We don’t want the individuality and personality of each person we interact with to get lost in the shuffle between the places we stop and the countless people we meet. These were all kind people, who took time out of there day to stop and talk with us or to offer us assistance. The repeated kindness of strangers on this trip cannot be overstated. Below are a few of the types of people we have met.
Strangers that stop: On one back-country road, about 30 miles outside Indianapolis, we had three pickup trucks stop to talk with us, one immediately after the other. The first came offering Coca Cola’s and waters. The second, a handsome young guy, loved what we were doing, offered advice on getting to our campsite, and told others down the road about us. The third was a nice older couple, who offered words of encouragement, and later down the road, came out of their home to donate $40 to JOIN and give us waters, all while their dogs licked our legs and laid across our feet. We had a sun-shaded man, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, give us $5, and when we explained our reasoning for walking, gave us another $5 for JOIN, without ever questioning anything we said. We had a nice interaction with a man named Rod, who was out fishing with his buddies, and only briefly stopped to chat with us. He left a lasting impression, with a simple handshake, a soft-spoken voice, and a faint smile on his face as he wished us well. And last we met Sheldon, an elderly man who ran out of his house at a tortoise’s pace to offer us a ride up the road. All these wonderful interactions happened within one hour of each other, on one back-country road in rural Indiana, and left us grateful to have abandoned the main roads for a day.
Strangers give us hugs: We were walking on a county road through rural Indiana, mile 27 of a rainy, 30 mile day, when a middle aged woman, clad in hot pink leggings, with a pencil holding her hair in a bun, slowed down to ask if we were okay. You know those types of people whose entire beings are filled with a high-energy happiness? The tones of their voices ring with optimism? They hold hugs a half second longer, and grab your shoulders afterwards to let you know they meant the extra half second? This woman put all those people to shame. When we told her we were walking across America, she exclaimed “I need to get a picture,” and pulled her car over. After realizing she didn’t have her phone, she ran out of her car, and gave us both huge hugs. She asked us where we started and, when we told her New York, ran back to give us another hug.
Strangers share our passion for walking: A couple weeks ago we received a generous donation to the fundly page from a mysterious man named Dave. A day later, we received an email from the same man, offering us a spot to stay in Indianapolis. While we didn’t know who this man was, and weren’t going to be passing his house on our route, we reached out to him anyway, and arranged to get dinner with him while in Indianapolis. It turns out Dave has dreamt of walking across America since he was a child, and had happened to stumble upon our blog one day, saw we were walking through Indianapolis, and wanted to contribute in whatever way he could to our journey. On this trip, we have been continually amazed by the kindness of the strangers, but never had we met someone who held the same dream as us, inspired by the same desire to see the country at a slow pace, and interact with the beautiful people that populated it. Our dinner with Dave was special. We bonded over our similar experiences with internet trolls, shared countless stories from the road, and left feeling inspired to continue our journey, knowing we had the support of a new friend in Indianapolis.
Strangers that are caretakers: Our second night in Indiana we ended the day in a town of less than 400 people, looking for a spot to yard camp. We knocked on a door and gave our usual pitch. The woman who opened the door said we could camp in the park across the street, explaining that the police never come through here and nobody would care; she said if anyone did give us a problem we could tell them Nancy gave us permission because she was on the park board. We thanked her, and before we left, began talking with her and her husband and grandson. After a few minutes she asked us if we wanted to stay inside instead, since they had an extra bedroom. She invited us to share dinner with them and, over vegetable soup with okra from her garden, we learned that her grandpa had once owned the house, and, at that time, it was the first in the town to have running water. Nancy was quick to laugh and it became clear that taking care of others was an important part of her life. On her walls hung awards recognizing her service to various organizations. She told us that, although she had retired over a month ago, she barely had a day off yet because she was cleaning houses for her sister so her sister could take off work to be with her son, a marine who recently crushed his leg in a car accident. We noticed a handwritten note from her granddaughter hanging on her fridge that read, “thank you for taking care of me when mom and dad can’t. I appreciate it even if I don’t always show it. I love you.” Making us a pancake breakfast before we left, Nancy was the epitome of Hoosier hospitality.
