Almost two years ago, I picked up my life in Boston and traded it in for a life in Los Angeles. These two cities could not be more different, but I find I grow most when I throw myself into an entirely new chapter. To pay homage to my past, and to take full advantage of the mileage of the move, I decided to drive cross-country for 32 days, visiting friends who had been so important in my life journey thus far. While traveling sea to shining sea, I rediscovered what makes this country and my life so fantastic. These are my lasting memories from this epic month of travel.
Day 1: Boston
I had lived in Boston for 4.5 years, which was long enough for me to build life-long friendships. This made leaving nearly unbearable. Nevertheless, I took one last tour around America's most historic city, appreciating its history and mine. My favorite leaving memory, and also the hardest, was singing these lyrics beside my sister at one final Red Sox baseball game: "Sweet Caroline, Good times never seemed so good. I'd be inclined To believe they never would."
Day 2: Rhode Island
I grew up in Rhode Island, so staying with my parents for a few days was a necessary precursor to this trip. Oddly, while I still call Rhode Island "home" after all these years of not actually living there, I'll never forget feeling markedly "homeless" during this stay. Yes, everything was familiar, but my life was in boxes and I was in transition already. It was only fitting that it was 50 degrees and pouring rain on the morning of my departure—as if New England was saying, "Enoughsenough. Geddouttaheeah."
Day 5: Philadelphia
The rain didn't last long. The sun came out in Connecticut, and my college friend Maggie in Philadelphia whisked me off to the Jersey shore for sunset. My lasting memory from this leg was an impromptu lunch in New Canaan with a new friend, Doug. Doug and I met through Instagram (sooo Millennial, haha—this is Doug's account), but quickly bonded over epic travels to unknown places, crazy start up ideas, and beautiful photography. Yes, it sounds strange to make a lasting digital friendship, but with a little trust and a dedication to communication, Doug and I have managed to inspire each other quite a bit.
Day 7: Richmond
During my drive to Richmond, I stopped in Baltimore to explore street art in the not-so-gentrified parts of town, and I stopped in DC to visit Mattie, a brilliant friend working politics and the press in incredible ways. But, Richmond was the stop that affected me most. You see, I went to the University of Richmond, so much of the city's scenery reminds me of epic times in college. But, all my college friends in Richmond are now parents, more likely to visit a playground than a frat lodge. It was amazing to reminisce about our years of friendship while witnessing first hand how your friends' lives are changing as spouses and parents. "Uncle Dave" still brought the party—this time in the form of balloons and some killer bedtime stories for the kiddos.
Day 10: Charlotte
Charlotte began a markedly slower pace to the road trip. The northeast is a beast, especially I-95, and North Carolina allowed me to breathe. I genuinely love practicing my southern drawl, so dinners with Courtney and Bryce, seeking out rural street art, and meetings at UNC-Chapel Hill certainly gave me ample opportunity to practice. I like to think my superbly-assimilated accent was the reason a group of older, very Southern people asked me for directions to Dean Smith's gravesite from UNC's campus. "Well, I do declare..."
Day 12: Atlanta
When visiting Marion in Atlanta, you know wine will be waiting. I love her for this. Atlanta also gave me two very interesting encounters. First, in a Uber Pool to Cabbagetown, I shared the car with a 20-something girl who was visibly nervous on her way to a job interview. The Uber driver and I both chimed in to help her find pride in her achievements to date. She left the Uber strutting. Second, in Cabbagetown, a 30-something guy approached me and said, "Ah, I quit my job Friday. I was an insurance salesman; not very fun. I'm taking time off until I figure out what's next. I was just in the sauna sweating out the booze after slamming a chick pretty hard last night. Want my number? We could meet up for a drink after I take a shower." Ummmmm, which of these sentences was I to respond to first? I wanted to hear more about his life change while also ensuring the sex was consensual. In both of these examples someone inadvertently reached out to strangers (i.e. me) for friendship during times of fear and life change. I took this as a sign to do the same.
Day 14: Memphis
If there was one leg of this drive that surprised me most, it was this one. As I finished listening to the S-town podcast literally while driving 30 minutes from the featured town in Alabama, I was expecting some backwards living. But, then I had lunch in Birmingham under a disco-ball-and-bras chandelier, and then I kicked back whiskey with a gaggle of professors in Oxford, Mississippi. One professor in particular recounted of the time she fell in love with a man in Oman. The freshness and natural curiosities were quite real. Charmed, I arrived late in Memphis, where my "adoptive" family—the Wingos—had hugs, homemade enchiladas verdes, and a 1776-style American flag waiting for me.
Day 15: Fayetteville
Throughout this cross-country journey, I took as many meetings with university study abroad departments as I could. Bentley University, University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond, UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Mississippi, University of Utah, University of Redlands, and Cal State University - San Bernardino all were curious enough to hear the travel vision of this guy. Dede Long, the Director of Study Abroad at the University of Arkansas, had just locked herself out of the office after a very full day (it was Commencement Weekend), but she poured me some tea (heated with a kettle and everything), and we talked for over 90 minutes. She and the U of A students became my largest advocates for the next year, and I could not be more grateful.
Day 17: Dallas
This leg was very musical. I took a long lunch break in Tulsa, relaxing on Guthrie Green while a country rock band played their weekly Sunday set. In Dallas, Camille toxified me with beer and gossip at The Rustic, and then detoxed me the next morning at a Drake-themed, just-a-bit-warm-to-Camille-but-sweltering-to-me hot yoga class, which I still talk about to this day. Who knew Drake's jams would give you a perfect Warrior Two.
