S4:E6 – Wendy’s Cross-Country Motorcycle Adventure

Special guest Wendy Allen joins us for a “Drivers’ Ed” segment about the 30 days she spent on her motorcycle, riding solo from Wisconsin to Vegas and back. From cramped hands to making connections with strangers when she needed them most to realizing what was most important in her life, Wendy takes us through the unfiltered story of her adventure. And, she tells us why she’d do it again in a heartbeat.

This episode was written, recorded, edited, and produced by Lisa McNamara.

Theme music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay. Drivers’ Ed intro music by Ahmadmusic from Pixabay.

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Transcript:

(music starts)

This is Road Tripping in America, a podcast about life on the road. I’m Lisa and I’m Paul.

We’re exploring the US in a pickup truck with a camper – we named our setup The Bobs. We’re in search of off-the-beaten-path adventures and new experiences. Join us as we share our stories from the road.

Today, we have a special guest! Wendy Allen joins us in a guest Drivers’ Ed segment to talk about the 30 days she spent on her motorcycle, riding solo from Wisconsin to Vegas and back. From cramped hands to making connections with strangers when she needed them most to realizing what was most important in her life, Wendy takes us through the unfiltered story of her adventure. And, she tells us why she’d do it again in a heartbeat.

(music ends)

This is series four, episode six: Wendy’s cross-country motorcycle adventure

(Drivers’ Ed intro)

L: Thanks for being up for this!

W: Yeah, it was really interesting to think back on that trip and how it connects to all sorts of other things too.

W: My name’s Wendy Allen, and I live a half hour southeast of La Crosse, which is right on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin.

W: I’m a writer and an editor and I read, I like to write for fun too. I enjoy getting outside and hiking. And traveling is really big, so it’s been nice to start dabbling in that a little bit again.

L: So let’s talk about your trip. I remember we talked about this years ago, during a wine night. But when did you do the motorcycle trip?

W: It was summer of 2011. I’d been planning it for a couple years before that. It was something that I’d always wanted to do. I always wanted to get my motorcycle license and finally decided to dive in and start saving up and doing that. I actually only got my license the year before. So I’d had less than a year of practice before I decided to do this. I upgraded my motorcycle maybe two months before I left, so it was a brand new – not brand new, but new to me motorcycle that I hadn’t ridden a whole lot – so there were a lot of things that I probably would have done a little bit differently there – but I was just so excited and it was something that I had wanted to do for so long.

I put in a request for a sabbatical for three months at work, and I’d been there for five years at that point, so it felt like one of those moments where – it was time for me to take a bit of a break and figure a few things out. I really enjoyed where I was working at the time – I’m still there, actually. So it’ll be 16 years this year. But they let me do that, and let me come back, and everything. I guess that’s how it got started.

L: Was it something you’d always wanted to do – or how did you get that idea in the first place. Had you ridden motorcycles before?

W: Just with other people. And I’d really enjoyed it so much. It was also something that my parents had also had said never do. So, I think I just wanted to do that. But, like, I knew my dad had ridden motorcycles in the past, so it wasn’t like they were just saying no out of being fearful or whatever, I’m sure they had legitimate concerns and stuff.

I did really well in my motorcycle class – I beat all the boys and was the top in my group. I just got to practicing quite a lot – I rode to work a lot in preparation for it. Did a couple little camping trips to figure out how to pack everything on the bike and get used to riding a little bit longer distances.

L: Getting our stuff down to a truck obviously was tough, but at the same time, it was a lot of space. But when you’re talking about a motorcycle, you just have – and I don’t know a lot about motorcycles, so I don’t know the terminology – but the saddlebags or side packs, or whatever?

