In my last piece, I touched on the role strangers play in my voyage. It doesn’t matter if it is a conversation in passing, a life-long connection, or an anonymous message of encouragement… each and every person I meet on the road influences myself, my perspectives, and most of all my travels. Naturally, the people I stay with make the biggest impressions. Now I know I haven’t shared ANY of my travels out east this summer yet. So I want to take you on a journey into the homes of the kind, generous, wonderfully enjoyable people I had the privilege of staying with this summer.
Story 1: Ani
I had a week to kill between marketing events I was working for an organic lettuce farm in Cape Charles, Virginia. A Google search brought me to a park in Lewes, Deleware that offered camping, free bike rentals, and access to a private beach on the Atlantic. I was inside the office asking about alternative places to camp, since their sites were all booked up. The rangers and even a few of the guests had caught on that it was my tiny home on the truck parked out front and had worked up quite a bit of excitement. They were asking to take pictures and telling me about a tiny home convention taking place on the coast in just a few weeks time.
“You need a place to park for the night?” I heard a woman say behind me. “I love your little home and I think its great that your out here traveling around by yourself. You can park in my driveway over night.”
Parking in Ani’s driveway overnight turned into a multi-day adventure. That first night we sat outside by a fire sipping wine and just chatting, getting to know each other. The next day she called off work to spend the day with me. We picked up fire roasted tomato pies from a local brewery and headed to the pool with large drinks in hand, ignoring the obvious storms rolling in.
“You know,” she had started when we got our laughter under control over her story of losing a kite out in that field over there.
“My son yelled at me for bringing you into the house. You’re crazy mom, he said. You live by yourself there and you don’t know anything about this girl. She could be a serial killer. But I told him I met you and I knew you were harmless. And I have a niece, and if she were doing what you’re doing I’d hope someone would do the same for her.”
“People say the same thing to me all the time, that its dangerous doing what I do. But you know, I’m still here aren’t I? And I’ve met some incredible people.”
Ani’s generosity didn’t end with her friendship. I was overwhelmed by kindness with the amount of support she offered me. From things to improve the quality of my daily life to suggestions on how to make money and advertise my blog. She had found clippings in the newspaper of an old VW that reminded her of me and added it to the bag of goodies she was sending me off with. She even added a bottle of wine to share with my friend who was coming to spend her birthday in Virginia with me. All she asked for in return was a postcard from my next destination.
Story 2: Terry
Fast forward a few weeks. I find myself at the Outer Banks- the coastal peninsula of North Carolina. I have a week to spare while I wait for my parents to drive into town to visit me. I am in a bit of predicament however as I am between checks, fresh out of money, and have limited gas in the truck. The peninsula is small and boondocking is unlikely here, so I decide to search my Couchsurfing app for a place to park for a day or two in order to buy myself some time. This is how I met Terry.
In the Outer Banks, tourism is huge. Locals work the restaurants and the tourism industry all summer. The town fills up with people, traffic, excitement, and chaos. This is balanced by long quiet winters spent relaxing at home. Some even come to town to work the summer season and then take off to travel the world during the winters. Terry fills his winters with his art and enjoys this time of solitude. During the summers, he works leading open air vehicle tours on the beach highways where the wild horses roam. During the summers he also hosts a great number of international students and Couchsurfers, such as myself.
Terry is an older gentleman with a young, wild spirit. The dwelling he invited me to make myself at home in is a quaint beach house with a beautiful wrap around porch, in which we would later end up on while trimming the wild herbs we foraged from nearby parking lots for dinner. He lives just blocks from the beach, making it an easy night-time bike ride to go lay in the sand and look out at the stars. Out back there are comfy bench seats set around a fire. Beyond the fire is a footpath that leads to the trees we slung our hammocks from in Nags Head Woods, the same trees that I stumbled sideways into after spending way too long in said hammock and throwing off my equilibrium.
In the mornings before Terry left for work we would take the dogs for walks in these woods. They are rescue dogs that he has been slowly urging to trust humans again. They were raised in China where they were being sold on the street with a package of noodles… for soup. His girlfriend bought the soup packages and discarded of everything but the pups, bringing them home to live a better life. Some have adjusted better than others, but all are living happy, healthy lives.
His kindness shows in his work with his dogs as well as his openness of his home and self to others. During my stay with him he gave me full access to his bikes, kayaks, and his car. He even lent me money to go into town and get a famous Duck Donut breakfast. He took me out sightseeing, on a tour with his work, and to every bar and eatery we could find on the peninsula. He made it a personal obligation to make sure I didn’t miss a single thing in my time on the banks. He sent me off with a really cool model VW bus, the book that opened him up to the world of foraging in his youth, as well as boxes of leftover chocolate bars we had used to play a silly game of Jenga.
Story 3: David
Chart way back up north to coastal New Hampshire and enter the creation of the unique, quirky, and artistically minded fellow named David. I was drawn to David by his unique story. He had conjured up an image in his mind of his dream home, inspired by architecture he had seen in his travels to Mexico and South America. Being the kind of person that sees no boundary as to big to get in the way of your dreams, he set out to build that home himself. With no prior experience and the help of a few friends, he created a gorgeous estate just minutes from the town marina where you can step onto the lot and feel like you are instantly transported to a beautiful villa in an exotic country far, far away.
