Note from a Fellow She-Traveler

Travel days scramble my perspective. Routines, habits, and thoughtless movements slide off my character while I grasp for rudimentary survival gestures in order to hold on to my mental acuity. Or, maybe in my case, find some mental acuity.

This fall my husband and I biked through the Driftless Zone of Wisconsin while small and large events mostly pleasantly surprised us. For example, on our second travel day I was surprised by the delectability of flathead catfish. But there were also unpleasant surprises, like the fact that (future) Secession President Jefferson Davis spent time in Prairie du Chien subduing Indigenous warriors. I was also rudely surprised by a Border Collie who spent his day sitting by the mailbox waiting for just one slow lady cycler to pedal by so he could give chase. I was not completely surprised by Google maps, which couldn’t properly inform the googler on conditions of rural Wisconsin roads.

But in the midst of that day, I received lovely encouragement in the form of a note. It was from a fellow traveler. This was someone on the journey of humanity — I assume simply trying to make it easier for the next person in line. It was forged in kindness. And I noticed.

I’m showing you so you can notice the kindnesses of fellow travelers. Here’s what I saw.

This is the rule every properly reared Midwesterner follows. Knock first. Give the person on the other side of the boundary a moment to react. Knock two or possibly three staccato raps. Don’t use your fist, and please don’t just scratch at the door. That kind of ambiguity is not a measure of gentleness, it just causes confusion. It is respectful to let the person on the other side know you are there; you need something and are not just lurking around being a weirdo. Your knock will enable her to pull herself together, give her a second to put on her “nice” face (or pull up her pants) and resume the charade that she has it all together.

Entering a new space frequently means you are going to have to push and push hard. This isn’t a passive move. This is moving forward. You are taking the initiative. If you want to go places, get your needs met, you’ve got to make the first move. Enter in. Go to a new room. And it’s going to be hard. It’s not a nudge. You’re going to have to feel the ground under your heels and dig in. We need this adverb. (Or maybe the note reads “Push Hand to Open” … if so, none of this makes sense). And thank goodness you had the ability to read this sign! How many times have you pulled instead of pushed and ended up looking like a complete moron!

But once you’re inside, you haven’t achieved everything. Maybe you met your goal. Maybe you didn’t quite make it. Sometimes that adverb is so difficult that you end up wetting your pants. It’s OK. I’m not shaming you. I’ve done it too.

But all of that is behind you now. You were able to push hard and enter in. And guess what? It isn’t as nice as you thought it was going to be, now is it? You achieved your goal, but you don’t want to get stuck here. So pull hard. You’ve got to get back to your regular life. This is no time to chill out. Pull hard on that handle. You are on the inside, but you’ve got to get out. Use all the strength your arm can find.

And let me speak to you as a sister. If you find yourself stuck in there, here’s a hint. Here’s what I do — I’m not trying to tell you how to live. I’m not saying I’m better than you. I’ve just walked in your shoes and want to share my experience. When I’m in there, and I need to get out, I like to push on the wall to open that door. Look around you. What other resources do you have? What can you use to get yourself out of there? You probably just washed your hands so you don’t even want to touch that wall, but I’m telling you, you have got to get your hands dirty if you want to get out of there. Look around again. It isn’t the kind of place you imagined yourself in for very long. It’s grimy and germy.

You’ve got a handle? You’ve got the momentum and weight of your body? Your feet are on the ground? You’ve got the wall to increase your force? Resist inertia because you are your own answer! There’s an opposing wall. There’s a handle. Sometimes you just need a little opposite force. I’m not a teacher of the laws of physics, but I do obey them.

Just a little advice from someone on the road for how to journey … or at the least, how to get into a particular lavatory.

Note on the door of the women’s restroom at a Dairy Queen not far from Duluth.

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