If you’re just joining, this is the final post in the Arizona Adventures series! Start here!
A couple of hours later I got off the highway to turn onto the road where Four Peaks was located and had to pass it to find parking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as from the street it looked like an old warehouse. I was still in my hiking clothes, my hair was a mess from the open air flying through it on the drive, and I had no makeup on. I found a parking spot on the street a couple blocks beyond the GPS-announced location, scanning the block for parking meters or limits. I saw none, so I locked my backpack in the trunk, zipped my wallet into my pants and my phone into my shirt pocket, and strode back down the street to Four Peaks.
I knew instantly I was underdressed as the throng of people clamoring to enter the brewery were mostly young women in sundresses and men in college t-shirts. However, I remembered my goal on this trip: to not be afraid, and to not let fear of looking stupid paralyze me and prevent me from new experiences. I decided that, although I was a disaster compared to most of their clientele, I could likely make up for my disheveled appearance with the tales of what had led me there in the first place. I kept my chin up, shoulders back, and walked up to the podium, asking to sit at the bar. The hostess smiled and waved me into the building. The crowd had apparently been waiting for outdoor patio seating and I’d had just about enough of the Arizona sun by that point.
Inside, the incredibly high ceilings were lined with flags and an enormous wraparound bar was the central focal point of the immense room. In that sense, I’d been right from the outside: it was very much a warehouse structure that had been redesigned to function as a bar and restaurant. Bar seating was nearly full but I saw a seat wedged between two silver-haired gentlemen, each talking to their respective companions, and made my way toward it.
“Is anyone sitting here?” I asked in the general direction of both men.
“You are, of course.” answered the long-haired gent to my right. “I’m Jerry.”
“I’m Bob,” said the yellow-clad man to my left. “And you are?”
“Well aren’t we lucky to have a pretty girl like you sit with us today.”
“It’s my first time here, I’m early for a flight and my friend told me this was the place to be.”
“Your friend is right. What’s her name?” Jerry inquired.
“His name is Garrett. He lived out here a few years back.”
“I might know him. I’m a regular.” I dug around in my phone for a photo of Garrett while simultaneously sending him snapshots of the bar via text. I found the best photo I could of how Garrett normally looked and passed the phone to Jerry. “He looks like any other guy out here. Hey Phil, do you know this girl’s friend?” Jerry waved over one of the bartenders and had me show him Garrett’s photo. “Phil’s been working here for over ten years but he just got a job in a national park.” Phil didn’t recognize Garrett either. I sent a photo of Phil to Garrett, and the sentiment was mutual.
Bob was less talkative than Jerry, who kept me engaged in conversation for over two hours. Once again, my initial plan to be alone and enjoy my solitude had been foiled by another vastly intriguing human being. I ordered a Kilt Lifter – highly recommended by Garrett as well as everyone within earshot of my order – and answered Jerry’s questions about the trip I’d just taken to the bottom of the canyon, how I’d flown out alone for my birthday and camped around Arizona for a couple of days, and where else in the world I’d been.
Jerry told me he ran websites for craft beer enthusiasts with maps and tasting notes, and how he wished he could travel more but he had bad knees and wasn’t as young as he once was. The VA hospital he went to wasn’t able to help him much because when he went in, he was a graying veteran of wars past, shuffling slowly down the hallways to exam rooms. As sad as that image is, he told me it was so much worse to see the young men fighting today’s wars coming home and being wheeled down the hallways. As he put it, “I have bad knees. These young men have no knees. To the VA hospital, they take priority.” Jerry reminded me of my father. They both have curly ponytails past their shoulders, problems with their mobility, and a wanderlust that their aging bodies cannot seem to contain. They are both full of stories of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen, all they’ve been through both physically and emotionally, and they both have the ability to start a conversation with a complete stranger.
I ordered a vegetable wrap and another beer as it seemed I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. Jerry told me how he wanted to get an RV and travel the entire US. He’d never been to New York City but was probably going to be in New York State for a brewfest this summer. The bartender Phil took my contact info and promised to email when he started his new job so I could come camp at his national park. Bob eventually got up to go home when I was about halfway through with my sandwich. Garrett’s envy oozed from his text messages and intensified when Phil informed us that Four Peaks was not currently able to ship outside of Arizona.
As the time closed in to when I’d feel comfortable arriving at the airport, I finished my sandwich and paid my tab. Jerry thanked me for letting an old man enjoy conversation with a beautiful young lady for a few hours and listening to his stories. Phil the bartender told me to keep the brewery pen as a souvenir. I’d meant to buy a t-shirt but forgotten before I’d already paid my tab and put away my wallet. Jerry stood up and hugged me goodbye, giving me his business card to stay in touch. I bid farewell to my new friends and walked out into my last Arizona sunset, heading west toward the Mustang for the last time.
