On long, hard drives, memories bob and float like leaves, sticks and forest detritus down a mountain stream.
Sometimes those memories catch in a shoreline eddy, spin and spin, then finally break free and disappear. Others hang on, mile after mile, memory after memory.
Forgive me this one Sunday while I watch memories flow.
Last month, I traveled to my sister’s much-delayed interment in Pennsylvania. It meant driving 700 miles each way in the space of 50 hours.
Miles stick with me this weekend — 26.2 miles, specifically, as I cover the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I admire people who do marathons. Those are not my kind of miles, but I understand that push on the body and mind and the side benefits that come with the pushing.
My proudest miles came while hiking. In 1982, I did the southern portion of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. That included hiking 105 miles in three days, an average of 35 miles a day, through the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
My one claim to outdoor fame came the next year, when I became (as far as I know) the first to through-hike the 250 or so miles of the Tuscarora and Big Blue trails in 15 days. It was envisioned as an alternate route for the Appalachian Trail, which was being threatened by development before Congress stepped up. The Big Blue was so new then that there were no guidebooks, leading me to some side trips and adventures.
My sister, Janet Elbalghiti, lived her adult life in the Washington area. She and her husband put me up for a half-year when I moved from the Pennsylvania countryside to the big, bad city after high school.
She had favorite little hikes associated with portions of the Appalachian Trail in a couple of states. Usually when I drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I note where the Appalachian Trail crosses. But I missed it last month, driving to and back, too many memories noisy in my head.
My sister was a pediatric nurse, a very good one. She was also a helluva singer and sometimes was caught by other nurses as she sang to sick infants.
She loved the woods and nature. She started the community garden at her church, which now is named for her.
The last time I spent outside with her was in May 2016 on a short hike with our dad around Patuxent Research Refuge, just outside Washington. Even that short hike wore her out. By then, cancer — which just months before she thought she had beaten — left her tired and winded.
When my dad and some of us brothers — she was the only girl among my parents’ six children — would go deer hunting, she usually would try to get off work and spend a few days with us.
One of my best memories was leading her to catch a native brook trout from Spruce Run the spring before she fought her initial battle with cancer.
She could be blunt. I happen to love catching tiny native brookies on light tackle, but, while she was glad to catch a fish, she made it plain a 12-inch stocked rainbow trout to fry in butter would have been even better.
Cancer can kiss my ass.
And I mean that mile after mile, memory after memory.
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