My thru-hike almost ended before I started
That was me. It was 4:30 in the morning and I was at the customs in the Miami International Airport. I was tired after 8 hours flying from Belo Horizonte (we say BH, like you call Los Angeles LA). I walked three steps, put my passport on the desk and said “good morning”. The officer started asking the usual questions:
– What is the purpose of your trip?
It’s tourism this time, I said.
– How long are you intending to say in the US?
At this time I could lie and say that, like many other tourists, I was going to spend a week in Orlando and then go back to Brazil. Because I have a B1/B2 visa, for tourism and business, I would get the permission to stay for 6 months, anyway. However, I said the truth: “Five months. I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail.”
The officer moved her face from the computer screen and looked at me in the eyes. Her facial expression became serious. Then she made a few more questions: do you have a job? A wife? Children? How much money do you have in cash? Five months? A hike?
I answered all the questions calmly. When she put my passport aside I asked her to put my boarding pass together.
– You can have it. I’m retaining your passport. Step aside please, sir.
Remember that I said that even having a visa and having visited the US a dozen times before, I had no guarantee that I’d get in? That’s what came to my mind.
I waited for a century while she passed my documents on to another person. After he came back and said something to her that I couldn’t understand. In my mind it was something like “I’ve checked his Facebook Page and a recent post at The Trek and he’s telling the truth: there’s a trail called Appalachian and he’s going to thru-hike it.” She called me again:
– Sir, you are welcome. Five months walking, that’s what you said? You are allowed to stay until October 10th. Enjoy your stay.
That century was actually no more than 15 minutes. Minutes of terror. I was sweating. My mouth was dry. I couldn’t go back to Brazil after a whole year of planning… The words came out of my mouth trembling: “thank you”, I said. My Appalachian Trail will start this Saturday. My adventure had started already.
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