I followed the two of them down a short gravel road in the dark. As we came to a stop, their headlights lit up a chain link gate ahead. He jumped out of his car and rolled the fence back. It was dark and I could not tell what I was driving into, but as the gate was drawn close behind me, I knew that I was here for the night.
I was new to life on the road, just a couple of weeks in, and definitely new to the idea of sleeping in random places. This one was a new level for me, following two strangers up into the hills surrounding Santa Cruz to park on their land for the night. People I had only met a day prior. Was it even a day? May have been the same day. Regardless, I felt a certain amount of apprehension, as this is exactly what parents tell their kids not to do.
Earlier that day I was sitting on the West Cliff in Santa Cruz, as I had been for that last day or two. I would wake early and roll up to the cliff to snag a good spot, the ones along the sidewalk with a view of the ocean. Once settled, I would take an extremely cold rinse in the sink at the public restroom – too modest to use the public outdoor surfer shower out front. From there, climb back in van, slide the door open, fold the table into place, open the laptop, and begin my workday.
I would spend most of my day here, working at the laptop and taking breaks to stroll along the cliff. People would stop by my van all day, poking their heads in to check out my office. Today though, a couple in their 50’s stopped by the van to let me know they liked my office setup, and they owned a Westfalia themselves. Van owners LOVE to tell other van owners about their vans, you can see it in their eyes before they ever open their mouth, a knowing look of “one of us.” Honestly, it is one of my favorite things about these vans.
They inquired where I was staying, which was on the side of the street in some random neighborhood. They told me they had some property outside of town, and if I wanted, I was welcome to come park there instead of sleeping on the street. Tempting, but I am completely paranoid at this point in my trip, new to the kindness of strangers. They give me their number and invited me to dinner, and if feeling it, to follow them out after. I accept.
As the gate closed behind me in the dark, lit up only by the red of my brake lights, I wonder to myself if this is how I go missing – following some nice couple into rural Santa Cruz hillside. They offer their guest house to me, complete with a shower and bed. I take a shower, then quickly retreat to my van – locking all doors twice. Honestly, at no point were these people ever anything but the most wonderful and kind humans – but that is how they get you, right? It was a restless night’s sleep.
Then, as the sun broke through my curtains that summer morning, I awoke, I was alive! I slide the door open to a view of a beautiful home overlooking their organic vegetable farm. Her husband already out in the field, she came walking out with a fresh cup of coffee and still warm zucchini bread. Come to find out these people were just generous and kind people, like they appeared to be all along. Their generosity leaving a lasting mark on the rest of my trip, which at that point had only just begun. The kindness of strangers would be bestowed upon me time and time again as I journeyed all the way across America.
Sorry, no big ending, just people being nice. Thank you both for not killing me in my sleep!