The home is breathtaking and damn near indescribable. However, my favorite part of his masterpiece is what lies out back. David has built a cascading patio that begins with a small dining area surrounded by plants. From the fountain ahead where the ducks like to gather and play, a mosaic path leads off to the side yard where there is a giant fire pit built down into a hollow concrete base. A tier below the fountain brings you to the large picnic tables. And yet another tier down is his salt-water pool over-looking the forested edge of the marsh land beyond the line of his property. The pool is lit at night by the large fountains at either corner where it meets the patio ledge. Only instead of water, these fountains spit fire.
He could easily rent his space out for weekends at a time to travelers, honeymooners, and families looking to escape to the beach. Instead, he has decided to open himself and his creation up to those on the wandering side. He has hosted hundreds of travelers. As he explained, he would rather connect with people and hear their stories than just rent the place out for extra cash.
The gorgeous scenery and luxurious amenities definitely added to my stay here. But the most inspiring part of my weekend here was David’s energy. He lives so entirely wrapped up in the present moment, glowing with enthusiasm and passion for what and whoever sits in front of him at the moment. Anything goes, and at any time. Morning swims. Trekking to the duck house to see the new babies at two a.m. My first night there he even made an elaborate multi-course meal to be shared among a group of strangers brought together under his roof served at the king-like dining room table at midnight. For complete lack of the right words to ever get the brilliance of his personality across to you…. living with David was like getting a glimpse into a pure spirited, totally left-brained, artistic prodigy.
Bonus points: There is now a baby boy duckling named after me living on an estate in New Hampshire, meeting new wanderers, day and night.
Story 4: Gary
I was between David’s place and my next destination a few hours north in the White Mountains where I would be taking a 6-week job at a quite idyllic sounding retreat center. I had about a week before I needed to check in. I figured there would be plenty to explore along the way, but it turned out to be a pretty plain straight forward drive up. I was bored, and it was hot. I was on the look out for something to do and a way out of the heat. I remembered an app a couple I had met at David’s told me they used to meet people along their way, it has different filters so you can look for dating, friendship, or business and they said they used it for all three and had a lot of success. I downloaded it and started talking to Gary, asking him for suggestions on where I could find a place to go swim in the area. Conveniently enough, he lives on a lake.
I pulled up into Gary’s driveway expecting to stay for a few hours and then go crash at the local Walmart for the night. I ended up staying until just hours before I needed to be at World Fellowship Center almost a week later. I’ve never had an easier time getting along with someone. We would sit and just bullshit and laugh until we were in tears for hours at a time. We spent a lot of time walking around the woods and his neighborhood. That first night we even jumped in the lake… a HUGE regret as it was ungodly cold and led to a miserable buggy walk home. We ended the week with a drive down to the ocean where we spent a day on the sand and in the arcades, and a night with his friends in a private box at the Badfish show.
But the story doesn’t end there. When Gary got word that World Fellowship Center was NOT AT ALL what it advertised itself to be, he came to the rescue. He knew how excited I was for this opportunity and had a hunch I was not going to be happy with the way things turned out. I came back from work one day to find my ‘lot’ for the next six weeks completely transformed. When I left, it was an uninviting patch of thigh high, tick infested, weeds with my camper clumsily dropped into the middle of it. By the time I returned it was cut clear and treated for ticks and mosquitoes. He had dug me a fire pit and set up a seating area for me, including a ceramic outdoor incense burner. He surrounded my site in solar lights so I could find my way to my home in the woods even after the sun set. At the base of my stairs was a mat that read “Home Sweet Home”. It had to have taken him hours to do all of this.
And it still didn’t stop there. On my first day off, he took me out exploring all over the White Mountains to scenic overlooks, rivers, and places he camped growing up. He took me into the tourist town and brought me to all the cliché gift shops. My favorite was the famous Zeb’s General Store where we got bottled orange soda, chocolate covered everything, and a big bag of gummy candies. We ended the night with the best Mexican food I have ever had in my life and an assortment of flavored margaritas.
AND IT DIDN’T STOP THERE. Gary continued to come up and visit and make sure that I was enjoying my time in New Hampshire. We drove to see Washington Mountain. We met out at Portsmouth beach where we got rained on all day. We spent nights outside chatting with his friends and neighbors. We went for a boat ride out on the lake. He would let me go spend all day at his house doing laundry, enjoying the AC, and giving Morgan the run of the place whenever I felt I needed to get away. And when my job was finally over, we road tripped up to Maine so I could give him a taste of my life on the road.
I owe Gary quite a lot. Was it not for meeting him, my time in New Hampshire would have suffered greatly. Instead I am left with a stockpile of great memories, and a friend to this day.
And there you have it. You have now gotten a taste as to how it feels to step into a strangers house, and call it home.