I make one last round of John’s house, erasing traces of hiker grime, making sure everything is clean and back in its place. I leave the quiet oasis, heart still light and hopeful, though today’s task is tough: getting as close as I can to the Sacramento airport to minimize the drive Stephen needs to late at the end of a long day of teaching and travel from Portland.
Back at the general store, and who do I see? Shenanigans! As energetic as usual, though it’s been something like three hundred miles and a wedding since I last saw her. We catch up in a rush of words and smiles, and pose for reunion photos. Rides however, are looking especially scarce…
I order lunch at the Red Moose Inn, one of two restaurants in this tiny town. I sit at the bar, hoping for conversation, and maybe, just maybe, a ride. A few minutes later, a kindly older gentleman comes in and asks politely if he may occupy the seat beside mine. His name is John too and he’s a ‘mostly retired’ veterinarian. Before my food arrives, he has offered to drive me to Grass Valley, halfway to Sacramento. He has an errand to do there he says. By the time I finish my fish and chips, John has decided to take me all the way to the airport. Hours completely out of his way. After much protest, I manage to pay for his lunch, and accept as graciously as I can.
John is a long-time local based a handful of miles away in Downieville. The ride becomes a crash course on local history, complete with gold mines and minor detours, including a drive through picturesque Nevada City. I learn that Downieville lost the run for state capitol by a mere hundred votes in 1853. Imagine, he challenges, the interstate that would now cut through the hills had the results been otherwise. Instead, the small towns we pass through struggle to maintain their endearingly worn charm, resisting golf-course resorts and development plans for an uncertain future. I also learn that John is an avid proponent of something called appreciative inquiry, which in most basic terms means looking for the best in people and the world. Though his actions are more powerful than any definition.
Upon arrival at arrivals (seriously, how did this happen? Sierra City you are too kind!), I offer gas money, but am left cash still in hand with an invitation to dinner for the following weekend. I stand at the bottom of the escalator, feeling like first class hikertrash in the bright sanitized space of the airport. Half-glowing with the goodness in the world, half stunned by my shiny surroundings, I call Stephen, whose flight has just landed. “Where are you,” he asks hopefully. “Come down and find out I reply,” laughing.