even a thousand years old! At one point driving through the park, Theresa, who is a tree hugger, made her husband stop the car so she could hug a gigantic Joshua Tree! Naturally, she hugged a big, beautiful tree on our hike, too! I told Theresa about hiking the Lost Mind Trail in the Chisos Mountains, kayaking on the Rio Grande River and my husband’s brush with a very mean cactus! Though in different parks, we both felt lucky to experience a fascinating variety of plants, animal habitats and surreal geologic features. In fact, at the same time we both said, “It looked like we were on another planet!” Ahh, it’s nice to share a story and know that you are heard and understood.
Almost back to the car we started talking about our Christmas plans. My sons, their wives and all five grandchildren will all be coming to our home for a few days! I can tell you this, “Yaya can’t wait!” Theresa never had children, so she’s thrilled her husband’s grandchildren have adopted her as their very own TT (Tee Tee)! We laughed about the weird names that kids call their grandparents. My sisters go by a variety of grandmother names including: Meme, Mim, Yaya, Zsa Zsa and Nana! Our conversation reminded me of when students at our local elementary school were invited to write the name of their grandparents on a small square of fabric for a quilt to celebrate Grandparents Day. I still remember my favorite one, “Grampa Stinky!”
As we exited the woods the sun was even lower on the horizon then when we started. With high wispy clouds overhead, the sun’s rays seemed to radiate out like the giant star it is. Saying our goodbyes and expressing our gratitude for the time spent together, we turned our back to the sun, and took a photo of our shadows. Our shadows touching at the shoulders seemed to be the perfect reminder of the bonds we formed and the support we offered to one another. Thanks, Theresa, for a great hike!