I crossed over their upturned roots and walked into the arch. I saw it then. A tiny oasis in the midst of wilderness. I narrowed my eyes to read the sign on the decrepit building, the lights above it had died, probably years ago. Hotel Travellore. There are darker sins than a spelling mistake.
I was looking for some place ordinary to spend the night. This was far less than ordinary, but it would have to do. After weeks of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I had a newfound appreciation for basic amenities. I checked into one of the five rooms they had and took my first bath in weeks. Bruised toes howled at the touch of cool water. Every muscle and bone groaned. My decision was reinforced.
I tried to sleep, but raucous music down the hall wouldn’t let me. Who would be partying at this hour in this god-forsaken place? The hallway was mostly dark but for a sliver of light peeking from a room. The room was also the source of the music. I pushed the door open.
Had I just stepped into another world? There were fire-blowers, belly dancers, stilt-walkers, a vintage carousel, and people in costumes! A large hairy hand shoved me in. “Welcome! Come on in!”, his voice boomed. I wasn’t given time to decline. I was as powerless as a bread crumb being sucked into a vacuum cleaner.
The man was burly, but a kind face topped that girth.
“Lemuel Gulliver, pleased to meet you”.
I almost laughed. Not wanting to appear insulting, I replied “I’m Joe”.
“Listen, Gulliver, thanks for bringing me in, but I have to go. Could you maybe turn the music down?”
He paid no attention to me. “Meet Ryan”, he said, pointing to a sharply dressed man in a grey business suit. Ryan had apparently gathered ten million airline miles. We shook hands briefly and he went back to explaining airline miles to two men, one of them with a lance and the other with a sombrero on his head. Perfect Don Quixote and Sancho Panza costumes.
Gulliver waved to a little girl in orange shorts and a pink t shirt. A small grey monkey clambered on her backpack. “She’s the littlest explorer of all”.
“Explorer?” Things around me were getting too surreal for my brain to process.
“Yes, we’re all explorers! Look around!”
“Is that…?”, my eyes widened.
“Spock!”, he mirrored my enthusiasm.
The moment of exhilaration passed as quickly as it came. “None of this is real”, I said aloud, surprising myself.
“It doesn’t matter, Joe. The only thing that does is that we keep traveling. Why did you give up?”
“How did you know I…”
“Don’t do it, Joe. Finish what you set out to do. Imagine the joy you’ll experience when you reach the Bridge of the Gods! Isn’t that why you started in the first place?”
People travel for different reasons. Some do it to run away from life, some do it for cool Facebook updates. I was doing it only to satiate my irrepressible wanderlust. But the PCT was a different ballgame. I couldn’t do it. My body had given up.
Suddenly, I didn’t care how he knew.
“I’m going home tomorrow”, I wasn’t telling him, I was reasserting myself.
“What’s home? Travelers don’t have homes. We’re nomads at heart. We make homes wherever we stop.”
I took a deep swig of punch. I wasn’t getting swayed by a guy in a costume! Sleeping over it was probably a good idea.
“Sir, are you okay?”, a ranger’s baritone brought me back. Sunshine filtered through the trees. My mind couldn’t gather itself fast enough. Why wasn’t I in bed? Why was I standing in a thicket of redwood trees? I stared at the empty space where Hotel Travellore had stood last night. Had I been dreaming?
I opened my wallet to show him my ID when a crumpled piece of paper fell out.
“Hotel Travel-Lore, Customer Copy”, it said, matter-of-factly.