W: Yep, there’s all sorts of things you can get. So I ended up – I had two saddlebags, which were smaller, because my bike is smaller. It’s a Suzuki Boulevard M50, which about mid-range between the smallest and the biggest that you can get. So I had the saddlebags, and in those I had my safety gear, an extra sweatshirt, and snacks – just stuff that I needed to get into on the road. I had a tank pack in front of me that opened up, and I kept my phone, wallet, money, and a map in there. And then I had a big suitcase actually strapped to the back right behind me, where the passenger would sit. It was the size of a medium suitcase that you’d take to the airport. But it had straps that you could strap to the back of it. And then behind that, I had a little rack where I put two drybags. And the drybags had all my camping gear, and all that stuff. And those were just strapped with bungees cords to the back. And then I wore my helmet and leathers, and had all my protective gear. I have a really good relationship with my helmet, and my leather jacket, and everything.

And that’s how I fit it all on there. I think I had two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts, a couple sweatshirts, and all my underwear and all that stuff. And that was really it. And when I got back, I’m pulling all my stuff out, and I’m like, this is really nice, to only have to worry about three things to wear.

L: Yeah, you never have to think about what to wear! Because you just – it’s kind of nice really.

W: I didn’t care if I stank a little bit, because I was on my own, riding and hiking.

L: What did you do for food – did you cook a lot, or did you eat out?

W: I brought peanut butter and honey, and granola, and bread for sandwiches for lunches, and I tried to do that for lunches. Breakfast was – I don’t know, mostly coffee. Sometimes I’d make oatmeal on a little camp stove. And then in the evenings, it was kind of a toss-up between – if I was camping in a place that had decent food, then I’d go out. But a lot of times I would just pick something up at the grocery store and fry it over the campfire.

L: Did you do a mix of hotels or was it mostly camping?

W: Well, in the beginning I stayed with people – my first leg, I stayed with family, and then a friend out in Colorado. And after that I was kind of on my own, mostly camping. And I realized that, really quickly, riding a motorcycle for 400, 600 miles a day – it’s really hard on your body. So I started renting more hotels as I got further on in the trip. I’d be riding and the last thing you want to do is set up camp in a tent. But I still would camp a lot when I was in the national parks and nice areas like that.

L: How did you decide your route?

W: Well I originally had three months planned, and so I’d had this long route that took me through the mountains and then up the coast – west coast, and then even through Canada and back around, but as I really go into it – I ended up only going as far as Las Vegas. And so I went down the river into Iowa, stayed with my family in Iowa, then went across Nebraska and Colorado. I stayed in Dillon with a friend of mine over the 4th of July – that was nice to have a home base for the 4th. And then went down through Telluride, Mesa Verde Park, over to Moab, and then up around all the parks in Utah, down to Zion, and out to Las Vegas. And then, from there, I was going to go across the desert to LA, where I have family too. But after that much time – and also, getting from Zion to Vegas is just this long stretch of interstate and it’s desert and it’s so hot. I just didn’t want to go any further past that. And it was kind of a bit of caution too, because my bike is smaller. I can go maybe 120 miles on a tank. And you just don’t know where the next gas station is going to be when you’re out that far. So I decided to turn around and went back up through Utah and up to Devil’s Tower and then over through the Black Hills in South Dakota and then back home. So I ended up being gone 30 days, exactly.

L: Before you left, did you think, I have some sort of grand illusion or goal that would come out of it, or did you just want to experience life on the road?

W: I just wanted to experience it. I thought – I had just got this motorcycle, got my license, and the best way to experience something was to just go and do something. But I’d also done a lot of traveling by myself in the past too. I’d been to Vietnam for a few weeks. I went to Scotland a number of times, and England, and been around the United States a bit too. And a lot of that just came from – I’d been single for a really long time. And whenever I’d want to go somewhere, either friends wouldn’t or couldn’t go with me. And so I was like – I’m never going to experience the world or make the most of my life if I’m not just going to go do it. So I would just go do it!

So with this trip, I had started planning it a couple years before, and then I met my boyfriend in 2010, when I was starting to really plan this and I had gotten approved for the time off and everything. So, it ended up being a lot harder of a decision to follow through with. Because after a year, we’d fallen in love – he’s now my husband – and so it was really hard. And missing him really did color a lot of the trip, too.

L: So the timing of that – you’re very conscious of him being at home.

