I know this lady, I said to myself but my mind needed a moment to place her. “Is it you?” I questioned.
“Is it you?” she returned the question with a rather stunned expression.
“Susan?” At this point I knew it was her, and I was utterly surprised. I knew there was purpose in coming here for breakfast after all. Waking up in my tent, I was debating whether to just hit the road or seek breakfast here at Red Meadow, the small village in the Inyo National Forest, adjoining Devil’s Postpile National Monument. After much back and forth, I decided to take the short drive from my campground to the Mule House Cafe. Here in the village I noticed a little general store, cabins, showers, a lot of backpackers from the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Cafe.
I opened the door on the small cabin of a restaurant, and immediately I was greeted with this familiar face, but it was only familiar from the internet. In real life, face-to-face, it was all new. Susan was one of my most devoted social media followers. She, whether she knew it or not, had been a great encouragement to me as a writer.
In the Spring of 2017 I decided to start sharing my adventures in the National Parks and the beautiful wild in a blog online. I took matters quite seriously and strategically at the time. I created blog entries regularly. The earliest of ambitions was to post every day. I shared my writing not only on my pages but I joined the largest National Park and hiking fan groups online. I considered these my networks that “aired” my “episodes.” My posts would always need to be approved by administrators of the groups, and they always were, up until winter 2020 when the administrator of the largest group of hiking enthusiasts banned me from their group. Perhaps it was something I said in my writing that the administrator took issue with, among my open, honest recollections on the trails involving both the physical and the spiritual. It was also very popular at the time, and remains quite common today, for people of certain ideologies, who assume power, to silence opposing viewpoints and completely reject and attempt to isolate those whom differ.
Despite the unfortunate event of being banned from this group, it is here I came in contact with Susan, a fellow group member. She would always read and comment on things I posted, and not just on the group page, but on the other snippets of thought I shared on my own personal pages. We were very different yet at the same time so much alike. For starters, I am young enough to be Susan’s son. A substantial age gap lies between us. We grew up in different times and different places. She has experienced a lot more out of life than I. Although I had not yet met her until this moment, I had such high esteem for her and there seemed to be a distinct connection between us that would take some time and study to understand fully.
Susan was my waitress in this little Mule House Cafe in the Red Meadow village. We shared our pleasantries and surprise and she led me over to the counter on the far end of the small cafe. The term “far” is gracious for it was quite a little place. There I sat on one of the brown leather backed stools that swiveled, and I rested my elbows up on the shiny faux wooden counter. Before me stood a wood paneled wall with a shelf of cups, a clock, a few framed photographs of mountain vistas, and taxidermied heads of a buck and black bear.
It was such a surprise to meet Susan here for more than one reason. I knew she was living in rural middle Nevada, so I was by no means even considering she would be here. Despite that, she had also been on my mind recently, for as I was planning my trip I was thinking that if I ever were to drive across Nevada again, I would want to stop and meet her.
Why did such a gal, that one would perceive so different than I, command so much thought from me? The simple answer is that it was Susan’s authenticity, but let me explain further. We had messaged a bit back and forth and found we shared some great things in common, our Faith in God, our belief in the power of prayer, our sense of adventure, and our eye for natural beauty. Radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager on his Happiness Hour has talked quite a bit about the value in finding “kindred spirits.” He describes them as people that share the same values as you in life. He claims it’s kindred spirits that bring mental well-being and contribute greatly to happiness to our lives. I knew quite early on that Susan was a kindred spirit of mine. That was a way to describe our connection.
I ordered my breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage, along with a coffee. Every once in a while, as Susan checked up on me, or had a moment, she stopped by the counter to tell me more about herself and feed my inquisitive nature. I thought she was born and raised in Nevada but learned she was originally from North Carolina and had spent most of her life out West in some of the states where only the strong and well-suited survive such as Alaska and Montana. She worked among hearty, productive, and laborious jobs in mining, lumbering, and construction, even helping with the building of the enormous Libby Dam in Montana! She worked secretarial jobs and drove haul trucks. She worked for the National Forest Service and seven years as deputy of a jail. As I learned the whereabouts and general overview of her life, she said something that in the moment both broke and resonated with my heart. On the topic of family, she said, “I got married forever. He just forgot to tell me he didn’t.”
I could see such strength but also sadness in her eyes. Although I never have been married, what Susan said resonated so deeply with me, in regard to relationships with others, largely in terms of friendship. I, by nature, tend to be a very private and reserved person in public, but when I befriend someone, it’s quite a meaningful thing for me. I only let people in my life, into my inner circle, that I plan to keep forever. My sense of loyalty is strong, and I can be quite particular as to whom I invest my own life in. Sadly many of whom I have considered friends have blown away with the wind, or I’ve been lost, forgotten, abandoned. It leaves a lasting ache upon my heart, and an ever haunting question of is it a fault within my own character that is the cause of this?
We would not get deep into conversation, for Susan was working, and this was our first meeting in person. I would go on to meet up with her one summer a few years later in Montana. I was there working at Glacier National Park, and she had moved back to her old stomping grounds of Libby, Montana, so we met up for a meal. In the meantime we had shared more, sending messages back and forth online. She asked for prayer as she struggled with her vision and eye problems. I did the same as I became quite sick with ulcerative colitis. There was a simplicity to Susan’s life that seemed refreshing. She faced many hardships, but always found a way through with God’s grace. Susan also is quite portable, meaning she moves quite frequently and can make for herself a home and a place to rest her head in whatever situation life throws at her. There is always a way forward in every situation for Susan. I could sense in some regard that Susan was a lover of life but also a loner such as myself. She wrote to me about loneliness, about how both of her parents were deceased, how some of her remaining family had been mistreating her. In all this I believe Susan’s independent nature was forged even stronger. I too possessed that independent spirit. I too had learned to get by alone in life. Yes, it can build character, but it’s overall not a desired thing. It was simply a card we were both dealt, and we had both learned to adapt to it.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, writes “Friendship arises out of mere companionship where two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).” This resonates with me in the way I relate to Susan. Though so different, we are friends because we share common interests with our love for the outdoor recreation and god, yet we also share burdens, our solitude and our health struggles. Lewis explains how true friends, whether intended or not, find themselves on the other side of the barrier from the “herd,” for they have found common interests that distinguish themselves from the herd. So many people try to “fit in” and be like the rest in the herd, but by compromising their own unique individuality, these people miss out on finding true friendship. But being her true self, Susan found a friend in me. We may not see each other but for a few times, given the great physical distance between us, and our communication may be inconsistent at times, but I know she is a kindred spirit and friend, and in that there is comfort and blessing.
Before I left the cafe, I told Susan of my great adventure plans and how my next big stops would be at the ghost town in Bodie State Historic Site and Lake Tahoe in California. Before we left I asked if we could take a picture together. We found someone to snap one for us. I was delighted and filled with joy for having met Susan, and I was so excited to tell my friend Zach, who would be joining me in a few days, about how I met the one and only Susan. I had once told him that she was my biggest fan!
Read my previous entry here: She Tried to Kill Me: Death Valley’s Claim on My Life
Check out my book Still, Calm, and Quiet, here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B093RMBNCP