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Opinion

Stranger at first glance becomes welcome guest

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March 10, 2011

At noon, I was walking down Ten Rod road in Farmington, N.H., looking for a phantom driveway, hoping for a sign that said “Ghostscout Summit” with some colorful balloons. I didn’t know the fire number. The most important question you should be asking yourself is not what, or where, but why. Why didn’t I call the person who knew this valuable information, the Ghostscout Leader? Instead, in an act of bold naivety, I assumed that everything would go to plan. The Plan: Hitchhike off the Appalachian Trail July 1, 2010, to Ten Rod Road in Farmington and everything else would fall in place like a new frame of bowling. If there were a prize for naïve person of the year, I would be an excellent candidate.

The Ghostscout Summit is where Ghostcadets and Ghostscouts gather on Huzzy Mountain to form a brain trust to take on awesome projects like drawing cartoons and building forts.
Earlier that day, I was resting at the Hikers’ Welcome Hostel in Glencliff, N.H., after hiking over 600 miles on the Appalachian Trail. In the morning, I got two hitches, one from an eccentric New England couple and another from an engineering student, and arrived on Ten Rod Road at noon.

This is when I called the Ghostscout Leader, not a couple days prior, not the day before, and especially not that morning, but on the day of that was already half way through. I left a message. I think this is when I realized that I have terrible situational awareness. The locals told me that the road was a manageable five-mile walk. Therefore, as I began my walk in the urban neighborhood the scenery changed to vacant gravel driveways. I mentally photographed shady campsites and ailing barns for points of reference. The clouds graying color threatened me with rain.

A sign loomed into sight: “Hard Times Second Hand Shop.” It was small one-level house with a chicken coop and an unattached garage with two mountain bikes parked in front like a used car dealership.  With all of my belongings on my back and a two-month-old beard, there was not much trust going on in my appearance. Yet, when I walked up that driveway, a man appeared from the house.

“Can I help you?”

“I have traveled over 1,000 miles by train, walked 600 miles on the Appalachian Trail, hitchhiked 75 miles and walked four more miles down this road so I could come to the Hard Times Second Hand Shop and buy one of your bicycles.”
Nothing less than a smile would do with such a disarming compliment. The man, David Tillberg, bought my humor and led me towards the mountain bikes for a closer peek.  Together these bikes could have added up to one good bike, but for fifteen dollars I was not much better then a beggar. I chose good gears over good brakes. With the pack hovering inches over the wheel, I left the shop; the swagger of the bike began to wear off as the road quickly turned into a gravel rollercoaster. I gave the Ghostscout Leader another call, this time he answered.

“Hey Dan, this is Christopher Pagels, I’m on Ten Rod Road, but I don’t know where the driveway is”

“What? I’m three hours away in Vermont looking at some land: Hold on, we’ll be there at nine or ten.”

“All right meet me at the Hard Times Second Hand Shop; it’s about four miles down the road.”

They seemed like nice enough people to allow me to sit on their lawn for ten hours (see: situational awareness). They let me leave my pack while I ran some errands in town, but as I got back, it started to sprinkle. Theresa, the mother, invited me in out of the rain. After some introductions, they made me feel like an old friend of the family who had left town for awhile. She said I could stay until ten until my friends arrived. After a few hours, I learned everything that I needed to know about Farmington. Like, if you have a fire, you would have better luck dousing it yourself. I was thrown into all those small insignificant fights that families have, the kind where you make fun of each other, but don’t mean it. At one point, Anastasia’s boyfriend said he would stop talking, that didn’t last long. Whenever David would answer the phone, he would say, “Dave’s Whorehouse, how many do you need?”

They invited me to their big pasta family dinner with their three sons, daughter, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and a friend. During the whole night, not one person was surprised that I was there. After dinner, we played basketball and in the middle of a card game with some ridiculous point system, the Ghostscout Leader and some Ghostscouts drove up. After some hearty thanks, I was finally going to the Summit.

Months after our impromptu meeting, it had become a mutual pastime for us to talk about that fateful day to our friends and family. When they told people, they said they were crazy to let me in. “What if he was an axe-murderer?” That’s just the kind of they people are. For me it was the best day of 2010.
My bicycle with the bad brakes is still in their driveway.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.