W: I had hoped that he would meet me somewhere and do part of the trip with me, but he couldn’t swing that. So when I got home, we ended up doing our own little trip around the Great Lakes. But it was pretty tough. About halfway through, I started getting really, really homesick. And I think that also played into my decision to turn around in Vegas instead of keeping going, and making the trip a little shorter.

There was this point, Flaming Gorge, and I was at a T intersection right there, and I could go this way or I could go west. And I was just sitting there for probably three hours, I think. I would cry, then I would look at my map, then I would look at my plans, and just be thinking about all these things – and it was this moment that was really, really hard. And I hadn’t had that experience before, because I’d never been in a real relationship like that – to decide the path of what I was going to do based on another human.

But I ended up turning east, and the moment I turned east was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I needed to – it was time to head home by that point. But it still took another two weeks, or week and a half or so, to get home, because I was still that far out, and I still wanted to go up to Devil’s Tower and go through the Black Hills quite a bit, and spend some time there. But it did feel really good to – and I’d never felt that before, either. Just to have that – yeah, this is the right decision, to head on back home, even though it’d take a little bit of time still.

L: That’s just beautiful, it brings a tear to my eye! Part of what’s tough too is, sometimes when you make a plan, you feel that pressure to continue through with it to the end. But if you really realize there’s no reason to do that and that’s not what you want to do – it’s hard to decide to change and not do what you had planned to do.

W: It sure is. I felt really guilty, kind of leading up to that moment in the gorge. I’d felt really guilty for even thinking about it, and feeling like there’s these people who had supported me, and were following what I was doing. I didn’t have a blog or anything like that, or any of that kind of pressure, but it did kind of feel like – you do things for other people. And I’m not sure if that’s something that’s a little more inherent with women or if it is with everybody who does this kind of stuff, but I definitely felt a lot of that and had to remember – this is for me! I’m doing this thing for me, it’s not for anybody else. I’m not trying to prove anything. I’m not trying to achieve anything here. It was just – I just wanted to do it. So when I realized that I had done what I had set out to do – it was time to head on home.

L: Tell me about some of the stories that you had from that time, those 30 days – what really stands out in your mind?

W: Utah really stands out a lot. I just love southern Utah and the parks and the red rocks. It’s so different from Wisconsin. When you come home here – I love the green and love seeing the black dirt and it really feels like home when I’m here. But out there too, it just feels so – it feels like home too, out there.

I also had some really good experiences with people in Utah. I was really starting to get homesick quite a lot after I left Mesa Verde Park in southwest Colorado. I was making my way over to Moab and it was rainy and bad weather and that always kind of sours your mood anyway. When I got into Moab, I was just feeling really down, like I didn’t want to do anything. So I got a hotel that night. I was walking out in the parking lot and in the hotel across the street, there were these other motorcyclists, and they were out washing their bikes, and they’d been out for quite a while. So I walked over there, and I was talking to them, and they invited me over and shared their soap, and so I washed my bike for the first time. And they were just the sweetest people, and it turns out that they were from Wisconsin and northern Minnesota too. And they’d been out riding for a couple weeks already and just were so kind.

In that moment when I was feeling really down and really homesick – they were just like, “why don’t you come out to eat with us?” And they paid for my meal. And, “why don’t we go for a ride together around the area?” So we went through Arches park together. It was only for a couple days that we spent a bit of time together, but they gave me their number and said if you ever, if I ever had trouble, make sure to call. And if they’re nearby or whatever they’ll be able to help. We ended up – when we did our road trip around the Great Lakes, when we got back, we ended up staying with one of the couples around the Ashland area. We haven’t stayed in touch with them over the years, but that was definitely an important moment.

