The Kindness of Strangers

Okay, I need to catch y’all up on some stories, so here goes nothing. We’ll start with my weekend in Redwood City with the old farts I’d previously met on Route 66

Flashback to early may on Route 66 when I first meet Eric, Zeke, Patrick, Eric, and some other guy who stood like 10 yards away the whole time:

I’m a few days deep into a lonesome 120 mile stretch through the Mojave desert. This part of Route 66 is shut down to traffic since a few bridges washed out years ago, and I haven’t seen but 5 cars the past 2 days and not one of those cars has stopped to talk to the psychopath backpacking through the triple digit temperature of the Mojave desert. As I’m finally conquering the last mile of the closed road I see a formation of bikers down the way. I don’t know what they’re doing. Probably being assholes like so many cyclists seem to be, but I’m desperate for conversation so I’m ecstatic to see them.

As they approach I beam my friendliest smile their way, not realizing until it’s too late only crazy people that have lost their minds are this happy to be in the Mojave. To my surprise, they stray from the normal straight faced, “I’m sacrificing my aerodynamics if I nod or smile at you” that most bikers do. These guys actually stop to ask me what I’m doing. I take a second to swallow the discomfort I feel, knowing they can smell the stench I’m wearing after my shower-less 4 day crawl through the Mojave, and tell them my story. To my surprise we clicked pretty quickly and the nerves faded away. It probably helped that Eric reminded me that I was standing down wind.

Anyway, it turns out these guys were from San Francisco and were doing a bike tour along Route 66 from Santa Monica, CA to Albuquerque, NM. When I told them I was walking up the coast they said I should contact them when I arrived in San Francisco so we could all get a beer and share our stories. I could also use their shower so guy #5 didn’t need to shout his words from beyond the three point line. We exchanged information and they’ve all been active in my journey since, providing tips for my route and interacting with my posts.

Flash forward 3 weeks to the weekend of July 9th:

I’m finally close enough to grab that beer, and after a long stretch through Big Sur on the 4th of July weekend, I need it. So Eric came and picked me up and brought me back to stay with him and his wife, Charmaine, for the weekend.

Friday, Eric drove down and picked me up and took me back to his home so I could shower before we went out and met the guys at the local brewery they’re members at. We had some beers, an outstanding Asian burrito, and talked about everything from feedback on my content to ideas to improve my journey. Anything beyond that I was too drunk to remember because I’d finished my first beer, but I’m sure I’ll remember everything I forgot to include the second I post this.

When we got back we Eric, Charmaine, and I relaxed and watched some weird cat show on Netflix. I know this seems irrelevant, but this was the part of the night I really cherished each of the 3 nights I was there. Being on the road can be lonely, and to be able to just sit and enjoy this show together without the need for words made me feel connected and filled my heart with joy.

Saturday, Eric and I set out to REI to meet Zeke and to look at new backpacks since mine had over 3,000 miles on it and the back support had collapsed. The collapse was more likely from the smell of multiple trips through the Mojave than the wear and tear.

I was working with the REI associate on fitting the new version of my old pack when Eric pointed out how some of the garage sale packs looked the same as the one I was trying on. The REI associate said they’d probably been placed in the wrong section and went to move them when we stumbled upon the exact pack I was trying on and it was marked down another $100ish at $200 which is a steal, but I was still hesitant to spend the money even though I needed it desperately. When I told Eric I was going to hold off on buying one since money was tight. He said “who said you were the one paying for it?” My stomach raced my jaw to the floor. The McCryatal’s already spent more than enough on me the night before buying me food and beer and had driven 60ish miles to pick me up and were going to drive it again to drop me off. After asking if he was sure a few times, I gave in and allowed him to support my journey by buying my new pack and a sweet new sun hat.

The rest of the day was spent going to the top of the Lick observatory, touring their garden, upgrading my arm with a chip, seeing their sweet beehive, and just having good conversation and another relaxing night of tv.

Sunday was a big day and we biked to a local Italian bar where I watched my first soccer match and got to see Italy win their first Euro in 60 years. The bike ride was interesting because not only was I moving at 5 times my normal speed, but I also got to see how dedicated Eric is to recycling and cleaning up the neighborhood first hand. I’m not kidding you when I say he stopped every half mile or so to pick up an empty bottle or can. It was admirable to watch him pick off litter I never noticed. He was like a litter seeking missile and it inspired to be better at doing my part.

The rest of Sunday was spent conversing and making my own pen, which I was ecstatic about. I’m not super crafty, but I think Eric saw my potential to be a standout in his normal classes of 6 year olds he teaches to make pens. Sidenote: if I promised you a letter with that pen, I’m getting to it I promise.

Monday Eric dropped me back off at my last point of progress and I spent the rest of the day reflecting on one of the best weekends of my life. My new pack is fantastic and only kind of smells, and Eric has even ordered a new solar panel to replace the one that broke my last trip through the Mojave.

I’ve met so many kind people on this trip and it’s because of people like this that I’m able to keep going. It’s through these people and their support that I’m learning to be patient with my fellow humans. Receiving support from others is uncomfortable and I often question whether I’m worthy of the support I receive. It’s through these uncomfortable questions that I’ve realized I can’t earn worthiness of the support by looking back at what I’ve done; but I can ensure I become worthy by going on to live a life worth supporting.

For the longest time I thought I’d failed to leave the world a better place and I chose to give up on life. It’s through this journey that I’ve learned that I can make the world a better place without ever making a crater sized impact. I’ve also realized that it’s the actions we choose today that change tomorrow and no matter what happened yesterday those actions can be rechosen today. We improve the world one action at a time. The world changes one day at a time.

A simple smile and wave can be contagious, and the more we do it the more normalized it becomes. Everyday our norm is re-elected and we elect it together, so our actions today advocate for the world we want to live in tomorrow. We can be missionaries for our vision of the improved tomorrow by being tomorrow, today. So when you smile at that stranger today and they decide “hey, that was nice” and they smile at a stranger tomorrow, your tomorrow gains another vote.

This outlook allows me to go to bed knowing each tomorrow will be more beautiful than the last, and I wouldn’t be here without the support of each of you. As always, I love you all and appreciate you continuing following along with my journey.

To the McCryatal’s:
I apologize for taking so long to post this appreciation post, but I just couldn’t do it halfway. I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for all the support, time, and company you gave me. I’ll remember our weekend forever, and it meant enough to face my fear of sharing my writing and give the story of our weekend the honor of being my first blog post.

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