There was some lady and some dude pushing a shopping cart down the C&O Canal towpath. The path is all dirt and rocks. They looked to be about mid-50s and miserable. Their mission was not what they'd predicted. They had camping gear, or what I assume was supposed to be camping gear, and they were full of complaints. I was resting on top of a picnic table, and I could hear the rattle of the cart approaching from a mile away. I was disappointed that I couldn't overhear more of their conversation. I wasn't able to piece much together from the gripes.
When you travel by bicycle, you are invited to experience a reality which is altered. I would argue that it is a better reality, and one far more truthful and interesting than the one that most of us are raised to accept. From what I was able to gather, the couple with the shopping cart had cooked up a mission, gone on TV to harp about something they wanted to prove, and had only that day realized how much it sucks to push a shopping cart on a dirt and gravel path. As it turned out, we ended up camping at the same place, but I didn't ask any questions. The tension between them was obvious, and I concluded that they might want a break from talking about the shopping cart. I was riding with my good friend Jonas for the week, and as luck would have it, we encountered somebody else who was more than willing to talk.
I arrived at the camping spot slightly before Jonas. The day had been a scorcher, and as the sun faded lower in the sky, I picked my way along some small paths to swim and rinse off in the Potomac. As I returned to camp feeling refreshed, I could hear the smug assertions of a stranger, and I knew that Jonas would not mind having some help talking to this guy. We forgot his name, but we refer to him as Jerry. As you make his acquaintance, many questions are raised, but they all ultimately lead to exhaustion and shrugs.
One moment Jerry would seem to be passably rational, and the next moment he would share a blatant fabrication, which for the sake of social expedience, we were forced to pretend to believe. Jerry was also a conspiracy theorist. None of this should have been a surprise when considering his method of travel. I've met this same personality type many times before, but usually there is far more drinking involved, and hallucinogens would not be out of the question. We all share a planet, but not a reality. I am comfortable with this, because I recognize my own perception of reality as somewhat off center. But I have always maintained what could be thought of as a hotline which puts me in touch with various versions of commonly accepted realities, and allows me to communicate comfortably with most sorts of folks. Probably. This has made me feel like a phony without a true and authentic self, but as I've gotten older I've found increasing peace with the universe. I have been lucky to find other humans with an essence that I can connect with. Finding deeper connection is fleeting and rare. I have a lot more to say about this, but that isn't the story I'm telling right now.
Jerry had a huge canvas pack, and he was headed west. He was walking the whole way, and sleeping wherever he ended up as the sun was setting. He had a high opinion of himself. He handed out wisdom and advice from a throne woven of delusions. He was keeping a low profile, because he believed that the government was turning Walmarts into concentration camps for the homeless, and he seemed to believe there was a lot of killing going on. This didn't seem to dampen his spirits, or turn him overly paranoid. Jerry just kept on walking. I saw the bottom of his foot, and it looked like it had been filleted with a knife.
Jerry once had a million dollars, and he gave it all away. That claim was really the frosting on the cake. He said that, and he had about forty pounds of lighters and knives. Jonas offered him some hard gourmet cheese, and he accepted it with learned and appropriate social grace. I didn't dislike Jerry, but after an hour, enough was enough. He is a perfect example of a type of person who I find fascinating, because I can't piece together the variables that make him tick. As dim became dusk, Jerry retired with his pack to sleep closer to the shopping cart couple. Jonas and I set up tents on higher ground. We both had all of the skin on our feet, and our wheels were attached to bicycles, and because of that, we were kings.