I was driving down the Grand Staircase Escalante monument road. And that road – I was kind of hopscotching with another couple of motorcyclists – like I would pull off and take pictures and then they would drive by and they’d pull off and then pass, so we’d start waving at each other. And we got down to the bottom of it and there’s gas stations, so I saw them pulled off and getting gas, and so we started talking. They were like, “hey, what’s your email?” and I was like, “what??” I was really kind of creeped out, and he’s like, “I took this picture of you while you were driving by.” And he showed me, and it was the only picture that I could ever have of me on my motorcycle with all my stuff packed up on it. So he sent it to me. And that was just a really sweet kind of thing. This total stranger, he didn’t know me, we’d just waved in passing. And he was like, “oh, this person might like a picture.”

L: It seems like there’s just a community, with people biking. Even with people – I know when I see someone with our same brand of camper, which is rare, I’m like – we gotta go find that person! I gotta see that person. It becomes this community where, you’ve made the same choice to do something, so you have that in common.

W: It definitely does. And as a young woman at the time, it was like they kind of wanted to protect me a little bit, too. I had a lot of experiences where I’d pull up in a rest stop or pull out in a touristy pull out, and someone in a car would come up to me and be kind of, looking around, like, “where’s your husband?” And I was like, “just me!” And they were like, “oh, well, you be careful, blah blah whatever.” And I was like, “I am, don’t worry.” But, everybody was really concerned. I got a lot of questions about what my parents thought. My reaction to that was usually, well, I’m an adult, so they can think what they want!

L: That’d be kinda tough to deal with that overbearing-ness of strangers, and you’re so visible – you don’t have the wall of being able to go inside a vehicle, close the door, and pretend not to hear somebody.

W: Yeah, you’re exactly right. But a lot of the motorcyclists – it was mostly people in cars that would ask those kinds of questions. But a lot of the motorcyclists were just like, you go girl! Just stay safe, so proud of you for doing this. So it was – like that group of people, they’re really wonderful.

L: What did people say when you told them you were going to do this – at home. Being in our position, I’ve gotten the full range of reactions and advice and terrible advice and terrible questions. And also good advice – people mean well. But I was curious what kind of questions and advice you got and if any of it was useful.

W: I think I had the benefit of having traveled by myself a fair amount before I did this. So by that point, my parents were pretty much – I mean, how old was I by that point? I was in my mid twenties, or late twenties. It had already been ten years of them not being able to influence me that much! But I always respected their concern for my safety. I got probably some of the worst advice from people at work. I would be leaving and they’d be like, well, just watch out, you’re a young woman all by yourself, you need to make sure you always stay in well-lit places, and like all the usual kind of stuff. I mean, it’s not like, bad advice, but it’s not particularly useful, either.

L: Not something you never thought about before, already!

W: Yeah. In all my travels before, I’ve always made a strong point of – I hold onto my purse, and I pay attention to everything around me, and I’ve always been pretty good about doing that. In my experience, if people notice that you’re noticing them, they’re not going to bother you. And America is amazingly safe, too. Like we – the news makes such a big deal about the dangers of all these different places, but most of the time, you can go into these places and not have a problem, if you’re just paying attention and taking care of yourself and not doing stupid things either.

L: Did you ever have a time when you were scared for your safety?

W: No, not during this one. I actually – this isn’t related to this trip, but I had a very – oh wow, there’s a really big storm coming in, I don’t know if you can hear the thunder.

L: Oh, I miss that about the Midwest. The amazing storms.

W: When I was traveling in Vietnam, I had this – I was on a bus going out to this place called Ha Long Bay, and it’s like this really touristy place. But I had this overwhelming feeling, as I’m sitting on that bus, that I should not be there. And like, I needed to get off, now. And so I actually stood up and made the bus driver stop and let me off. So then, I got a taxi back to the train station and went on a different trip. I always remember that moment, because it was such a gut feeling that, I should not be here right now. And so I never had that on this trip. Which was good!

I think the only time I really felt unsafe was – there were just a couple times when I was in a lot of traffic. There was one time, going up the mountain from Denver to stay with my friend in Summit County.

L: The worst!

