“When you put yourself out there, in the world, and into different situations, the strangest things happen; but I mean like in the best way,” he trails on with his eyes focused on his pint glass, now less than half full.
“You just meet the most unexpected people, and it’s made me realize people aren’t so bad, ya know? The world can be shit, but it can also be awesome.”
She’s intently listening to him speak, wondering if he would even notice if she walked away because he’s so focused on his thoughts, gazing into his glass. She sits still, only really moving when she nods her head or sips from her glass, and occasionally urges his stream of consciousness onward with a “mhm” reply.
“Life just works out in funny ways…” he takes another drink, and she wonders if she should order another beer when he does, just to keep the conversation flowing.
“Like when I lived in Bali for 3 months a couple years back,” he turns in his chair a bit facing her, his shift in energy and focus luring her into his story even more. “I just put up a post about how I was going to Bali and if anyone wanted to join, and I had a bunch of people reach out, but two people actually came with me! And it was this guy who I hadn’t spoken to in a few years and then this girl who I had met somewhere along one of my trips and we had gone on a hike together. That was our only connection! So these two people who had never met came with me to Bali, and we hadn’t even really been friends either in years or ever. And it was one of the best times of my entire life,” he smiles to himself.
“So you just lived in Bali? For 3 months with friends?” She’s shocked, wondering how people actually pull this kind of lifestyle off. And assuming he’s not totally full of shit, it means that average people are truly doing these things, and it’s not just a facade on Instagram.
He laughs and dives into his life timeline: “Yeah, so before Bali, I was living in Phoenix—”
“My God,” she interrupts, “I could never with that heat. I would end up killing myself within in the first month.”
“Well, yeah, so that’s the thing… I was living there and working a job that I landed after leaving San Diego, and once the first summer season rolled around I was bracing myself. And then one day it hit 112 degrees — people were just saying how that’s normal — and I had to get the fuck out. I quit my job, packed my shit, and left. That’s when I started traveling the world, and my first big trip was Bali.
Making the average person’s salary in the US, I was able to live like a celebrity over there… we went out every night, had dope houses with pools, did crazy shit every day, it was unbelievably amazing.”
“So, I guess I should add Bali to the top of my travel bucket list?”
He goes wide-eyed and laughs, “Yes, you absolutely should.
So, what’s your story?”
“My story? Such a cliche question, and I have a really dull answer…” She looks at him, hoping he’ll just continue talking about his wild travel adventures instead.
But instead, he says, “Let’s hear it.”
“Well, I grew up in the western part of the state, and I wanted to get out of there, so I chose to attend the college that was the furthest away while staying in the state, just for tuition cost purposes. So living at college for four years is what makes this area feel like a second home. I tried moving West or finding work around here so I could live in the mountains and just have that be my life, but that hasn’t worked out… yet, at least.”
“So, you went back home?”
“I went back home.” She drops her eyes from meeting with his, feeling like a failure even though the person she just admitted it all to is a total stranger.
“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking? 25? 26?”
“Alright, I was close; so yeah, we’re young. I’m 29, and I’ve always viewed people’s twenties to be the time to just life life, do the craziest shit, sometimes it’s stupid shit, but that’s what makes a life. Once we hit our thirties and later on, that’s when we start settling down, it’s inevitable, it’s in our nature.
I’ve been taking these 10 years as a way to sample life, make mistakes, do shit that I won’t be able to do years from now, but will look back and be so happy that I did now.”
“Yeah, I have to agree. I’ve thought the same things, but thinking and doing are very different,” she raises her eyebrows in a matter-of-fact way. Her fear could be spotted from a mile away.
“So you wanted to move to the mountains? Ever been to Colorado?”
The word stings like alcohol in a cut. “Oh yeah… that state has been my dream for the better part of a decade, and I visited just a couple of years back, and it was everything I had imagined and more.”
“So why not move there then?”
She opens her mouth to reply, but no words really come out. She half shrugs her left shoulder instead.
“You just have to go. You’re 27; this is the time. There are jobs everywhere, so just get there.”
She deters the conversation with a “we’ll see” and steers it back to his life story. She doesn’t want to listen to her own anymore.
“So, where do you think you’ll be headed next?”
“I’d really like to get back to Alaska—”
“Damn, I loved it there.” That state has been in her dreams sporadically over the course of the last several months, REM stages littered with hiking mountain peaks during the summer solstice and gazing up at shooting stars so close they look like they’re landing in her hair, patiently awaiting for the Northern Lights during the peak of autumn.