The sunset over the skyline was absolutely brilliant and I took one of my favorite photographs standing behind the Mustang looking directly into the setting sun. The way the light stretched over the buildings and across the street ahead of me in the arid air looked like a movie set. I plugged my phone back into the car to charge and listen to music, made a U-turn, and drove back out. I stopped for gas to avoid being charged $9 per gallon at the airport, then headed over.
Appropriately, the first album I’d listened to when I had gotten into the Camaro what seemed like years earlier was the one I chose to listen to on this final drive. The last song on the album is an allusion to the death of a friend but not in a sad way, but as I pulled onto the parkway leading toward rental car return it brought tears to my eyes. So much had happened on this short journey that I couldn’t have planned if I’d tried. I’d had to rely on myself in ways I normally didn’t in daily life in order to get through the challenges set before me and continue on the journey. I’d seen sights that would never look the same in photographs and been to places most people would never go, without getting a new stamp in my passport or speaking another language. Despite having spent more time speaking with other people than I’d expected, I had still spent plenty of time by myself – and I’d now met many incredible people with such varied backgrounds that my globetrotting seemed trite in comparison. I realized I still have a very long journey ahead of me, and that I probably had no idea where it would go, but that I would be okay. If I’d made it through all of this in such a short time, and still enjoyed every minute of it, I would be okay.
I wiped the tears from my eyes as the song ended and I pulled up to the rental car inspection. Luckily, in the end, the blown tire only cost me $75 more than my initial rental fee. I had been worried I’d be charged an obscene amount for damaging a sports car but they didn’t charge me for the Camaro rental at all, and somehow they only charged a standard tire fee (although my rental agreement had specified a much higher amount for prestige-sized tires). Once again, something in the universe aligned to make my day even better than it had been.
I hauled my pack out of the trunk and walked to the shuttle. Check-in was miserable as I was now full of carbohydrates and even more exhausted than before. The zippered vents and pockets on my shirt garnered me incredibly invasive pat-downs in public but I was too tired to care. I vaguely remember sitting in the waiting area but am actually surprised I didn’t fall asleep and miss my flight completely. I didn’t sleep as well on the flight home as two men who smelled of BO and Indian spices were sitting next to me and the pungent odor kept me somewhat awake. But I knew I had an entire day to rest before I began my new life.
In the back of my mind I still contemplated turning around and flying back out – not even going to my new job Monday but taking a risk and having an adventure. I thought better of it and remembered that, although my dreams for this year had been different, I had still landed a prestigious job at a dream company and that adventures cost money which I could make through work.
I wasn’t getting off that plane and becoming a diplomat, but I would still be helping people and using my varied life experience to help guide others in decision-making. I would have weekends free, health insurance, and a higher salary without working unpaid overtime. I would be working for a company whose products I believe in and had been using on my own for over a decade. It was worth taking the leap to stay in New York and see where that took me.
My landlord told me to call when I got on the train and she’d come pick me up, just as she’d done when I came home from the Amazon, not quite a year earlier. I had been wearing the same clothes, carrying the same bag, and as she pointed out, I looked almost as exhausted too. She drove us the few miles home, where I dumped my bag on the floor and rushed into my brand-new bathroom for a much-needed shower: while I’d been gone she’d had a contractor come in to fix the peeling caulking I’d noticed in the shower. When he went to repair it he realized the entire wall had rotted, so while I was away they’d had to tear out the entire bathroom wall around the tub and put a new wall with new tiling in.
I didn’t care, I just wanted a shower. Although the paint on the trim wasn’t done, he’d assured her it was good to be used. I got in and all went well for about two minutes, until the spout shot off the wall and narrowly missed my shin.
Water sprayed everywhere, except out of the shower head, and I had shampoo in my hair. I called my landlord and she told me to come up and finish in her bathroom and she’d have the contractor over ASAP.
Clean and dry, I went to bed. Hours later I vaguely heard voices and eventually realized the contractor was in my apartment working on the shower. He said the faucet hadn’t been screwed in tightly but it should work now. I thanked him and went out to get groceries.
As the day came to a close and I prepared to begin a new chapter in my life, it hit me that the trip was over. I was 30. I had completed everything on my list, from chores to adventures. I’d learned way more than I’d expected, about myself, about the world around me, about those I’d thought I knew well. I’d met new friends and moved on from old ones. I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted out of life while at the same time having absolutely no idea. Two years ago, if someone had shown me my list, I wouldn’t have believed it possible to accomplish everything. But I had done it, and now I knew I could do so much more.