W: It was the worst. After work, probably on a Friday, so it was just packed, this interstate going up the mountain. And by that time, I had ridden – oh, I don’t even know how many miles. I had probably gone 600 miles that day. 600 or 700. So my hands were exhausted from the clutch and the brake and just holding the bike on a slope, too. I can’t just, like, let off the clutch or anything, so my hand was cramping up. And I’m like, halfway up the mountain and I’m like – how am I going to get any farther? I ended up pulling off for a while and trying to rest my hand a bit, but it was – that was one of those moments where I was like – I don’t know if I’m going to make it to where I need to get tonight.

L: That is notoriously the worst stretch of highway, we always try to avoid it but somehow always end up getting stuck in it, and the traffic is just the worst. It’s terrible. Especially on a Friday. But back to the gut feeling thing – I think it’s such an important thing to trust your gut and you don’t need to reason with it, you don’t need to have a – if you start thinking about it, you start talking yourself out of trusting your gut. You’re picking up on something and it doesn’t matter what it was.

W: And it goes the same the opposite way, too. There were a lot of people that I just instinctively trusted. Like the people I met in Moab. There was another older man I met, I can’t remember how we met, but we ended up just following each other for a while, and then ran into a storm, and so we ended up having breakfast together that morning. Then we were going the same route, and ended up being a riding partner for half a day, and if I had had any inkling that there was something weird about this person, I never would have stayed, I would have kept going. But then I ended up having a great conversation. I don’t remember it now and I didn’t write about it in my journal, but it was this random older person and he had some good stories and we went our separate ways.

L: So we talked a little bit about the advice you got – but if someone came to you and was saying, Wendy, I’d really like to do this sort of thing too – what advice would you give that person?

W: I would say – absolutely do it! Don’t let other people try to talk you out of it or scare you away from it. Especially for younger women, I think it is so incredibly important to get out and do something by yourself. I never would have been as independent as I had been in my life if I hadn’t just gone and done some of those things. If I had waited for someone else to come with me, my life would be so much smaller than it was. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re out on your own without anyone around. You have to rely on yourself.

I also learned that, I like having – I’m kind of a loner, but I like having people around to share experiences with. The whole time, on this road trip, because I was newly in love, I was also thinking about – I’m scouting places that he and I can go together, someday in the future. So the whole time, I was thinking, this would be really great if I could share this with someone else. And – I probably always thought that way in a lot of my other trips. In my other trips, I’d always have a few days where I’d get pretty depressed and lonely, and just be ready to go home, a bit homesick and stuff. But this was the first time where there was actually somebody that I was thinking about during those homesick moments. So I learned a lot about myself in that way – just the little nuances of – I really enjoy being alone, but when I’m doing these things, I want to have someone to share it with, and I find a lot of joy in watching someone else experience something for the first time.

L: That’s important to acknowledge too, that not every day is perfect and Instagram-y. I think now with Instagram, it’s – and now, there’s so many people who are doing the YouTube, blogging their journeys or whatever, you have to have the Instagram, and everything is perfect. I think the problem with that is when you actually get on a trip, you’re inevitably going to have bad days. It’s going to rain, you’re going to be bummed, things aren’t going to go your way, and it’s harder to deal with that when you think it’s all going to be perfect, like a vacation. And it’s really just real life, but you are somewhere else, while you’re living it.

W: Most of the time, it was really freaking hard. It was hard on my body. I got back and had to do a month of chiropractic because my motorcycle had just beaten my body so much. It was pretty rough. But then, it’s always more rosy in hindsight. Looking back on it now, I would never say no to doing that, even though it felt like, a lot of the days I was lonely, and I cried a lot, and it was just really hard riding and everything, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

L: Yeah, but you did it! And that’s what’s so cool. So, I think we talked a little bit about your favorite places, like southern Utah (and I’m obviously a giant southern Utah fan also), but what places did you just not like, and you couldn’t wait to get out of?