Day 19: Austin
Austin marked a shift in this road trip. Up to this point I had been driving alone every day, staying with great friends each night. My dad had always dreamt of a cross-country road trip, so I was excited to have him fly out to join me in Austin. We ate at two different taco stands, toured taco trucks, and even toured a tiny house model home together. In the Texas State Capitol building, he awed the portraits of conservative politicians; instead, I focused on the hoards of diverse students simultaneously inspired and bored by the legislative chamber.
Day 22: Carlsbad
I was told the drive across Texas would be one of the most boring days of the whole trip. I also discovered my dad likes driving in silence, which nearly guaranteed this premonition. I can't remember what we did or saw for those 8-9 hours in the car, likely hypnotized by the silence and flat desert. At one point, I believe we cheered when the hills of dirt changed color from white to red, and said something to the effect of "that jack rabbit was interesting." Oh, we stopped in a former gas station where a family served homemade barbecue food from slow cookers that probably hadn't been cleaned—the towel I was thrown after washing my hands without soap sure wasn't.
Day 23: Santa Fe
In Santa Fe, I saw my dad find his light. I was nervous Santa Fe would be too hippy-woo-woo for his liking, and parts were, but he also appreciated the slower pace of life, the sculpturist community, and the very unique architecture. The cutest moment was when my dad thoughtfully insisted we text my mom a picture of an owl sculpture so she could see what we were seeing and know we were thinking of her from afar. Sweeties.
Day 25: Denver
My dad flew back to Rhode Island from Denver, genuinely thanking me for letting him join the trip (even though it was probably the most boring section). In Denver, I really took some time to enjoy the street art. Just as I was admiring one piece on a garage door, the door suddenly raised with a RRRRRR CRACK!, revealing a spin class, and the instructor yelled, "SPIN HARDER; HE'S LOOKING AT YOU!" I laugh-cried from the shock. After so admiring the art in so many cities, I got to thinking: is street art better when it's polished and often commissioned by talented artists, or when it's gritty and imperfect by a local up-and-comer? When street art appears in not-so-gentrified neighborhoods, do the residents find it beautiful, or yet another unhelpful project from outsiders? Denver didn't seem to have to wrestle with these questions, but other cities I've passed through definitely are.
Day 26: Boulder
A night in Boulder allowed me to catch up with two amazing mentors and friends from P&G—the Garners. I learned more about organic tea and collagen powder than I thought I needed to know. I also re-learned how to sprint back to the car when a vicious thunderstorm springs from no where while you're hiking. Amidst all the ideas I was having for Crusoe, the Garners offered some superhuman insights. ;)
Day 27: Moab
There are few places in this country more beautiful than Colorado and Utah. I'll never forget waking up at sunrise in Moab, watching the rock formations brighten to a fiery orange, and being the first driver to enter Arches National Park that day. The giant arches made the entire day feel prehistoric. I drove everywhere with my face against the windshield and hiked my feet off, because I didn't want to miss a vista. This is my favorite National Park to date.
Day 28: Salt Lake City
My sister flew into SLC to join me for the final leg of the trip. I couldn't believe this month of Americexploring was almost over! We walked around Temple Square until we felt we were in danger of a hard sell, and then escaped to take funny videos at the Salt Lake City Public Library and then a brewery. The great thing about traveling with my sister is that we can find a way to have fun no matter where we go. The unfortunate thing about traveling with my sister is that she has the endurance of a crazy person and she wears...me...out.
Day 29: Zion National Park
Visiting Zion National Park on Memorial Day Weekend is like visiting Disney World during a school vacation. So so so so so crowded. It took us about 3 hours to enter the park and reach the first trailhead. BUT, it was worth it. We inched our way higher and higher and higher, all the way up to Angels Landing, and remained up there longer than most to take in the view deeply. It was absolutely incredible. When we descended, we argued over taking another short trail, but decided to hop in the freezing cold river instead. Definitely the right choice. I think I appreciated the rock formations from that water even more than from the top of AL. That night, we drove to Grand Canyon Village, stopping to take in the silent, star-filled sky along the way (after arguing about almost running out of gas in the middle of no where).
Day 30: Phoenix
Kristen and I booked it to the Grand Canyon for sunrise—a peaceful, slow, deafeningly silent sunrise. Are three National Parks in a row too much for one trip? NO! It was fantastic. The last time Kristen and I were in the GC, I was 15 and she was 11. We hiked down past where she and my mom hiked all those years ago, then past where my dad and I hiked, and set a new family record. We hiked for three hours round trip, deceiving since you start with the easy part descending into the canyon for an hour then trekking two hours back up the same path. I dropped Kristen off at the airport in Phoenix just in time for her flight back to the east coast. I stayed for two nights in an Airbnb owned by a sweet woman who believed aliens have infiltrated the human population.
Day 32: Los Angeles
The trip was bound to end at some point. I had never driven so much in my life; I was genuinely worried I would hate it. To be honest, I could have driven for another month if I had the time. Having a new adventure every 2-3 days became a perfect cadence, and spending time with different important people in my life back-to-back-to-back was addicting. But, I was also thankful to have finally reached Los Angeles...in time for Pride celebrations...and in time to proudly start exploring who I would become in my new home.
About CRUSOE: CRUSOE has a network of real travelers who write perfect 3-day itineraries to every city in the world. They save you hundreds of hours of research by revealing their hidden gems in these extremely-detailed itineraries. Morning, afternoon, evening; breakfast, lunch, and dinner — everything is planned out on paper so you can explore more real culture in this world.