Strangers that travel: Some people just understand life on the road. We met Ken and Kelly outside Indianapolis, as they rode eastbound on their tandem bike. We stopped to talk with them for a few minutes, thankful to meet kind strangers, and then continued towards our campsite. About five miles later, we were surprised to see Ken and Kelly pulling up next to use. They were so supportive of our journey that they wanted to buy us dinner that night, and deliver it to us at our campsite. When they arrived at the campsite later that night, we exchanged hugs and thank you’s, posed for a selfie, and then they left, knowing the importance of a quiet night for two weary travelers. We slept well that night, with bellies filled with burgers and rosé, and the comfort of knowing that some people really do understand life on the road.
Strangers offer advice: We were standing next to our cart outside the Kroger’s in Dayton, Ohio, when Sabela approached us. She asked if we were homeless, like many others have asked on our trip. But her reasoning was different. Sabela was asking because she was new to the area, and she knew some places that were affordable, even for people who might be homeless. After we talked for awhile, and she put us on her snapchat, and followed our Facebook page, she offered us words of encouragement. She had been through a lot in her own life. She suffered from depression and anxiety, and for a long time did not think she’d be alive past twenty five. But she kept going, and was still standing today. She urged us to keep going, just like she had.
Strangers keep us safe: Walking through rural Indiana, the clouds were growing darker and darker by the minute, developing an ominous green tint. We got a text from the national weather service saying there was a tornado warning for the area, and began hustling up the road to the nearest house. The man who answered generously let us pitch our tents in his garage. He even pulled his truck out so we would have more room, subjecting it to the hail storm outside. Fortunately, a tornado never touched down, but it stormed all night and we were grateful to have shelter. In the morning the man brought us water and snacks that fueled us to our next destination.
Strangers feed us: We took the table in the back corner of the restaurant. We were the only people in Walden’s when we walked in, excluding the chef and the waitress, who were sitting together across from us. It turns out the restaurant is a frequent stop for bikers crossing the panhandle trail, and, in exchange for a warm, hearty meal, they ask these strangers to sign their “Trail Tales” journal, which was filled with stories ranging from a group of women 60+ year old women biking across the country, to kids building affordable homes with the Bike and Build program. We received the best free meal either of us have eaten, recommendations for how to get to our next destination, and one beautiful story of friendship captured in photographs above the corner table we were seated at.
Strangers break rules: Of course, who is the first person we meet on a college campus that we’re not technically not allowed to stay on? The students we are staying with’s Resident Director. And of course, with our luck on this trip, he ends up being as hospitable and kind as the student’s who were welcoming us in. We ended up getting breakfast with Nick before departing the following day. We shared some of our more ridiculous stories from the road. He told us about his experience on the Camino, showing us beautiful pictures of the Spanish countryside. We said our goodbyes, and he offered one last kind gesture: a ride for our friend Anna back to Pittsburgh.
Strangers make us laugh: We got pulled off the highway, out of the heat, into a bar, by the promise of air conditioning and sodapop. Our host was wearing a shirt with a giant deer on it that said in bold letters “stop the buck.” He told us stories, made us laugh, and, in the midst of our goodbye, said something that rang particularly true for our journey. Below are some of his quotes:
“I live in a barn up the road. It’s a tiny little place, it’s pretty rundown. But I love it. It’s home. I’ve got my dogs, y’know. I’ve got four dogs. I go home, I smoke pot, and I just get to chill.”
“Do you guys know those Entenmann’s doughnuts? The double chocolate fudge ones? With the chocolate fudge on the inside and the chocolate inside? If you don’t do drugs, eating those things is the closest you’ll get. I eat a whole package and just (snoring noise) snooze on my couch.”
“Hey guys, we need more people like you in the world,” he said.
We responded, “we need more people like you giving us pop”
“We can all get where we’re going a lot easier, together.”
If there’s anything we’ve learned two months in, it has been a lot easier to get where we’re going with the help of strangers along the way.