If you walk around any neighborhood or patch of countryside for several hours, you’re virtually guaranteed to observe something lovely, something peculiar, something poignant, or all of the above. On one of my recent hikes in preparation for the WAND, I got all of the above. Something lovely was a waterfall, in a park in the middle of the city, no less. Something peculiar was three young deer snacking on a lawn, also in the middle of the city. I decided to see how close I could get to them, which turned out to be within fifteen feet. “You’re probably going to be killed by a car,” I informed them helpfully.
Something poignant was an elderly woman who had wandered away from an assisted living facility. I thought at first that she might just be going for a walk, but as I watched she paused by a tree and hugged it uncertainly, then continued on towards the main road. I approached her and asked if she lived there and needed help getting somewhere. The confused look in her eyes and her vague answers confirmed that she had Alzheimer’s or dementia. I tried to guide her back to the facility, but she seemed pretty keen on getting off the property. Fortunately, two employees pulled up in a van at that point, with a “There you are, Rosie,” and I continued on my way.
This incident reminded me of how fortunate I am to be of sound mind. During my training over the past several weeks, I have thought often about my good fortune in terms of physical health. It’s not going to be a cakewalk, but I am capable of walking 200 miles carrying a heavy pack. Many people I know wouldn’t last one day on our journey, and age is not the only reason. One of my friends my age has a serious chronic disease, and a two-week hike is something she will never be able to do. When my hamstrings and feet hurt like hell, I try to be happy that I can push them that hard.
But mental health—I am exceedingly lucky to have that, too. None of the many things that could take that away from me has happened to me yet. No infection has left me with brain damage. My mother didn’t do drugs when I was in the womb. No potted plants have fallen off a window ledge onto my head. My mind works the way it is supposed to, and if I uncertainly hug any trees on the WAND, it will be because Google Maps has failed us, not because my mind has deteriorated to the point where I don’t even know where I live. Thank you, Rosie, for a reminder of that.