It was the last night of my five day trip to Denver, and I was dreading going back home. There was a strange feeling inside of me like my trip wasn’t quite over yet (or maybe I just ate a bad burrito), even though I had to be at the airport to fly home in 6 hours. But, I brushed it off, kept walking, and eventually made it to my destination – a Nomadic Matt travel meet-up that I found through Couchsurfing events. My only information was that they were on the patio, where there were a few separate groups of people.
I walked up to the friendliest face I saw and asked if I was at the right group. The face greeted me brightly and said yes! Little did I know, I would be spending the next two weeks with him – Tristan, an energetic French kid who looks ten years younger than he actually is. We got to talking and hit it off immediately. He told me that he met Chris, the organizer, in New Orleans, and jumped on board the trip. Chris was driving around the country hosting these meet-ups. Suddenly Tristan suggested that I join them. Immediately I laughed it off as a joke. But then my mind pulsed – what if I did? After all, they would be passing through LA, and coincidentally, right by my house.
That was how I made my decision. It took a whole five seconds to agree to, although I was nervous with other scenarios of what ifs. Specifically, what if I’m serious, but they aren’t? It wouldn’t be hard to just never reply to a text and take off without me. After all, I have quite the resume of being flaked out on. Yet it was a risk I was willing to take. Worst case scenario, I learn how to hitchhike! I was fortunate enough to have just lost my job so I had no obligations, and no reason to go back home just yet. I called my friend who I was supposed to be flying home with and told him I was being kidnapped, then promptly asked my previous host if I could crash for one more night.
“Where’s your ukulele?” Tristan came walking up the next morning, already making demands. The night before I had mentioned that I often travel with my uke, and he informed me that I could only come if I found a ukulele to take along. “We’ll find one along the way,” I promised. That satisfied him, and I was granted access to the car which was later named the J-Hole.
That day we drove to Jackson, Wyoming. After a few unanswered couchsurfing requests from the negative four people who lived there, we decided to go all out and spoil ourselves with a Motel 6. Impressive, I know. While Chris was booking the room, Tristan and I played ninja in the lobby. It was then that we realized our roles – Chris was the semi-responsible dad, and Tristan and I were the not-quite-behaved kids.
For dinner, we had vegan s’mores (compliments of our semi-responsible dad), and dessert was Graham Cracker beer. It all worked out. That is, until we went to bed and Tristan kept everyone awake with his unnatural snoring. I couldn’t tell if it was the snoring keeping me up, or the fact that we went to bed at 10:15 pm like a group of old raisins.
After checking out the next day, we drove to Grand Teton National Park – which in French means Big Tit. It can certainly be eye opening to travel with foreigners. We found a good hiking trail, and went on our 13 kilometer boob hike to Phelps Lake and Death Canyon. Either we’re a group of badasses, or the canyon was poorly named because we almost definitely made it out alive.
That night, we drove to Arco, Idaho, which had even less couchsurfers than the -4 in Jackson. Since we had already lived like royalty the night before, we turned things around that night and roughed it in the car. It was uncomfortable, cramped, and cold. But after I had channeled my inner accordion and squished myself in the back seat, all I could do was smile to myself gleefully because I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be. I would rather be freezing in a car with new friends on a grand and unknown quest, than cozy and warm in my bed back home waiting for something like this to fall into my lap.
Over the course of the trip, we drove through Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, popped up to Vancouver for a weekend, back down to Oregon, and through California. Through it all we explored lava tubes, spent election night couchsurfing with the only gay liberals in Boise, watched the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf, and climbed on redwood trees. But amidst all the activities, my favorite memories come from being stuck in the car for hours a day – frustrating each other with riddles, surviving off Oreos and Nutella, singing obnoxiously to Queen, stopping now and then to take cliche jump photos, getting crash courses in French from Tristan, and eventually ending up in a new Starbucks each evening, frantically trying to find a couchsurfing host.
