This trip wouldn’t be the same without the friends we’ve met along the way. Indeed, one of the biggest surprises so far during our travels is the stunning generosity and friendliness we encounter. We aren’t asking for help and hanging out a shingle asking for gas money – pretty sure that doesn’t work with a new Mercedes – and yet people approach us, usually intrigued by the van, and I almost always grant them a tour of the rig. (Typically when Chelsea is trying to get changed for a hike or bike ride.) And after that, immediately the hospitality is turned on. “Oh, you have to come park in our driveway!” or “Our ranch is just over the hill, come stay with us as long as you’d like.”
I’ve never experienced anything like it. Backpacking around the world, there were friendly people who picked me up while I hitchhiked, and Couchsurfing hosts who let me crash at their places, but random strangers inviting me to sleep at their homes? Nope. That’s a new one. And this is not an isolated experience – it has happened many times so far. People approaching us to check out the Sprinter isn’t a surprise anymore, and it’s almost stranger when we pull up to hike or into a parking lot and nobody swings by to say howdy.
As a running joke goes with me and Chelsea, I think everyone is my friend, I just don’t know their names yet! After the amazing experiences and great friends we’ve made, our rule now is to take people up on their offer even if it’s a little out of our way or shakes up the “schedule.” Every time we park the van at a new friend’s place, we learn something new and are inspired by people. Traveling has a way of cutting away chit chat and conversations about deep aspirations, painful yet illuminating experiences, and the core of what makes us tick as humans quickly surface over hanging out, meals and exploring their local area.
From the ferocious L.A. cyclist Ken and his devilish chess skills to the insightful healer Pam and her generous brother Bob in Morro Bay, or cheery ultrarunner Dan and his awesome wife Haley in the Santa Barbara area, we’re blown away by people’s spirit and talent. Merle and Robbie talked to us for about five minutes near Malibu and the next day we found ourselves with their awesome ranch all to ourselves when they went off to work, house unlocked and “make yourself at home” thrown over their shoulders. Jima, owner of Joshua Tree Bike Shop, arranged a shuttle ride for me and a couple other guys and we wound up staying at his cool place near Joshua Tree for a few days. The list goes on…
I share this not to brag. No, no – I’m hoping, in a small way, to rekindle faith in humanity and the kindness of our fellow human beings. It’s easy to bar the windows and lock the door after reading the news these days. You’d think everyone out there is a depraved killer driving a stolen car with loaded weapons in the backseat. In fact, all we’ve encountered in the last five months is generosity, open-hearted folks who want to learn and share, and a roster of new chums (that one’s for you, Ryan in London) we can’t wait to come back and visit. Missing dear friends in Portland is one of the biggest downsides to traveling, and there’s no way we could replace them, but connecting with a new cadre of inspiring friends along the way balances it out to some degree.
Don’t be scared of the open road. Put yourself out there. Say hi to strangers. Stay open to serendipity, even if you weren’t planning it. Be prudent, but positive. Accept invitations. The connections we’ve made with wonderful people along the way has enriched our lives in so many ways and I can’t imagine this trip happening any other way. I’ll remember snippets of the bike rides in the redwoods of Santa Cruz, and the cool air and blossoming colors of an ocean sunset will occasionally swim through my mind. But I won’t forget Ken saying, “Duuuude, don’t ride that!” right before I launched into an ill-fated descent on steep loose rock. Or Dan and I racing to assemble camp chairs while Haley and Chelsea crack up (yeah yeah, he won). Those are the memories that stick. And we’re looking forward to creating many, many more along the way.
See you on the road. And if you see us first, stop by and say howdy!
P.S. I’ve added a “Shout Outs” section to the site with thanks to some of our wonderful buddies. Some are friends from the past that we’re visiting, and others are newly minted amigos. All are awesome. Hard to keep the site updated with them all, but I’m trying!