W: I would have to say the plains. I grew up in Iowa and so there’s a bit of my heart there, but Nebraska and eastern Colorado was worse than Nebraska. Everybody complains about Nebraska but eastern Colorado was the worst. And then the plains of South Dakota. Riding across those areas is just – it’s so monotonous and it’s just straight. In a car, you can just kind of zone out a little bit, and you can correct it. But on a motorcycle, if you zone out a little bit, you’re going to crash. So there was no mental break. South Dakota in particular has such a strong wind blowing from south to north, and when you’re on a motorcycle, to turn, you actually push and lean. So you lean in the direction that you want to go and then you’re actually pushing, you’re not turning the handlebars or anything. So when you’re encountering this kind of wind – constant wind like that – it was like I was holding a half push-up with one arm for six hours. That’s the best was I can explain it. You’re just holding it for so long, and by the time I got done with that day, I was just like, I don’t know that I can get home! I stayed in Rapid City or something. So those are probably the places that I would rather not ride across again. But living where I live, I’m going to have to if we’re going to go on another trip!

L: What other stories did you want to share?

W: So many of my things just keep coming back to people. When I got into Zion National Park, I knew I wanted to do a bunch of hiking. I was staying at the campground inside the park and there was this guy who was maybe my age, he was in the campground right across from me, and we struck up a friendship right away and ended up doing a bunch of hikes. He was a photographer, so we went out on a night hike and took pictures of the stars, and it was just wonderful to share nature with somebody and get to know somebody new. We stayed in touch for a little while.

L: You can’t plan that!

W: No, not at all. And then, Devil’s Tower, I was camping in the park there too and it’s very rustic, just the pit toilets and everything. I was camping there, and it was getting towards – well, I guess I was still a week away from being done, but it was at that point, after that time that I had made the decision to go home but I was still feeling pretty lonely.

L: You were mentally done.

W: Yeah. So I went there and kind of walked around the tower and when I got back to the campground, I didn’t want to go anywhere. There’s no place around there anyway to like, go and do anything. I was just kind of sitting, and I think I had a bowl of soup or something, like not really very exciting. And this lady and her little daughters were camping across from me, and they invited me over, and it was just so sweet. They shared their meal, and the little girls were just fascinated with the motorcycle, and wanted me to take them on rides, but I had never had anybody on the back of the motorcycle, I’m not going to have these two little children as my first passengers! So that was just really – it was energizing too, to – I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I inspired anybody, but to have this connection with two little girls and think, well maybe one day they’ll remember something and they’ll go off and have their own adventures too.

L: I know when I was younger, whenever I’d meet any sort of adventurous woman, it would be so exciting, to know that there was – outside of where I grew up, in upstate New York in the middle of nowhere, that there were things that people could do and other countries out there and wild places.

W: And I talk a lot about women getting out and doing these things too – I mean, I absolutely think it’s so important, for anybody, but there’s just so many things still in our culture that hold women back, or little societal norms that we’re just taught, that take a little work to break out of. Doing things on your own and getting out there – it helps to put those things into perspective and makes you question where they came from and that they aren’t really valid anymore.

L: When you do travel internationally again, do you have anything that’s top of the list?

W: I really want to go to Costa Rica – that’s been on the list for a long time. After the stress of the last few years, I really want to just chill out on the beach with nothing to do, get into the jungle a little bit. Norway’s been on the list for a long time. Italy – I’d love to do a food road trip through Italy.

L: Oh my gosh, me too. Italy, Spain. Warm places are always on my list.

W: I often go to colder places. I think I just like being cozy and bundling up. I’ve been to Scotland a number of times and I love it because it’s rainy and it drives all the tourists away. So you get these amazing archaeological sites that will just be all to yourself. And they don’t have all the fences and barriers that American tourist sites do, so you can just clamor all over the castle or the ruins. It’s pretty cool there.

L: That sounds awesome!

L: Thanks again, this was fun! Enjoy the rest of your week off.

W: I’ve just been letting the dog in and out, all morning she just wants to go in and out and then she’ll sleep in the afternoon…

You can read Wendy’s writing about food, farming, sustainable living, the environment, and local Wisconsin culture on her website, wendy-allen.com.

