We have ‘small world’ experiences all the time, to a degree that seems statistically improbable to our friends, especially for a couple of introverts. Even for us, one weekend in Portland a few years ago was a very concentrated slug of chance meetings.
I was scheduled to speak at an ALDHA-West event in Cascade Locks, and Francie was flying up with me from San Diego. Since I like to give stuff away at talks, I had mailed a box up ahead to avoid checking luggage on the plane. One way to lighten your pack is to include items that serve multiple uses, and I’m a fan of the peppermint Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. I use it for washing myself, doing laundry and brushing teeth. It’s concentrated, so a little goes a long way, especially when used as toothpaste. Since we lived next door to the president of Dr. Bronners, I had worked with one of their reps to get some small bottles of soap donated to give away at the talk.
We arrived in Portland, Oregon and drove to the event. It’s always great to catch up with old friends in the hiking community and make new acquaintances. And I love talking about lightening pack loads, so enjoyed sharing with the assembled group. Afterwards, a young lady walked up to me and said “Glen! Do you remember me? I’m Jenny! And I’m still married!”
I did actually remember Jenny (and even her name before she told me, which is not always the case for me). A couple of years before, Francie and I had been in Mammoth Lakes, California for me to run a half marathon. As we drove around town, Francie was fascinated by how I could point out which of the hikers with packs we saw walking around town were thru-hikers, and which were just doing smaller trips. When we saw a thru-hiker couple hitching, we stopped and gave them a ride back to the trailhead. Jenny and her fiance had left their homes in Irvine California to hike the PCT. They had decided to get married in Lone Pine, California at the County Courthouse. One of their ‘hiker family’ had gotten an online certificate allowing him to marry them, and their friends had made a tunnel of crossed trekking poles for the new husband and wife to walk through. Jenny said it was the smelliest wedding ever! They had lost so much weight on the trail that they were now wearing their wedding bands on cord around their necks. As a newlywed, Jenny was asking everyone along the trail that summer the key to a long marriage. I replied “Just stay married.” Not profound, and obviously not appropriate in cases of abuse or neglect, but by definition if you stay married, you’ll have a long marriage. Sticking together through hard times is a strong glue, and Francie and I have had our share and then some. Jenny now explained that after their PCT hike they had settled in Portland. She said of all the advice they had gathered that summer, mine was the one that stuck in her mind.
Back in Portland after the hiker event, we were going to take our son Brian to breakfast at We decided to take a walk around the neighborhood where we had rented an AirBnB while we waited for Brian to wake up and walk his dog Vaughn. Coming from San Diego at the time, it was a crisp morning by our standards, so we had jackets on as we walked around the Chapman Elementary School and read the story on how the hordes of the Vaux’s Swift return every year to nest in the old brick chimney of the school. As we’re walking back to our place, Francie comments on a guy sitting out on his front patio in the sun, reading the paper in his t-shirt. “I guess this weather is warm if you’re a local” she commented. As I looked at the guy, I noticed the distinctive Six Moon Designs logo on his hat. As I took another look, I said “Ken?” It was the longtime friend and hiking partner of Ron Moak, founder of Six Moon Designs. I had done a day hike with Ron and Ken at the kickoff event one year, but had no idea that he lived a couple of doors down from our AirBnB rental.
After catching up briefly with Ken, we picked up Brian and headed over to Blossoming Lotus, a spot well-known for amazing vegan breakfast options, including decadent pumpkin cinnamon rolls. We got a table in the back, and as we enjoyed a leisurely brunch, the place filled up and a line formed out the door. As we were leaving, we went by a large table towards the front, and someone called out “Hey Glen and Francie!” It was Snorkel, Mr. G, (trail names) and a large table of other hikers that we had seen fairly recently at a different hiker event in Lake Tahoe!
The weekend was winding down, and we boarded the plane at PDX to head back to San Diego. The window seat was empty when Francie and I took our seats, and stayed that way as the flight attendant made early announcements. We were thinking we would have a little extra space on the flight home, when one of the last people to board the plane came to our row and sat down in the window seat. Francie, in the middle seat, was checking messages on her phone before shutting it down. Our son Grant was heading to Expo West for Dr. Bronner’s, since he worked for them in sales. Francie made some comment about Dr. Bronner’s, and the lady in the window seat said “Excuse me, I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but I work for Dr. Bronner’s.” Francie explained our son worked for the company, the lady said “I know Grant, I’m basically his bosses’ boss.” When she told her name, it was the person I had been dealing with by email to get the box of giveaway soaps delivered to Portland! (Before she shut her phone down, Francie took a picture of her with the woman and texted it to Grant – every boy’s worst nightmare, imagining your mom sitting next to your bosses’ boss, chatting through a plane flight…)
That was the most connections we have ever discovered (to date anyway) in a 48-hour period. I still shake my head in wonder when relating it to others. It inspires me to keep making connections, including many of you!