I’m staying with my friend, Pam, while in Florida and I realized the other day that I’ve never written here how I became friends with her. Its such a good example of the amazing friendships I make while traveling, that it must be shared.
For several years I had been traveling down to the Smoky Mountains with my friend, Amanda, every fall. We’d camp out, photograph, hike and explore. Amanda has an unfortunate sense of direction (as in “none at all”) and on our Fall of 2009 camping trip she kept getting lost on her way back from the restrooms.
Fortunately, the couple camping next to the campgrounds noticed her confusion. The man called over to her “Are you lost?” Amanda replied in the affirmative “I can’t remember where I came from.” The man pointed towards the small bit of woods between our campground and theirs and said “I don’t know if it helps, but I can guide you as far back as that tree right there.” And that was enough to get Amanda back to our site.
From there it became a joke every time she wandered by their campsite. The next day, after a long day of photography and wandering around the park, Amanda and I ended up sitting around the campfire of the couple we now knew as Pam and Gary. We spoke for hours about our mutual travels and life in general. I got a huge kick out of the fact that Pam and Gary had gone to so many Star Trek Conventions. That scores you a lot of brownie points in my book. We just talked on and on and it didn’t seem to matter that Amanda and I were in our thirties and Pam and Gary were in their sixties. There was just an amicable connection there. By the end of the night we’d learned that the lot of us were in the Smoky Mountains every fall and made plans to meet up the following year.
Amanda and I headed back to camp late. During the night there was a massive wind storm which made a mess of our camp, but we were off well before sunrise to reach a good photography location, so didn’t get a good look at the carnage. When we returned to our campsite hours later, it was as if elves had visited our site. Our supplies were stacked in an orderly pile on the picnic table, our camp chairs had been folded up and set securely in our tent. The wood that Gary had spent all week gathering and chopping had been hauled through the small patch of woods between their campsite and ours and was stacked neatly under our picnic table, carefully wrapped with a tarp to protect it from the rain. Two bottles of lighter fluid sat next to the wood. In our tin cup on the table was a note from Pam and Gary which included their email addresses and facebook accounts. Thankfully, we caught them just as they were leaving the campground for their home in Florida and we were able to properly thank them.
Once home I added them to my facebook account and kept in touch. Only a couple of weeks after returning from Tennessee, Gary was diagnosed with cancer. Heartbreakingly, in March I was in Florida to attend his funeral. I’d only known him the one night, but it was long enough for me to realize what I was missing out on in not knowing him longer. I sat with Pam and cried with her and saw through the reactions of everyone around how loved and missed Gary was. It made me very aware of how lucky I was to have had that one night’s companionable chat around the campfire with this wonderful man whose character lasted beyond the ending of his life.
After I returned home I continued to stay in touch with Pam. As fall approached and I made plans to return to the Smoky Mountains, so did Pam. She and Gary and gone every year and she wouldn’t let him down by stopping now. She rented a cabin, as they had on occasion before, and I drove down to meet her. We spent an entire week together there and as before we talked and talked and talked and felt like old friends.
She’s one of the strongest, most loving and generous people I know and I never would have met her if we hadn’t both been traveling. She’s become a friend I will have for the rest of my life, and I can’t explain how fortunate that makes me feel.
We both say it feels as if we’ve been friends forever. Perhaps it is, in the words of Anne Shirley, because we are kindred spirits…
(Sorry…my arm isnt long enough to bring us both in focus…haha)