Some memories are stronger than others.
Some kindnesses stand out amongst the many received.
And when it is impossible to pay such kindnesses back, one tries to pay them forward. But it can take a long time to do so properly.
Last week, after 36 years, I finally offered a kindness very similar to one I received in 1977.
The symmetry of the two circumstances thrilled me.
Sheltered from the wind.
As a gift for graduating high school, my parents sent me on a three-week cycling tour to Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Nova Scotia. One of our first days was spent crossing PEI from Summerside to Souris where we would pick up the ferry to Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, which are actually part of Quebec. After crossing the hilly interior of the island I was looking forward to the flat road along the ocean. Unfortunately, there was a head wind. A big head wind.
I remember struggling against that wind. Grinding along slowly in first gear on my white, 10-speed Peugeot with the sound of the ocean crashing and obliterating all other sounds.
Our small group of ten cyclists became separated. I was at the end, of course. With the wind blowing the sound away, I was late to notice a pickup truck come up beside me. On that deserted road, it unnerved me, but only for a minute. The driver, a farmer, quickly explained that he had come to get me and four more. And there was another farmer picking up the other five in the group.
Each truck took five of us to their respective farms. With exceptional hospitality, they fed us food they had grown and fresh milk from the cow. And then they drove us to our destination. Yes, their kindness is a vivid memory that has stayed with me all these years..
Carried over the Great Divide.
On the last leg of my RV tour of the American southwest I drove from Durango to just outside of Denver, Colorado. (Thanks to Cruise America for providing the RV for this trip.) Many people told me how treacherous the first stretch of this trip would be so I set out, somewhat anxiously, very early in the morning.
A while after this stretch, just past Gunnison and before the Monarch Pass which is located on the Continental Divide, I passed two cyclists just starting the climb to the Divide. And then I passed a sign saying that they had another five miles to go to the summit which has an elevation of 11,312 feet (3,448 m).
I immediately thought about those kind farmers who helped us in 1977. But then I thought that maybe this couple wanted to summit the mountain themselves. Finally I decided that the choice should be theirs. Whether to ride or cycle to the summit was up to them. So I found a safe place and turned the RV around, drove past them and turned back again to come up beside them. After rolling down the window I asked if they’d like a lift. The answer was a definite yes.
I want to be clear: there were two reasons that I felt it was safe to pick them up. First, they were not hitchhikers. Second they were cyclists. In my experience, cyclists are good people.
So much in common.
On our four+ hour drive to Denver, Gabby, Christian and I discovered that we share a lot in common. They have a blog in German called Sabbatical Aussteigen Auswandern where they recount their travels and promote a minimalist life style. They encourage people to understand and take control of their finances so that they can live the life they want. And they live what they preach. And I live in fairly a similar fashion.
In addition, they are vegetarians. This made having dinner together easy. We collaborated on our meal and the next morning, when I was scheduled to return the RV, they took what food I had left that they could carry and then gave the rest to another German family in the site beside us.
The people I meet are always the highlight of my travels. This was certainly the case with Gabby and Christian. But the opportunity to finally pay forward the kindness of 1977 properly made my meeting of them even more special.
Funny how such things coincide.
Two days prior to my meeting of Gabby and Christian, at Mesa Verde, I met a woman who was desperate for double A batteries. Her camera batteries were dead and she wanted to take pictures of the amazing ruins in this beautiful National Park. I was pretty sure that I still had a couple of batteries rattling around my carry-on so we set off to find out. I did and I left her very grateful and with a functioning camera.
The next day, the day before leaving Durango and meeting Christan and Gabby, I met her again in a coffee shop. She wanted to pay for the batteries, buy me a coffee, anything.
I said simply: pay it forward. .