This summer I took a somewhat accidental trip through the western USA. As far east as Monument Valley, as far south as the Mohave Desert and the coast from Big Sur back up to Vancouver. Originally I was supposed to spend the two weeks before fall semester in Greece. Got to YVR, checked the board for my New York flight…Nothing, check the itinerary, my flight was due to depart on September 26 at 1030 PM it was August 26 at 830. So I found my way home, frantically canceling flights, trying to clear my head and figure out my next move. I had quit my summer job two weeks early so I couldn't just take my stupidity in stride, I needed a big idea.
Within 36 hours I had packed up my Highlander, equipped with sleeping arrangements and probably twenty five percent of the equipment I needed (you live and learn) and was off. I remember being slightly bummed to be traveling alone, within the next two weeks that sentiment would completely change.
DAY 1 'If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company' -Sarte
I had always been very comfortable by myself, never needed people around. I genuinely enjoyed going off with nature, music, a book or a road as my sole companion(s). Some times, however, were better spent in good company and I had always found it difficult to approach total strangers, particularly when I was alone to begin with.
I left Vancouver around 6AM, crossed the border into Washington and drove south to Everett before heading into the Cascades towards Leavenworth. Despite photography being a big motivating factor I told myself that I would be selective about where I would stop and what I would save for myself, camera free. About an hour outside Everett I found a swimming hole with beautiful cliffs on either side. It was empty save for a group of 6, couples, somewhere in their twenties. Normally I would've taken my pictures and moved along, this wasn't normally. I introduced myself and quickly they had convinced me to test my courage on a particularly high cliff, jumping into the icy mountain water was exhilarating. Afterward they invited me to have lunch, it was a simple meal; meat, cheese and wine. We sat by the river for a couple hours and talked about life, all six of them grew up in Seattle and met at university, one couple still lived in Seattle, one in Philadelphia and anther had bounced around the globe for the last 4 years. They promised each other that once a year they would meet back up and see where life had taken them, they didn't talk everyday, not even every month, but once a year judging by the laughter and old stories nothing much changed. After enjoying some food and a glass of particularly sour red wine, I left, I didn't get everyones name, the only one I remember is Stella, probably because it is my favorite beer. I didn't add any of them on Facebook, no phone numbers, just a great couple of hours in good company.
Two hours later I had passed Wenatchee and entered a beautiful, foreign, golden part of Washington. As I drove I pulled into what appeared like an abandoned barn off of the highway. I got out to explore, camera in hand I climbed onto some hay bales and stared out over the flat expansive country. Minutes later, I couldn't be sure how many, I heard a grizzly voice "What are you doing up there" I turned slowly to find a man, probably in his seventies staring up at me. His truck was feet away, I had been so oblivious I didn't even hear It coming. "just enjoying the view" I replied, he grumpily informed me I was trespassing. I climbed down and introduced myself, apologizing, I told him I would be on my way. Then the man surprised me "have you eaten?" he asked. I laughed and said I hadn't. Ten minutes later I was sitting on the mans porch, he had a roast in the oven. This turned into one of the most memorable few hours, not just of the trip, but of my life. The man and I ate and then talked and talked and talked. His wife had passed away two years earlier, he hadn't seen either of his children in years. Yet if the man was lonely he hid it well. I remember speaking but I don't remember much of what I said, his words were much more interesting than my own. We watched together as the sun began to set, I thanked him for dinner and told him I needed to get to Spokane that night, reluctantly he said goodbye, I think he could've stayed on that porch all night sharing stories, in hindsight Spokane could've waited. Yet something he said before I left stuck with me, and leaving was worth hearing him say it, "You know Brian (the man couldn't be convinced my name was actually Bruin) the best advice anyone ever gave me was to love what you do and to do it with those you love" I remember looking in the rearview as I drove away, watching him wave through the dust, and I remember thunder storm I watched as I drove the long painfully straight road into spokane. I smiled thinking about what he had said, painfully straight forward his advice was, it was something we all knew, yet like the storm we complicated it. Love what you do and do it with those you love.
I slept in the trunk of my car that night, in the parking lot of a Hilton. I was alone, but I was finally figuring out what I loved and that was progress. That day seemed like a chapter from a book, the people I met, carefully constructed characters, It didn't seem real. It was one of the most authentic days of my life. I remember texting my girlfriend and my brother before I went to sleep telling them I loved them, because it was clear then how important love was. I wasn't going to forget what that man had told me, not then, hopefully not ever.