Erika Justis is a single girl living the high life in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She literally gets paid to make Silicon Valley look cool.

My all-encompassing universe is a tiny pinpoint in the scheme of things. When I walk “The Dish,” I realize I’m a tiny ant traveling in patterns with billions of others.

The Dish is a 3.5-mile trail in the foothills next to Stanford. Its namesake is a huge radio telescope perched on one of the hilltops.

The Dish is a very popular destination because of the views (breathtaking views of Stanford and the Bay) and because of, or in some cases, in spite of the good workout (the hills will kick your derriere into gear and leave you not a little sore if you’re unprepared). It does not discriminate against race, religion, age, gender or even attire. In the one hundred times I’ve walked or run it (depending on my level of laziness at the time), I’ve seen old and young, fat and thin versions of people from all walks of life–Indians, Russians, Germans, students, professors, yuppies, hippies and more. The only thing the Dish requires is sufficient gluteus maximus.

At the Dish, I get a brief sense of other people’s lives. Okay, a totally fictional sense made up in my head, but an idea, nonetheless. The uber-runner who laps me three times, vowing to beat yet another personal best. The exhausted mom pushing a stroller, trying to lose the baby weight or at least get a quiet moment alone. The family of four out for a constitutional—little kids straggling behind to harass a lizard. The unsuspecting girl trying to daintily trudge up the hills in heels, heels! with an attentive boy at her side.

Anyone not rocking out to their own personal soundtrack is talking, because the Dish also somehow charms people into spilling their guts to whomever is huffing and puffing next to them. As I pass people on the trail, their world fades in and out of mine. It’s entertaining and at times, alarming:

“So, I met him at this party and we were together for like three months and now I guess that’s it.”

“No seriously, I’ve been doing it for four days and I feel completely different.”

“It’s finished, and a bonus had better be coming my way.”

“I promise we will make sure he can’t hurt her like that anymore.”

Maybe we each live our lives like we’re walking the Dish. We revolve in our own universes, and we pass through others’ when our orbits intersect for one reason or another. I recognize that a large part of my world is built entirely on assumptions I make about the people around me—what they think and feel, how they see me, what they want.  From a snippet, I construct another person’s entire world in my head. This is all well and good when entertaining oneself at the Dish, but “real life” requires a bit more research. Every once in a while, I learn I am wrong, and my perception gets shaken like an etch-a-sketch. Like when I discovered that my big, strong and unshakable father is afraid of heights. Or when a two-year crush introduced his girlfriend (and yes, that’s beyond the statute of limitations for crushes).

I wonder how the other Dish walkers see me.

I guess this is where patience and real investment comes in, right? If we’re willing, we can build worlds that include people who truly know us and people who trust us enough to offer their true selves in return. Maybe those relationships are what keep us from spinning out of control and losing the tenuous grasp on the reality we do have.