Cold Welcome


I learned I had failed the bar exam in October. I had months until my next chance to retake it. Tired of living in Memphis after over a decade, I relinquished my house, scattered my possessions across a dozen friends’ places, and bought the cheapest ticket into Europe I could find.

I decided to try to find some financial wiggle room by couchsurfing. I had hosted, but never attempted to stay with someone. Partially because of the control aspect. I felt less vulnerable as a host, being able to dictate the terms of the interaction. However, opportunity and necessity had collaborated in pushing me a bit; I wasn’t about to forfeit my ticket fare.

I flew into Dublin, but, wanting to see some of the countryside, I asked to stay with a guy, a fireman, around my age in a small village outside the city. He had dozens of reviews from visitors and myriad pictures of himself looking sexy while climbing mountains. In hindsight, I suppose it’s probably my fault for letting my libido overcome my common sense.

I had gone out with a vengeance my last night in Dublin. After embracing the culture of a city that emphatically encourages drinking, I ended up waiting for my host at a bus stop in the frigid cold at nine a.m. The person that showed up was the housemate, not my firefighting mountaineer. During the half mile walk back to the house, I felt drained and weak, actually getting a bit winded. Granted, it was uphill carrying about sixty pounds of baggage, still, rather embarrassing. Little did I know.

I soon learned that my host had a “little hike” planned. Despite the fact that he had made me uneasy with a couple of gang rape and murder jokes, I halfheartedly feigned enthusiasm about the prospect. Two of his friends, a tiny Italian man and a big, pink Scot, arrived shortly and we set off.

I had neglected to pack clothes suited to wintering in Northern Europe. I had a pair of cloth sneakers and one nice, dress wool coat- completely inappropriate for a six hour hike through the hills.

Which is exactly what it turned out to be.

After crossing a couple of fields and cattle gates, we reached the trail and began to ascend. My lungs were burning and my skin was flushed by the time the sleet and hail started. Trying to be a good guest, I was loathe to complain. This, however, did nothing to deter my hosts from gently taunting me about my hangover. My clenched-jaw smile apparently wasn't convincing and they could tell I was struggling. While I have a low threshold for cold and discomfort, I have a very high one for pushing on. Although my face and extremities were soon numb and burning, I plodded forward. The Italian stayed with me, despite my repeated insistence that I was fine by myself. Six miles in I realized he was hitting on me. Seriously. I was barely able to grunt replies to his inane questions while panting and puffing my way uphill, pausing only to wipe ice crust from my face. Who would try to sexually engage that person? My raging hormones, the source of this problem, were unresponsive to this small Italian man’s overtures.

Before long I had a couple of bleeding blisters and my hands were cracking from the cold. I had heard of this in dreary Russian novels, and always thought it was a myth. Apparently not.

Soon the wind changed direction and the stinging sleet was being driven directly into my face. I began checking beside the trail for a leafy spot to nestle into and wait it out. Right when I was about to finally abandon my pride and settle under a pine tree, the boys gave up. I fairly skipped the first mile back downhill. It didn’t even phase me when they left me on the way home, though finding my way back to the house I had only seen once, for five minutes in the dark, was not exactly fun.

Needless to say, I cut my stay short with a flimsy excuse and headed north to Belfast; just as cold but nobody expected me to trek through sleet for hours on end. In fact, every other couch surfing experience I have had, both prior to and following, was incredibly positive. I would highly recommend it to anyone, provided they exercise caution and reason when choosing a host.



A Koenig

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