Over the course of this year, I have shared with you some of my greatest moments, best memories, and favorite experiences. Through my stories, you have lived everything I have. All the miles… all the laughs… all the danger… everything. Everything except the most important thing. Sure, I can tell you all about the Grand Canyon, the volcanoes of Hawaii, Yellowstone, and I can give you such great descriptions and stories that you may understand their majesty. I can tell you about almost dying in a thunderstorm, swimming with sharks, or climbing a mountain. I told you all the stories I have to tell, all but one.
When my family and I were stranded on the highway in Hawaii just after hiking to the peak of Diamondhead, we thought we would have to walk miles back to the hotel without water and with three senior citizens. We missed all the buses and were devastated to learn that we would have to keep walking under the hot Hawaiian sun. But after a couple minutes of walking, a man and his girlfriend stopped beside us in a huge minivan. All he said was, “You guys look like you could use a ride, hop in!” All eight of us packed into the back of his van and he drove us the whole way to the hotel, talking and joking with my parents the whole ride back. He dropped us off and said, “We’ll see you again sometime!”
While my mom was waiting in line at the San Francisco Bay, a man struck up a conversation with her. He was really friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be talking to her. He was an ex Special Forces soldier and owned land in Oregon, where we were supposed to be in a few days. When my mom left the line, the man, having finished before her, was waiting and introduced her to his wife and son. A few minutes later my dad, brother, and I were introduced to the family as well. His land was right off of the road we would be driving on to get to Crater Lake National Park; he offered his guest house to us for as long as we were in the area. We could ride quads, pan for gold, fish, ride horses, and do many other things there. His family opened his home to us within minutes of meeting us.
Last summer, when we went to Devils Tower, my mom was unable to climb with us and sat on the same bench all day without moving to watch every step of our journey to the summit. She sat there for hours without leaving and without taking her eyes off of her husband and sons. Eventually, a large group of people stopped and asked what she was looking at. After telling them our family’s story, of how we first tried to climb the mountain, visited every state in the country, and then came back eight years later to finally conquer the Tower, one family in particular was moved. They stayed with my mom after the rest of the group had moved on to talk to her. In the conversation, my mom told them that she knew the only thing my dad was going to want when he was down was a cold beer, but there was no way he was going to get one because she wasn’t moving. When they left, the man, Mark, said, “I’ll have a beer for your husband.” The son, eager to help, said “I can’t drink beer. What do your sons drink?” My mom answered Sprite, and he lit up saying, “I’ll have a Sprite for them!” A few hours later, when the sun was going down, my mom saw one lone light at the end of the trail coming towards her. Once it got close enough, she realized it was Mark and his wife, Kathy; they came back to the same bench with a can of beer, two Sprites, and a bag of ice for me, my brother, and my dad. Kathy gave my mom the flashlight as well since she was all alone and it was getting darker and darker. That family never met the other three members of my family, but they went out of their way to help all of us.
Witnessing the great natural landscapes the United States has to offer is one thing, but witnessing the kindness its citizens are willing to give to others is something else entirely. It’s the one thing I can’t express to you in words. Standing on top of that mountain was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had, but getting that drink at the bottom, knowing someone who never even heard of me a few hours earlier had my back, that was truly amazing. On two separate occasions, someone has risked death to protect my family; that’s more amazing than any view you’ll ever see anywhere in the world.
This tip is more of a way of life than a travel tip, but it may be the most important thing I’ve learned in my journeys across the country. My final travel tip is to always open your eyes to the landscapes and scenery around you, but open your hearts to the experiences and people you meet. The true beauty America has to offer can be found within its great citizens.