Upon leaving... / by Karin Strickland

I flew to New York on a glorious Saturday. Audrey and Zach picked me up from the airport where I learned that Audrey was going through a hellacious viral stomach illness. We stood two feet apart from one another, bursting with excitement but tormented by the fact that we could not hug and greet each other in the way our little hearts wished they could. If Audrey had been zipped up in a hazmat suit it would have all been okay... plan ahead better next time, okay Aud? :) 3 hours later we were out of cellphone range and entering the wild Catskill preserve, only a few miles left to Frost Valley.

The next few days were better than anything Audrey and I could have planned... and we're pretty good at planning things, I'd say. We explored what seemed like every inch of Frost Valley, cooked beets, did some yoga with the famous Missy, and laughed until our abs were literally sore. I turned everything off: my phone, my brain (in a good way), and my stress about who knows what. I was able to find clarity of mind in something other than a grueling bike ride or run for the first time in months. 

Upon leaving, something else remarkable happened... even more remarkable then the fact that I ate leftover granola from my last trip with Audrey. My flight, after hours of delay, got cancelled. I was stuck by myself at what may actually be the smallest public airport in NY. Every option I suggested to the airport staff was responded to with the worst word of all: "No." While scrambling to sort out some other option besides spending the night in this tiny town, the airport closed!! Yes, this airport was small enough to actually close it's doors at night and re-open the next morning.  The staff were hurrying us out of the door like sewer rats and amidst my disconcerted fumbling I heard "honey, there is no way I am leaving until I know you have some place safe to stay." I looked up and there were two women there, Paula and Lesha. They told me they were getting a hotel, that they were military women, and that they weren't creepy, which was really a hilarious thing to hear from a complete stranger. Calling Audrey was out of the question at this point as it would have taken nearly 4 hours to get to the airport and back.

I am sad to admit that usually I am pretty skeptical of strangers, and never in my life would I have ever thought that sharing a hotel with people I didn't know would be a situation I would find myself in. Something was very different about this scenario, and I decided to roll with it. Lesha and Paula were seriously amazing; first of all they would not believe that I wasn't 17 no matter how many times I told them I wasn't, they thought I was crazy to have ever suggested that I would be fine sleeping on the ground, and most ridiculously they would not let me pay for anything. I'm pretty good at sneakily paying for things but these women were my ultimate challenge. They took my debit card and cash out of other peoples hands and gave it back to me. I learned amazing things about these women; I learned about their kids, their grandkids, their ex-husbands, their experience in the military, their travels, their dream travels, and so much more. 

At 5:30am Paula and I got in a taxi and headed for the airport to start our travels home once again. Lesha, who was heading to Dubai, stayed behind to catch a later flight. Paula told me about the books she had written, shared some intense stories from her past, and made me take my camera out and take pictures of the flight attendant making coffee. I loved it. I even switched seats so I could sit by her on my flight to Detroit. She called me "Ms. Aiport", said I looked like a doctor, laughed at "how prepared" I was, and suggested that I stay out of the woods because there were bears. I asked if I could take a picture of her and she said yes. She told me to make her famous.

As we landed she slipped me a goodbye note and told me to "not be a stranger". The only sentence I could muster up while choking back tears was "thank you for your kindness. You are a beautiful human." I put my backpack on, and walked out of the plane and looked for her but she was nowhere to be found. She flitted into my life and slipped away with equal swiftness.

I am still processing and reflecting on all the lessons I learned. All I know right now is that this world is full of wonderful, inspiring people, and I have been all too guilty of letting them just walk by as "strangers".