One day to make it. Fifty-three miles. An impossible distance to fathom. I've never walked that far. Let alone crossed mountains. With wheels strapped to my feet.
The plane hits the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport.
A burst of heat surges up from twenty feet below. Tugs at my clothes. Makes me rethink what I'm doing for a moment. Sweat glistens on my forehead.
Last year I had a ride. Friends who helped me find my way to the festival. This year...no one. Just pieces of information written in a notebook to guide me.
I swallow the lump. Press on. Like I'd ask leaders who told me point blank they don't want me, for help. "I can do this. I can make it, I repeat." Not sure I believe the words.
June 24, 2014
Her words echo in my head from the message sent on Facebook. Don't come. They screech at me from the computer screen. I reread her words. Watch brick buildings and empty tracks zoom by. Her words, once full of life, rip me apart. Have I lost my mind? Jess used to be a close friend. Someone I counted on. Reading her letter, it's hard to imagine we once were friends. Her words give me pause. I shift in the seat.
Jess writes, "If you plan to make an attempt on your life while in PA, please don't come..."
Passengers pour off the train onto the stairs.
Does my life matter? DO I MATTER?
They push on all sides.
I follow the flow of people. Where I'll end up. What will become of me? If I'll make it. All questions I have no answers too.
Strap one boot on. The other. Stand up. Hear the wheels churn against the pavement. Take me away from everything familiar. There is no going back.
June 25, 2014
Water stings my eyes.
Another block. Another street. Another road. Will they ever end?
My shirt clings to my back. I feel water creep down.
Towering buildings give way. Crickets sing. Cows moo. Barns creak. Wolves howl. Twenty-three miles in. Thirty miles to go.
Up another hill. Down one more. Up. Down. Up. Down. My wheels hiss. A tiny light leads the way up the deserted highway. Each bend in the road, doubt appears. The light can't cut through the black. It barely picks up the white fog line.
Another hill. Another heart-stopping moment.
I flick the light ahead. To the street name. Screech to a halt. Try to read what's on it. Am I going the right way? The light flickers. Goes dim. I bang it on my leg. It springs to life. I continue on the road. Whatever road this is. Wherever it leads.
More speed. My hands grip the backpack and duffle in a death grip. Legs quake under me. I'll never make it, I think. My right leg trembles. Weaves back and forth over the road. My left leg begins to mimic the same motion. The wind kisses my face. I can't make out the road. Just lines. I try to slow my wheels. Get ready to jump into the grass if I see any safe place to ditch this attempt. White lines guide me into Newville, PA.
As quick as the shaking starts, it ends. The road levels out. My wheels slow. One foot. The other. I'm good.
It's 2 AM. I stumble past a dark grocery store.
Next to the safety of people snug in their homes, I crawl inside a stand of bushes. Wash down a Gatorade with some chips. Pull the emergency blanket over my legs. Fall back against the bush. Use it as a pillow.
"Don't come...you bet I'll be there. Tomorrow. Today. Whatever day this is."
My eyes lose the fight.
Light peeks over the horizon.
"Made it to Newville. Don't know if I can make it the rest of the way, but I'm trying. Love u. I'll keep trying..." I text Brittni.
"Won't make it to Creation until late or maybe tomorrow. Got turned around last night. I hope you have fun."
June 25, 2014
"You okay?" a door opens slightly.
I scoot out from under the bush. Sweat drips off my arms. Into my eyes. I'm so tired, I realize. I don't want to get up.
"Do you need a ride? You don't look so good."
It takes me a second to realize he's talking to me. His red pickup comes into focus. My legs barely hold me up. Arms feel like lead weights. I try not to collapse. The two bags seem heavier than when I first started. Was that only 18 hours ago? I've made it 30 miles, I think sadly. Twenty-three to go. With no spare wheels. Across mountains. With incomplete directions from Google. Those directions don't tell me where to go from here. I'm lost.
He waits for an answer. Do I risk it?
"Would you like some water?" he offers.
I shuffle to his rig. Take the bottle. Stand there. The world spins. Dad will kill me if I get in. What if???? My mind's sluggish.
"You sure you're okay? Here," he reaches out to steady me. "Let me help you."
"Yeah. I'll take that ride." Brittni. Brandy. I'm coming. Like I said I would. He throws a few items in the back. Makes space in the front for me. Invites me in. Helps lift the bags too heavy for me to carry any farther. I bow under their weight. In his arms, they're weightless.
He slides back into the rig. Reaches out a hand. Pulls me into the seat. If he can get me there. So be it. Guess I can whack him upside the head if he tries anything, I tell myself before I slam the door.
"Where you headed?" He cranks up the AC.
"Creation Festival. Know where that is?"
"Yeah. My name's Mike. I live in North Carlisle."
"Mine's Jewel. I'm from Washington state."
"It's nice to meet you." He hesitates. "I thought about stopping when I first saw you." He shakes his head. "But didn't. Made it ten miles before I started feeling guilty. Like I should help you. I should have stopped. Turned around sooner. Came back to make sure you were alright."
Mike talks the whole way. I hardly say a word. I'm aware he could hurt me. I could be on my way to his house to be raped. Beaten. Killed. No one knows who he is. My family will never know what happened. The last time I got into a stranger's rig was in Cashmere, WA, eleven years old.
We make it to Spring Run Road. Climb the hill. Wind around and around.
His conversation focuses on the history of the church. Like my dad. Mike reminds me of my amazing dad back home. I feel safe in the cab of his truck. I feel safe, his name gives me the extra comfort I need to trust this stranger.
All I see: trees. Thousands of them crowding against the guardrail. Then the shoulder gives way to a drop off straight down. I don't know if I'd call that a shoulder. Is this what I faced...had I kept rollerblading? I think. He slows for each turn. Speeds up again. Winds back down the mountain. Another hill. Neelyton. We're through the steepest part.
Where is he taking me? Is he sure we're headed the right way? What if he's turned around also?
Shade Gap, PA. Rockhill, PA. Finally, Shirleysbury, PA.
Maybe he is good, I think. Find the guy intently staring at the road. He doesn't flick his eyes to where I sit. His intention ain't to hurt me, I realize.
"Creation Northeast," I point at the sign. "Almost there." We drive a few miles. "You can drop me off here," I tell him. "It will take over an hour to get through the line, if not more. You might get stuck. I can walk."
"Might as well take you the whole way," he shoots back. Doesn't slow down. Gets behind a line so far back, I can't see the entrance. Sweat pours off my back.
"You can turn around," I repeat.
"I will take you the whole way in," he insists. Does exactly as promised. Over an hour later, drops me off at a campsite. Refuses to take anything I offer to pay for his gas. Takes off.
That's the last time I see him.
I set down my bags.
See, I think. I made it.