October 23, 2013
I’ve always had a vibrant social life. Even as a child I had countless friends who would come over to play ball and hike with me. OK, so most were imaginary. But I must say that, even so, I did get along very well with them. Of course, there are always a few spoilsports in every bunch. If someone came around who wasn’t nice, I would just tell him that I wasn’t allowed to play that day. Avoidance is another of my social strategies.
Then came the school thing. I needed to learn to talk to real kids. I had to, I was the teacher. I enjoyed my career, but when I found myself trying to imagine away my middle school students, I knew it was probably a good time to retire.
It was then that I began to hike—with real people—on the Buckeye Trail. Some became real friends. I was starting to like flesh and blood humans more and more. However, after the 1,444 miles were completed and the celebrations were over, my social life started to go south again. I tried inviting some of my imaginary friends over to the house, but found that they had all passed or moved on. It was time to get back on the ball and meet some more r-r-r-real p-p-p-people. My wife (she is real, of course) thought that would be a great idea. I joined a Meetup group to hike with the Miami Rivers Chapter of the Buckeye Trail Association.
Suddenly I was receiving a new invite to hike every time I opened up my e-mail. “Quirky, outrageous, intellectual, and fun-loving” socialites wanted me to join them on their next adventure. My profile seemed pretty lame compared to theirs. I would hit the “Not this time” button and move on. This went on for months. When I began to feel guilty for constantly rejecting the invitations, I switched to deleting the e-mails. You know, the avoidance thing. The hikes were going nowhere.
Things changed one day when I accidentally opened a Meetup message. I discovered that I was invited to a hike in the Jefferson National Forest. That’s in my home state. The hike would be followed by a trip to the Cumberland Brewery. (I guessed that would include coffee, too.) These folks just wouldn’t give up on me.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this. I almost wavered—the cursor hovered for a few long moments over the “Not this time” button—but at the last second, I noticed that someone from my town was going. At least I would be able to start up a real conversation with a real person. I gritted my teeth and clicked on “Yes, I’m in!”
When I arrived at the trailhead I began asking for Nancy. No one had that moniker. At least I had a conversation starter—or more like an ice-breaker. Just to make sure, I asked everybody again, even the guys, but the results were the same. One lady even apologized that she wasn’t Nancy. These were really nice people who really wanted to help. I hoped they didn’t think Nancy was imaginary. I do have a history.
We set off at a rapid pace. The temp was heading into the mid-nineties, but life was good. I was actually enjoying talking to quirky, outrageous, intellectual, fun-loving socialites, and they seemed to be enjoying talking to me. No one brought up Nancy again until we met a lady hiking the opposite direction. Someone said that I should ask her. I would have, but I wasn’t sure I could have caught up with the group after I explained to her the story behind my query. No doubt, an explanation would be required.
All in all, it was a very good day. I had a great workout, everyone was nice, and I had my own pot of coffee at the post-hike celebration. Maybe I will do this again. I’m not trying to be mean, but I hope this photo of my new hiking buddies makes all my imaginary friends very jealous.