North Carolina to Utah

It all started in April of 2014. I woke up just after the sun to make the first ferry out of Orient. I packed enough clothes for a few days, intending to find an apartment and move back to Boston. I had to chose between moving back to a city, where I had friends, a job, and a comfortable life or packing my bags and driving south to sleep on foreign couches in unfamiliar homes. The idea of traveling to new cities, while being welcomed into the homes of locals seemed surreal. I mean, there’s no way people would actually allow strangers into their homes, and there’s absolutely no way people would be comfortable sleeping on a strangers couch… Right? Something about the risk of this lifestyle seemed oddly inviting. I sent out a few requests, not expecting to get any responses but within the hour I had two accepted requests. I had a host for Richmond, VA and Charleston SC. I don’t have to expand much on that because as you may have gathered, I never moved back to Boston. When I was explaining my plans to my Dad, fully expecting a rant about how I’m definitely going to get killed, he asked me “Why are you looking for a couch, just sleep on a park bench.”


3 years after that conversation, I woke up in a hammock that was set up directly above a park bench somewhere outside of St. Louis. I spent 22 hours in a car with two total strangers all the way from Asheville, North Carolina to Boulder, Colorado. So I’m not sure if my Dad was kidding, but either way, I’m sorry it took me three years to finally sleep above a park bench.

My first traveling memory involved an encounter with a stranger, while walking with strangers, in a strange city on a dark strange street. Sounds like the beginning of a nightmare right? Well it was the complete opposite. It ignited a feeling of warmth, a desire to be a good human, and most importantly it showed me that humans can still be kind and compassionate. As cliché as it sounds, strangers are only friends we haven’t met yet.


Anyway, it’s story time!

The first city I traveled to was Richmond, VA. I was couchsurfing at a home, locally known as the “Dharma Temple” and they invited me to tag along for a few hours of mingling with unfamiliar faces and putting my social skills to the test. Later that night, my host, and staple nomadic friend Phil was directing us back to his part of town when we saw a person stumbling towards us from the next block. His footsteps seemed heavy, and not just in the one too many drinks kind of way. I elbowed Phil and said “We should offer this guy a cigarette.” So that’s exactly what we did.  The guy looked up at us and paused for a few seconds. He thanked us and asked “Do y’all mind if I vent for a minute?”

We took a seat on a brick structure and lit our cigarettes. This guy, we’ll call him Tom, started telling us about his night and everything that led up to this exact moment. He was going through a rough couple of months, unfortunately life isn’t always merciful. He was walking home from a friends house where they were celebrating the life of someone who passed. During this conversation, I remember looking at Phil and wondering if there was anything we could do to help him, Phil’s eyes were focused on Tom, and I can tell he was thinking the same thing. Neither of us realized that we were already helping more than ever by just being there. We also learned that Tom was a writer, and he went to school for English. In the 30 minutes we spent talking, we learned that Tom had a love for Dostoevsky, Maya Angelou and he was able to quote almost any word that any of his favorite authors have ever spoke. After Tom said all that he felt was necessary, he told us about the depression he was went through and how he learned to fight it.

“Have you ever heard of the Whirling Dervishes?”

“You know that depressive feeling that makes moving seem impossible? Have you ever tried to just stand up and whirl around?”

“You can’t help but smile”

and he was totally right.

So here I am, in a strange city with strangers on a strange dark street having one of the most inspirational and pivotal moments of my life. He mentioned the motion of whirling dervishes as inspiration to this act of happiness. That’s exactly when Tom, who up until 20 minutes ago was dealing with a dark wool blanket of emotion, stood up and started whirling. It was almost picturesque watching this slightly inebriated, emotional English major whirling in the streetlight with a genuine smile painted across his face. Unhappiness is a dark, scary feeling but sometimes it only takes one small action to rise out of it. Next time you feel emotionally debilitated, force yourself to stand up and whirl around, you’ll see how impossible it is to not laugh. I mean, lets be honest. You know you look silly. Phil and I could have kept walking but instead we opened ourselves up to a total stranger. I don’t know where Tom is today, but all I can hope for is that he is still reading the classics, whirling through life with a giant contagious smile across his face.


The most recent journey began on the couch of Bonpaul and Sharkys with my backpack resting against the desk. I went from working 24/7, breaking my free time into “shifts,” to a week of unemployment, to Chattanooga, to that last moment on the couch. Within minutes of meeting Janica, we were in the van heading west. We stopped in Tennessee to pick up Leah and her dog before started our 22 hour journey to Boulder. After an hour in the car my nerves were calm, and I felt like I was on an actual road trip. We skipped the entire awkward small talk and jumped straight into actual, meaningful conversation. The following day we dropped off Leah and Mowgli in Denver, spent two days in Boulder and then we were off to the West.

