Within the realm of possibility

I'm on my way to Toronto today, riding the Megabus. My bus isn't one of those cool double-deckers. Nor was it as cheap as the advertisements would lead you to believe. But it's still cheaper than Greyhound and it's an express route. That's worth something.

the market this week in Montreal

I'll be in downtown Toronto by early afternoon, having spent the morning cruising down the 401 through southern Ontario's spring green landscapes, catching rare glimpses of Lake Ontario through trees, farmland, and industry.

As long as I don't have to use the washroom very often, and can sit near the front, I like taking the bus, as I did for my winter retreat with my mom.

I find the bus relaxing and productive, and a treat since I don't have to manage road conditions or gnarly traffic (she types while barely inching forward on the congested 401 into Toronto).


This past January I read Anne Lamott's most recent book, Small Victories. It's been a couple years since I've read one of Anne's books.

Small Victories did not disappoint. When the book was done I wanted more Anne. More humor, more grace, more honesty.

It was podcast "season" so I searched "Anne Lamott podcasts" and found two author readings and Q&A sessions from former book tours.

I experience what many others have also found to be true: that a good interview or talk can get me through uninspiring or difficult times of the day, like late afternoon in winter. Sometimes I'll listen to the radio, finding inspiration, but what I appreciate about podcasts is that you don't have to deal with all the doom and gloom of the news stories that punctuate an otherwise positive listening experience.

Through the winter, in addition to podcasts, I also liked to listen to music while preparing supper in the waning light of early sunsets.

One of my favorite musicians is Steve Bell. I turn to his music, again and again, to walk me through sacred seasons such Advent and Lent, or to be an uplifting companion in dark or difficult periods. He is a singer songwriter guitar player of the highest musical quality and personal integrity. His music feels like a modern expression and very accessible form of the ancient psalms and historical liturgy.

I have never seen him perform his music live. One winter afternoon while chopping veggies I checked his website to see if he was coming anywhere near Montreal. Sadly, no tour dates were scheduled near me. But the tour date that immediately grabbed my imagination was tonight's show, with Anne Lamott at the University of Toronto.

It's not as cheap as his usual free-will donation shows at local churches, but it's hosted by the Henri Nouwen Society with Anne Lamott speaking. Need I say more?

You know when you have those life experiences, which could be small or big, that feel like an affirmation of who you are, what you value, what makes you tick. That's how I feel in anticipation of tonight. I haven't gone yet so I can't say if the experience will meet the expectation, but I'm excited at the mere idea of sitting in the same auditorium with other people who love Anne's words and Steve's music, who share the experience of having been touched by their gifts of honesty and beauty.

I don't have a lot of funds for personal travel so way back in February I contacted a blog friend that I knew lived in Toronto and asked, out of the blue, if I could crash at her place tonight. She graciously said yes. Thanks Anna.

This freedom to ask and the confidence to go are the result of the lessons I learned while hiking the trail and living out of a backpack for nearly six months. They are the product of being married to Damien, my adventure-seeking best friend.

I am a routine-loving homebody. But I've learned that when I feel secure in that space called home I am inspired and motivated to explore; to go places, to extend my comfort zone, to take risks, to ask for a place to sleep. I don't need much. I don't even need a bed, I have a camping mat and sleeping bag. A couch is a gift. Have backpack will travel.

In the past few years I've adventured beyond my comfort zone. I went through a bit of breakdown because of that, but one of the good things from that breaking and rebuild is that my boundary of what is comfortable has stretched to make room for more possibilities.


Asking for a place to sleep is easier to do after hiking the trail. Hospitality to the stranger, trust, kindness and friendship are the rule of the trail, not the exception.

We stayed in the homes of people we'd never met, ate food left in coolers at the side of the road (trail magic), hitched rides with strangers. We did everything parents teach their children never to do.

The Appalachian Trail afforded me my first hitchhiking experience.

I was with my parents, husband, and three kids. We were returning to the trail after a town resupply in which we stayed an extra night, unexpectedly.

On our first night, Tenacious Bling came down with an explosive and violent case of food poisoning after we celebrated Padawan's 15th birthday at the Yummy Yummy Japanese Restaurant in Marion Virginia. Lesson learned: never eat at a place called Yummy Yummy anything in smalltown Virginia.

