Putzin’ in P.A.

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The term “to putz” isn’t really in any dictionary.

You know what it means though, putzin’ arahn (around, in yinzer). Dilly-dallying. Dawdling. Lingering. Hem and hawing. Moseying.

My last day in Pennsyltucky, I was putzin’ hard. I was not ready to leave.

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My rig felt in good company all week.
My rig felt in good company all week.

In the week and a half or so that I had been staying outside of Ohiopyle, I’d managed to keep pretty busy. I knocked off three runs on the Upper Yough, a few solo laps on the Lower Yough loop, a little yoga here, a little hiking there, even a little wake surfing up in the ‘burgh. I’ve never spent much time exploring Pennsylvania, but the few times I’ve visited its southwestern corner in particular, I’ve become more and more enchanted with the Keystone State.

So as I sat on the steps in front of Falls Market on my last day in tahn (town), shoving mint chocolate chip ice cream in my face and eyeballing the various trucks and cars that idled by with teetering stacks of kayaks strapped to the roofs, I felt for the first time in a long time very much unhurried. I was in no particular rush to move on to the next destination, and the thought of posting up in a town for longer than a couple weeks actually appealed to me (sorta).

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DCIM101GOPRO

Normally, I’m pretty restless. I’m always itching to be on the move.

But the pace of life in that corner of Pennsylvania is much slower, though just an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Pittsburgh. After a particularly busy week at work, I found myself really starting to appreciate that quiet. Countryside dominates much of the landscape. Sprawling farms and state park land interwoven with winding backcountry roads connect one-traffic-light-towns. Everything here is charming, down to the last hahs (house), post office, and four-wheelin’-local.

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The more I travel, the more I find that these one-traffic-light-towns are the places I connect with best. Having grown up as part of a small community, being welcomed into these tight-knit towns gives me a sense of ‘home’ despite my transience. It’s the people I’ve met these past few months that have had the biggest impact on me. Strangers, old friends and new, the cashier at the local convenience store. It’s been humbling to see how much the people have really defined this “on the road” experience. Everyday there is someone new who crosses my path and inspires me, or teaches me something new, or redefines my ideas on generosity and selflessness. Everyday, someone somewhere is looking out for me in some way and I feel incredibly fortunate to know so many good people.

Sunrise on Laurel Mountain.
Sunrise on Laurel Mountain.

Ben Crandell cruisin' at dawn.
Ben Crandell cruisin’ at dawn.

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When I think back to some of these great people though, I wonder how many of them I’ll see again. Of the typical challenges I encounter daily with the logistical reality of living out of a vehicle, I’d say none of those compare with the difficulty I have in accepting that sometimes, people aren’t meant to stay a part of your life forever. A stranger at a restaurant can tell you the most profound and sound bit of advice, and you may never even learn his name. One lady’s story may change your life ambitions, but she may never know that.

How do you begin to cope with that disconnect? How do you come to terms with these fleeting encounters, with letting people come in and out of your life like a receding tide? How do you begin to ever express the ineffable gratitude that can come from both a simple gesture and a weeklong stay alike? How?

I was thinking about all of this as I putzed around that last day in Pennsylvania.

“Why don’t you watch a movie?” my friend Jess said. He and his lovely wife Theresa had opened up their cabin to me the week I was in town (thank you thank you) and were on their way out the door that last day. Perhaps sensing my putzin’ mode, they told me I should take a nap, twiddle my thumbs, do nothing, watch a movie.

A movie? Of all the things I had done in the past few months, watching a movie was not one of them. But since I was in no rush to leave, I figured, why not? I picked the first DVD (no, those aren’t outdated…yet) my eyes came to, which just so happened to be Eat, Pray, Love, and, after nearly a half hour of trying to work the damn TV (am I really that uncivilized already?), I finally settled in and propped my feet up.

Aside from remembering just how much I love Julia Roberts as an actress, one of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about was Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love from which the movie was made. I read the book when it came out in 2006. I was still in high school, but I remember how much her words spoke to me then. I connected with her story, sensing my restlessness may one day lead me down a similar path.

I whipped out my laptop and started browsing through some of the quotes from Gilbert’s book, curious as to what I had connected with so well. I scanned her words on God and love, happiness and suffering. Soon I found myself re-reading whole pages.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled across a section she wrote on people. Her words, written over a decade ago, seemed, quite literally, to have sprung from my questions on giving thanks and processing kindness, like Gilbert herself was watching me putz and ponder.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” 

Some people buy gifts, give money, send cards as tokens of gratitude. Others simply say ‘thanks.’ I fall somewhere in between, always expressing my appreciation in words but somehow feeling as if that alone is not enough yet anything but is insincere.

I got to thinking, perhaps Gilbert is right. Perhaps all of this, all of us, are connected. It seems nearly impossible to genuinely thank every single person who has ever had a positive influence on my life. But perhaps one day, I will be the one to contribute to that “miraculous scope of human generosity” by providing a couch to crash on, a kitchen to cook in. Perhaps one day I will be able to return two-fold the kindness I’ve experienced in my journey and become a part of the good people continuum.

So to Jess, who pushed me to step up in kayaking, to Theresa, who reminded me how good it feels to let loose and dance, to Crandell who rallyed at 3 a.m. for some Zoolander-sunrise action and taught me more things than I’ll ever remember about our solar system, to Dr. Mitchell, who’s stoke for kayaking was nothing short of entertaining (and contagious), and to Clark, Jay, and all the other super people I met in P.A. – thank you.

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