(music transition)

A couple nights after I chatted with Wendy, I was cooking dinner using a pair of spring-loaded tongs. After about 15 minutes of using the tongs, my hand was cramping and all I could think about was Wendy on the clutch and brake, going up the pass from Denver to western Colorado, and how many, many, maaaaanyy millions times worse that would have felt.

Wendy still has that same motorcycle, and she still rides.

Thinking about Wendy’s stories as my pathetically weak hand cramped up while stuffing enchiladas, I was struck by the number of times that strangers were there for her when she needed them most, like they could sense it. We’ve had a few experiences like that, of connecting with strangers when we really needed it. And we’ll never forget those memories.

Like ten years ago, in central Idaho, when we headed out for a remote hot springs campground, assuming that there would be a grocery store on the way where we could get food and beer, but finding nothing except for a tiny, dusty shop where they didn’t even sell beer and all I could find that was edible was a dented can of tomatoes. Not wanting to go all the way back to Boise, we set up camp and made an extremely depressing dinner of canned salmon mixed with that can of tomatoes and a can of lima beans, served on some saltine crackers. It was revolting. A couple had been setting up camp nearby and came over to say hi. When they saw our extremely sad dinner, they invited us over to their site, where they were about to break into a package of burgers, a case of beer, and a bundle of firewood. We happily joined them. After dinner, we drank the moonshine we had left from Tennessee and traded stories while we soaked in the campground’s hot springs. Shooting stars crossed the sky. It was exactly what we needed to energize us for the road ahead, to remind us why we were adventuring.

Another time was spring 2018, in a state park outside Escalante, Utah. We had been camped next to another couple for a few days when they stopped over to invite us to their site for a beer after dinner. We were feeling kind of shy, but forced ourselves to get over it. We sat at their picnic table as the stars came out and learned that they were in the process of moving to Utah with the trailer they had at the campground, but they couldn’t get out to the land they had bought until the rivers went down. It had been raining much more than normal and the washes that crossed the roads to their land, while usually dry, were currently flowing. And they couldn’t get to their land and start building until the water went down, but they had no idea when that would happen. They went over and looked at the river every day. They were getting fairly stir-crazy, hanging around in a place where everyone else was on vacation. They were ready to start the next part of their life, but they had no idea when they could do it. I feel like we gave them the break they needed from stressing about their uncertain future, while we gained some Utah friends and some off the grid house-building inspiration.

Or when we moved to La Crosse, in 2014, and felt really aimless and driftless, unsure of the direction our lives were taking. My coworker Jane scooped us up and introduced us to tons of interesting people, like Wendy. Without Jane, our La Crosse experience would have been much different.

Or like my friend Charlotte, whose place we stayed at in northern Colorado for a few weeks while she was out of town. I was already extremely grateful for the chance to have a home base while we cleaned out the Bobs, organized all our stuff, went to various appointments, and got add-a-leaf springs installed on Bob the truck. Then we caught covid, first Paul, then me, so probably from the mechanic shop, and I was even more grateful to have a place where we could lay on the couch for days straight with no pressure to leave.

How lucky are we to know people like this?

Wendy’s story reminded me how important it is to always look for opportunities to exercise kindness. Because you never know when someone really needs you, when your little kindness will change the trajectory of their day or their trip. And how cool is it to have that superpower?

(music starts)

Next episode:

Tom: “That’s when it really got scary.”

Bob: “I was sitting in the cop car when Derf popped his head up, and I really thought they were going to shoot him.”

Derf: “Yeah, we were probably the most wanted guys in Montana that night.”

What happens when three forty-something dads from upstate New York are pulled over by the police in the middle of the night somewhere outside Missoula, MT in a case of mistaken identity? It’s the stuff of true travel nightmares.

That’s next time. Thanks for listening.

(music ends)

L: Any recent book recommendation? Anything you’ve been enjoying reading?

W: I just finished the LOTR for the first time! Which seems like one of those where you should have read that a long time ago. I’ve seen the movies, but the books are so much more in depth, and you can tell he had a whole history for this world. It was neat to finally read them.