Damien and I were up all night with Brienne placing cool cloths on her sweating forehead, holding the ice bucket under her chin as she vomited, again and again. It was horrible. Damien fell ill the next day. Not food poisoning, thank goodness, just a regular ol' bug that kept him in bed all day in our darkened motel room.

the pre-soak and pre-wash before using the laundromat
I felt dirty and smelly but people told us we were the cleanest hikers they'd met

Our vitality restored, laundry washed, food bags re-stocked, and birthday celebrated, we returned to the trailhead, hitching a ride with a kindly family on their way to a summer picnic. After spotting us, thumbs out on the side of the road, they turned around and drove the other way for us, loading our three kids in the cab of the truck, along with the driver, his wife, two kids and a dog. It was one of those double cabs, with a backseat. The adults of our crew rode in the truck bed with our seven backpacks and the family's bicycles.

We all got sick on the trail in the space of a few weeks during the month of May. We didn't know it as we drove back to the trail but Padawan was also about to be laid low, sleeping for an entire day at the Chatfield Memorial Shelter.

On the trail you share difficult and intensely challenging experiences with other people. Even if you're a solo hiker, you know that everyone behind and ahead of you has hiked this same mountain, felt the same muscle burn, are caught in this same rainstorm. This shared communion of an intense physical, emotional and spiritual experience creates fast bonds of friendship and connection, and deepens those that already exist. It's a type of magic, which is the primary reason Damien and I wanted to do this as a family, as hard as it was.

Looking back now I am deeply nostalgic for that magic. We met strangers all the time on the trail and if they were thru-hikers they instantly were a part of our community, our people. (I don't miss the physical intensity and difficulties of backpacking, it's hard work.)

Granted, we didn't feel connected nor did we relate to everyone we met. There were the kooky sorts, the party-ers and many people we only saw once. But in general, hikers looked out for each other and the people in the trail towns looked out for the hikers.

It was the shared suffering, the shared difficulties of hiking that brought out the kindness and generosity, as much as it was the shared interest in hiking, backpacking and traveling.

While hiking I thought to myself, so many times, why can't the wide world be more like this? We're all pilgrims, we're all making a journey. We're all going through hardships. We all suffer and yet we isolate ourselves and others. We are mistrustful, sometimes with good reason.

We live in a fallen world, not a fairy tale. The potential for great evil resides in every one of us. I am increasingly aware of this the older I get. Every chance we take carries a risk, the possibility of loss.

But the trail revealed a glimpse of the generosity, kindness and connection that exists in far greater measure than the stories perpetuated in a culture of fear and scarcity would have you believe.

And so I have the courage to email Anna in Toronto and ask for a place to sleep, the courage to offer my home for the summer to blog readers, because I know what's possible.

P.S. If you've contacted me about housesitting, I will be responding to those emails in the next couple days or early next week.

« An invitation to visit Montreal
Story weekend ("meeting" Anne Lamott) »
  • Shelly

    Shelly on May 13, 2016, 9:30 p.m.

    I will be showing my daughter this post as she prepares to venture out on her road trip with some friends next year. I'm a little nervous about it and sort of hope she doesn't go through with it. (Mom-worry) Reading about your journey makes me feel somewhat better but inside I'm screaming, "Devin, no hitchhiking!" Anyway, your photos are always so vibrant and merry. I absolutely love them.


  • Nicole

    Nicole on May 13, 2016, 10:16 p.m.

    So glad you can see him live! When he came to our church a couple months ago we missed him that evening because of a prior obligation, but we did get to hear him play 2 songs in church that morning! You will not be disappointed! Enjoy the trip!


  • Joy

    Joy on May 14, 2016, 1:16 a.m.

    Amen and amen and amen again! There are no other words... (And Anne Lamott AND Steve Bell?!? I can't even...please, please write about what it was like! I've been enraptured and inspired by Steve Bell live many times over the years, but have only ever read the genius and authenticity that is Anne Lamott. I can only imagine how this experience will quench your soul - drink deeply!)


  • Lisa

    Lisa on May 14, 2016, 2:54 a.m.

    Yay! You're to the point of life you can reflect on the hike without sadness.  It felt sooooo good to read this post. Hi Renee, I want to say.  I've missed you. I loved watching your videos from the hike. I know it was hard. It just feels so good to hear your wisdom coming through. 


  • Anna

    Anna on May 14, 2016, 5:10 a.m.

    It's 1:00 am, I'm sure my teens are keeping you up, and our couch is lumpy. But I'm so glad your here and can't wait to share stories over coffee in the morning.  

    Anna in Toronto


  • MOM Tougas

    MOM Tougas on May 14, 2016, 6:13 p.m.

    Recipe for food poisoning: take 2 milk of magnesia pills, drink STRONG black tea, BURN toast...scrape the charred part off and eat it.....milk of magnesia coats the stomach, the tannins in the tea neutralizes the acid, the carbon in the burnt toast absorbs the poisons. Lie down and rest. You should feel better in about an hour!!!


You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.