By the time we finally ended up in LA, I had decided to stay onboard the trip for a few more days. The plan was to go to the Grand Canyon, followed by Las Vegas. From there, Tristan and I would take a bus back to my house, and Chris would continue the rest of his trip solo. It was sad to think this would all be coming to an end in a few days, but there were still more escapades to be had.
The New Addition
Angela was a fashion student in the area who had the misfortune of going to the Los Angeles travel meet-up. Like me, she was suckered into joining our rag-tag gang. At other meet-ups, there were plenty of people who toyed with the idea of dropping everything and coming, but no one ever followed through. So when the idea was proposed to Angela and she was on the fence, I didn’t take much heart to it because I assumed it would end the same as everyone else who decided against it. One hour later, we were at her apartment in Hollywood as she packed her bags.
After a night in a dirty motel in Needles, we were almost to the Grand Canyon. I’ve lived in Southern California my entire life, a mere 6 hour drive from this world wonder, and I had still never seen it. Things often seem to work out that way. Upon arriving, I found my heart racing. It felt unreal to finally be here. I kept my eyes on the ground and covered my field of view as Chris led me towards a viewpoint. With a deep breath, I looked up. Woah, dude! It looks like a painting! The unique colors of the ancient canyon against the overcast sky appeared unreal.
Once I’d gotten over the initial shock, we carried out a bunch of mini-photoshoots while scrambling dangerously around the canyon edge. Did I mention it was also incredibly windy? That still didn’t stop us from taking one of our classic jump shots. We left the path to climb to more remote areas to escape the crowd and get a more unique view. And take more daring pictures. The vanishing sun finally forced us to head back to the car and onward to Vegas!
I’ll be honest, Las Vegas has never appealed to me. I don’t care about gambling, partying, or heavy drinking. However, it’s an incredibly popular weekend trip among Los Angeles inhabitants, and I was the only one of my friends who had never been there; so I figured it was time to get it out of the way, and this was the perfect group of people to do that with. The city was pretty much what I expected, but the lights and decorations were quite fun to look at, and we had a blast walking down Fremont Street. But as always, the most fun we had was when we got away from the public and back to the hotel room.
With just one bottle of wine between three of us (Chris doesn’t drink. Like I said, he’s the dad.) we enjoyed the last night while staying quite sober. We made our own fun via goofing off making stupid jokes, like shoving carrots in a cup of water, ridiculous tattoo ideas, and Your Mom jokes. Actually, Your Mom jokes are always funny (those had become a daily norm, thanks to me). Even though Tristan, Angela, and I had a bus to take back to LA the next morning around 8 AM, we stayed up as long as possible, because in the morning, this would all come to an end.
The next morning, Chris joined us downstairs as we waited for the Uber to arrive to take us to the bus station. We did our best to make jokes amidst the melancholic atmosphere and lighten the mood, but the Uber pulled up and reality set in: Team J-Hole was separating at last.
We each gave Chris a farewell hug, and finished with a group hug to finalize the departure. I hid my face as I turned to get into the car, making my best efforts not to cry. The three of us still had a long bus journey ahead, and Tristan and I had a few more days of adventures together, but the main event was at last over. No more Chris. No more J-Hole.
The bond you make when you travel with people is like no other. Especially when you are confined to the space of a small Kia for hours a day. We did everything together, shared food, occasionally shared clothes and shoes, we slept on each other, shared beds and other sleeping surfaces, accepted each other when we wore the same pants for a week and couldn’t shower. Even Angela, who was only with us for a weekend, quickly adapted and fit in with our gang.
Rewind to one evening when we were in Big Sur on the coast of California, standing on the beach as we watched the sun slowly disappear behind the peaceful waves. This was one of the somewhat quiet moments of this serendipitous expedition where I stopped to enjoy the situation and the people I ended up with. In that moment, I thought about the future and what it would be like to look back on these events. I knew I would long to be back here, with these incredible people making unforgettable memories. Now that I’m not there anymore, now that I’m in the future I was imagining, I’ve come to find –
I was right.
Another fun part of this trip – we’re all bloggers! Be sure to check out each of their sites for more insight on who they are: