I met a man in the woods once

	Kevin VanAntwerpen
GVL Columnist

Kevin VanAntwerpen
GVL Columnist

Kevin VanAntwerpen

I believe everyone is worth having a conversation with. No matter how bizarre, awkward or creepy that person may be, they have a lesson to teach.

This summer, I took a trip to Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with a group of friends. We loaded our backpacks with four days’ worth of freeze-dried food and survival gear and plotted a roughly 20-mile hike along the cliffs and beaches on the coast of Lake Superior.

The first day was beautiful. We ate our meals on the cliffs, with the waves lapping at the bottom. We ended our nights by swimming in Lake Superior and sipping vodka from flasks.

But on the second day, I twisted my leg in a root, something I assume was very unhealthy for my knee because when my friend Ethan examined it, it was swollen and beaten red as if it had been exposed to too much sun. We made camp that night and the next morning I insisted the rest of the group go ahead. I kicked my iPod on shuffle and hobbled along the path, using a stick I’d found for balance.

I’d been walking on my own for about an hour and a half. It was close to 50 degrees outside, the skies were a dark shade of grey and a thin sheet of rain somehow found its way through the tree canopy. I’d stopped for a water break when I saw an old man walking up the trail. He was wearing a tattered old MSU sweatshirt, jeans with holes in the knees and leather shoes that looked like they were at least five decades old. He had no backpack, no food, no survival gear. This was strange to me – we were at least nine miles from the nearest road.

He approached and commented that my leg didn’t look so great. I told him I was OK, I was just trying to catch up to my friends.

“I live in this direction,” he told me. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”

The company couldn’t hurt, I thought. As we started walking, I asked him where he lived. He told me about a cabin he’d moved into after his divorce. His wife suffered a mental breakdown and become extremely violent, he said. After she was committed to a mental institution, he was so heartbroken that he moved to the woods alone. I wanted to ask whether it was legal to live in the state park, but I didn’t.

We walked for several hours before we finally stopped for water at a creek. He asked me about the relationships in my life. As we sat on several stumps near the creek, I told him about the girl I’d fallen in love with, and all the others I didn’t.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” he told me, “Follow what you love. If something makes your heart beat, then chase it with all you have and keep it as long as you possibly can.”

Then he abruptly stood up and pointed to another trail that jetted away from the main one.

“I live down there,” he said. “I should be going. But I wish you luck. Remember to enjoy it when you fall in love.”

Then he was gone.

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