I met Kevin a few years ago under odd circumstances. A friend called me and told me he had met an American and that I needed to come have coffee. Being one of the few Americans in my city in northwest Spain, I jumped at the chance.
It turns out Kevin was running the Camino De Santiago and had been averaging a marathon and a half every day for nine days. Nine days! He had been sleeping in hostels or on church floors, finding food and water where he could get it, and moving his way across more than five hundred miles of France and Spain. He wanted to quit, but he had a flight to catch in three days and still had 125 miles to go.
The weird part however, was that he had grown up in my state, had family in our city, and was close friends with two of the friends I had made while we were all studying our Masters together. But when I found out that he had been bike packing across Europe a few years earlier and had spent time with my childhood babysitter, I got creeped out.
Kevin finished the Camino, making it to his flight in time, and even recovering enough to head back out on the trail. I have tried to follow along as he has sought adventure around the world. A month or so ago I know he was living and running the Hawaiian islands, but then he was planning on moving to Ecuador for a few months. Maybe that is where he is at now. Or maybe I’ll meet him on a bus somewhere. With Kevin, I have no idea.
Last year I had asked him to send me a story or two. I wanted to live part of his adventures. I wanted to hear what stories he would share if we were running a trail together. Since we are on opposite sides of the globe most of the time, voice messaging would have to do. I listened to the first one while I was on a trip to Chicago. I had arrived during the COVID mess, seen the destruction after the riots, and had tried to stay out of the volatile zones. I sat down in a coffee shop and stared out the window as he recounted the story when he felt like he was closest to dying.
He had been out in the mountains of California in January. He and three friends were going to be running twenty-six miles on the trials and they had taken off early in the morning. One of his friends had packed along a headlamp. For that he had been designated the Boy Scout of the group. They had left at sunrise and would surely be back for lunch. Why on earth bring a headlamp?
But plans changed. Landslides had closed trails. River crossings had swollen. Trails got nasty. Some trails completely disappeared. Temperatures had dropped. One of the group hit the wall and could do nothing but the death shuffle. And then the sun set.
What do you do when you are out in the cold and have miles of rough terrain to cover before you make it back to the car? What do you do when your friend can hardly move and everyone is at their end? What do you do when the sun sets?
The four of them did the only thing they could do. They kept moving. They followed the lone headlamp. They navigated the waist deep river crossings. They kept pushing each other to make it to the end. And eventually they made it.
Kevin’s story was what I needed while I was sitting in a cafe all alone in Chicago. Life can fool me into believing that I am in control, protected, safe. But in a moment things can change. Lost. Tired. Cold. Night. In those moments I can start to ask myself,
“Can I come out of it?”
“How do I navigate when I have lost my way?”
“What do I do when the night threatens and my strength is gone?”
And that is what I love about Kevin and his stories. He reminds me to just keep walking. I take the light that I have and put one foot in front of the next. And just like Kevin, I have no idea where it will take me.