“Oh, so you’ve been? Awesome! Yeah, I went up there with a buddy of mine who’s a photographer… we hiked around Denali and slept on the mountains… it was incredible; look…” He pulls out his phone to show pictures of mountain peaks glowing from a sunrise with his booted feet silhouetted in the foreground.
“That’s the dream right there,” she goes to throw back the last big gulp of her beer, but decides to savor it a little bit longer.
“Climbing mountains really changes a person,” he says while still scrolling through pictures. “and I always cross paths with the dopest people.”
She agrees, “I’ve never met a friendlier community than hikers and people that just generally love the outdoors like that.”
“Seriously though! I have ample stories that just outdo each other every time I travel somewhere new. When I went to Yosemite awhile back — which, by the way, you need to go there if you haven’t yet because I have a feeling you’d fuckin’ love it —”
“Oh yeah, it’s on my long list,” she adds.
“So the one morning, I woke up hungover and decided to hike anyways because screw it, I’m in Yosemite. So I hike one of the tallest peaks with a hangover and after I hadn’t drank enough or eaten anything that day…”
“ha! You’re that guy… idiot move, man”
“Yeah, I know, trust me. So I reach the summit, it’s unreal, and then I get real dizzy and basically start blacking out. I had never felt that way before, and honestly, I was pretty scared. There was this guy nearby on the peak, and I just said something like ‘hey man, I really need water; I think I’m gonna pass out.’ And this guy who I had never spoke to in my life, gave me food and water and then we hiked down together. The guy literally saved my life on top of Yosemite, and we stayed friends after that.”
“Damn… that’s something…”
“Right? Then about a year ago he died…”
“Holy shit… what?”
“Yeah… he was hiking with people in the fall, his boot hit some black ice, and he slipped right off a cliff with a 2,000-foot drop. His body wasn’t found for months.”
“Holy Hell… that’s insane.” She’s in shock, thinking about all the times she has hiked in fall with the peaks starting to freeze over, and about the time she climbed three high peaks in the dead of winter, not knowing if the packed snow beneath her crampons was solid ground or a snowdrift over a cliff ledge.
“Life has a weird way of working out,” he says, as they both finish their beers.
“Would you like another?” The bartender walks over to her first. She looks over to her new barfly friend.
“You having another one or are you out of here?”
“I’ve already had two, so I’m gonna close out for the night.”
She tells the bartender she’s all set, as well, and gets her tab. As she’s signing off her tab, he puts a cash tip down on the bar.
“I know you said you’re sleeping in your car, but I’m staying just down the road at a hostel. It’s really nice and only $20 if you stay in the bunk room I’m in. I was supposed to have some friends meet me, but they all bailed, so I have a discounted friends price from the owner, if you’re at all interested. No pressure, just wanted to extend the offer for a warm bed and hot shower.”
She thinks about it for a minute. How big of an idiot am I if I follow this guy back to a hostel down a dark route through the mountains? I mean, that is a horror movie scene. I can defend myself, for sure, and he’s not a big dude. He never made any awkward advances… not every guy is a piece of shit. If it’s bad, I can always leave. My car will be right there, and I can just sleep in there if it’s awkward. I have pepper spray and my knife, so I’l just discretely bring that with me in case he lunges for me or some shit.
“Ya know what? Why not? That sounds pretty good; thanks.”
“Yeah, of course. Just follow me down 73. It’s on the right.”
They grab their keys and head out of the brewery, saying goodnight to the bartender. She wonders what the bartender thinks; does she assume they’re going home with each other to hook up? Is she laughing to herself because this guy has done the same shit to girls every time he comes by this bar?
She calls her boyfriend in the car and shares the details of where she’s going, who she’s with, and how long she intends to be there (just for the night and out by somewhat-early morning).
She sets up her bed — warm and dry — washes her face and brushes her teeth with running water. Her safety blanket tonight is pepper spray and a knife under her pillow, just in case. She never needs it.
Meanwhile, frost embraces the world outside.
She sleeps like a rock. Wakes up with a hot shower. Drives away to find some coffee and enjoy the area before she heads home again.
He is not Derek Shepherd and she is not Meredith Grey.
He is not a psycho and she is not a victim in a horror film.
This is just bar talk between a man and a woman, where everything goes right.
Because not everyone is scary, and every move we make doesn’t always result in damage.
Life can be so easy.