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Park #1 Rocky Mountain Natl. Park: We drove through the Rockies on our way south to Utah. In my previous post, I wrote about how the mountains have a way of putting you back in your place. The Continental Divide left me speechless. Not only did I feel small but I finally realized just how far I was thrown from my original roots, and just how far I threw myself from who I thought wanted to be. Sometimes I feel like I should wear a sign around my neck saying “work in progress” but who am I kidding, shouldn’t everyone? 4 years ago, I was in a long term relationship, thinking about a college degree, and growing old with a picket fence. You know, the whole cookie-cutter future thing. I was never meant for that kind of lifestyle. While standing on Independence Pass, I made peace with that previous version of myself and finally said farewell. I am not afraid of my desires and I will go out and find them. I will keep whirling through life, landing exactly where I need to be in every exact moment. I am happier than I have ever been and that’s how things are going to be for now on.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
The Continental Divide

Park 2# Arches Natl. Park: So fun fact: my favorite color is a mix of burgundy and maroon. I’m definitely a water person, but I’ve always been attracted to these earthy fire shades. While admiring the gravity-defying rock formations, I noticed that this place looked like an artist’s palette of sultry red pastels and I don’t know how else to put it, there was just SO MUCH RED! After a whole day of scrambling around rocks, yelling “ECHO” through every structure while trying to find canyons that were only “.2 miles” away and searching Moab for vegetarian friendly grub, we could barely keep our eyelids open. We found a campsite that was close enough to the highway while still having the opportunity to wake up in what felt like our own personal Grand Canyon. I had this idea in my head that the desert would be a scorcher throughout the day, but as long as I didn’t work myself too hard I would be fine. Also, I always hear about those cool, breezy desert nights so I only had to stick it out for a few hours of daylight and I would be fine. A few minutes went by, the temperature dropped about 6 degrees from what it was during the day. The absolute lowest low of the day was 86.

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Balancing Rock, Arches NP



Park #3 & #4 Capitol Reef & Grand Escalante Natl. Park: We drove out of Moab and changed our route about 6 times. Finally we threw the atlas and hands in the air and said “Screw it, lets just go!” We drove through Grand Escalante, over the Devils Backbone and found our way to a small town that was near a small swimming hole. We stopped at the gas station for the nice, cold 3% Utah beer and directions on how to get to the local swimming hole. The lady at the register was more than helpful with directions, however she did leave out one small detail. I’ll get to that soon. She told us to head down a road and turn onto the dirt road BEFORE the entrance to the visitor center. Keep in mind, this is a small town somewhere in southern Utah. We drove down that road until we saw the visitor center. Immediately to the left of the visitor center we saw two “Do Not Enter” signs and a small dirt path behind the parking lot. That has to be the road! We drove the minivan through those signs “just like the locals would have done” and ended up on a small ATV path. We were so close to the water, I could feel it in my little Long Islander heart. That’s the exact second that the front of the mini van sunk into a mud puddle. Apparently Utah had some rain within the past few days.. That’s when we met Kendall, the Park Ranger. He watched us walk into the visitor office with our muddy feet and heads hanging with shame.

“We made a huge mistake.”

Bryce was supposed to be a full day adventure, but since we had to pencil in Mini Van MudBoggin’ to the schedule, we made it there for sunset, a small hike and a campsite. Oh, before I forget.. When sleeping in a hammock that is attached to trees, under more trees please have a back up plan in case of a storm. I absolutely love hammock camping, and this was definitely not the first time I got stuck in a rainstorm but it was the first time I felt like I was sleeping inside of a wind powered slingshot. I slept inside of the van that night.



Park #5 Zion Canyon Natl. Park: If you ever find yourself with only one day in Zion, think of it as an Intro to Zion 101. You will not have enough time to admire the contrast between the bright, vast blue skies and the deep, fiery sandstone cliffs, or the mystery of the endless slot canyons. I haven’t found the words to describe Zion yet, mostly because I can not begin to explain the harmony that I felt while perched on a rock, looking down into Zion Canyon. On my first road trip, I was going to hitchhike to Zion if I had to. Of course, life happened and I ended up in Seattle with $50 in my pocket so I had to put Zion plans on hold. Two years ago, I wanted to drive Ol’ Ruby the ’88 Cherokee into the deserts of Moab before hitting Zion as a final farewell. Unfortunately Ruby made it as far as Dublin, GA before blowing a head gasket. Once again, those plans were put on hold. I will not have the words for Zion until I figure out why I have been drawn to this park but finally, after 3 years- I made it! This has been a pilgrimage of a sort for me. There’s more to it than its landscape. I’ll get back everyone on that. One day.

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While I was out west, my brain was racing with questions and thoughts. You know how you always see inspirational posters using certain terrains as metaphors for life? You know, those “climb/conquer every mountain” or “just keep swimming through the ocean or you’ll sink.” I can go on forever with these but you probably get the idea. While I was driving through the desert I realized you never see signs telling you to go into the desert. You don’t go into the desert to conquer anything, because you will never ever conquer the desert. The desert is where you go to be vulnerable, the place you go to expose all of your own corners. There’s no hiding yourself out there and you learn that the moment you put your pinky toe out on that dusty, cracked earth.

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I have been whirling through life for about 3 years now, and I’m not even close to slowing down.

And that’s all she wrote.




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