The World’s Craziest First Date started with a backpack and a one way flight across the country. Well…actually, the adventure started nearly 10 years earlier, but finally happened 2 weeks ago.
It was the fall of 2004. The incoming Ball State University freshman were attending summer orientation led by yours truly. As I showed the new students around campus I caught the eye of one of the young ladies. I would say unbeknownst to me, but that would be lying. Why else do you think a young college male would give up his hard earned summer to make minimum wage walking around the same college campus that he’d spend the rest of the year attending classes on? Women have a strange way of making boring jobs seem interesting. I didn’t really know that I had caught her eye…actually, I don’t remember her even being there, but years later that first moment came full circle.
Classes began, years passed, college ended for me and I moved to the Golden State. School ended a few years later for her and she started her life in Indiana. The world turns, time marches on, and sometimes the universe leads you places you never would have expected.
For instance, one afternoon in the spring of 2014 I was checking how likes my trail running picture had on Facebook and I scrolled past a name that I thought I knew…but from where? I clicked her picture, holy crap…she is hot! And she liked my picture?! Wow.
And, that was it. I’m not much of a Casanova, so I did nothing. No reciprocal thumbs up on Facebook, no personal message, no poke, nothing. I figured it was nothing and went on with my life. A week later I posted another outdoor adventure and this beautiful stranger from my days at Ball State liked it again. Fluke? Maybe…but then again…maybe not.
Over the next month I played along, always hopeful that she’d like whatever adventure I was posting to social media and me sporadically thumbs upping some of her posts, searching for a way to finally say hello.
Midsummer I drove to Indiana to live at home for 5 weeks and run my first 100 mile race. By this time there were a lot of social media likes flying back and forth, but no actual conversations. I was in Indianapolis, where she lived, visiting my friend Jon Weaver when I told him about her. Jon, always one for action, said “Text her! Take her out this weekend!” “Naw man”, I said, “I’m hanging out with friends and family, this trip is just too busy for girls…” AKA, I was too nervous to ask her out.
A few weeks later I left Indiana and headed back to stay with family in Prescott, and somehow in the Arizona desert she broke the ice. She made a comment on one of the posts about my 100 mile race. Game on. (I know the whole episode is irrational and backwards, guys are supposed to make the first move, but believe it or not, I’m pretty shy…)
I sat on cloud nine overnight, dreaming about something suave to say to sweep her off her feet. In the morning I finally built up the courage to send her a personal message on Facebook. At the same time that I was experiencing the freedom of my summer vagabond she was stepping out into the unknown. She had just quit her corporate job, moved back home with family, and was heading to Mexico for a month to become a yoga instructor, after which she would travel the world and teach yoga.
I sent some message commending her for her courage, telling her that it wouldn’t be easy, but she wouldn’t regret taking the risk to live her dreams. I said I was excited to hear all about her trip when she got back. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait.
From that first message in early September only 2 days have passed without us conversing. One, because I told her I needed to give her space to experience Mexico without my interference (that idea didn’t last long), and another because I was backpacking in Yosemite. Otherwise, we’ve been in constant contact, mostly via Facebook messenger where we have accumulated in excess of 27,000 individual messages to each other. I fear that Facebook actually owns the rights to our relationship.
This whole Cinderella story is cool, except for the reality of the fact that I lived in California and she lived in Indiana. (Actually I think this was more like Aladdin than Cinderella, I mean, I am homeless and living on the street, trying to catch the attention of a beautiful princess…) The lack of proximity made going on a first date pretty complicated. We kicked around a bunch of ideas. “Do you want to meet somewhere? Mexico? San Francisco? Want to go hiking in Yosemite before the snow? Maybe I should come see you in Indiana (oh man, I hope she hates that idea…it’s getting pretty cold there….).”
She kept talking about California. There is yoga in Indiana, but there is a lot more yoga in California. She considered teaching options from San Francisco to San Diego, but she needed to be in California first. (And again, it was getting cold in Indiana…)
“Well, let’s just plan to meet in San Fran then. You drive out from Indiana and I’ll drive up from Santa Barbara. We’ll spend the weekend exploring the city and each other and see what happens. But what if we like each other and then I have to go home and you have to stay? That would kinda suck. I mean…you can come to Santa Barbara if you want…I just don’t know the yoga studios, and heck, I live in my car so I don’t really have any place for you to crash while you figure stuff out. What? That’s what you want to do? Wait, you got that whole ‘I live in my car’ thing, right? Okay, well, should I book a flight back to Indy and drive out with you? Cool? Alright, my flight is booked!”
Wait…what just happened? Let me get this straight. I just booked a one way flight to Indiana. I’ll land at 1:00 AM, and a girl that I went to college with but I never actually met in person, is going to pick me up at the airport and we are going to kick off our first date by driving west…for 2,200 miles…30+ hours in a car together…with no plan of what we’ll do when we get to California? Awesome! People are going to think this is crazy…
So, on October 30th, not quite 2 months since my last road trip from Indiana to California, I stood on the curb outside the baggage claim in Indianapolis, my toes shivering in my Lunas from the Midwest chill, waiting for a girl in a Mercury to pick me up for our first date…The World’s Craziest First Date.
As I walked out the door to meet the girl of my dreams in person for the first time I looked up to see a guy with a backpack displaying the Burning River 100 Mile Race logo. “Oh hey! I know that logo, I ran that race this year! When did you run it? Twice? You were pacing your friend at Western States this year? So was I. You were waiting at Michigan Bluff? We were too! We must have been sitting right next to you! So what races are you running next year?” On, and on, and on… My phone buzzed in my pocket, she was looking for me, but I was so enthralled talking with a fellow 100 mile runner that I almost forgot that I was late to my first date!
The conversation ended and I turned to scan the parked cars for a Mercury. She was sitting at the front of the line, engine idling in anticipation for our adventure west. I walked to the passenger side door, waved hello, and took off my backpack while she jumped out of the car and skipped around the car to give me a hug. “Well hello, Brittany May…nice to finally meet you.”
Brittany drove and I took my place as co-pilot. She talked a mile a minute, half from nervousness, but mostly from the 5 cups of coffee she drank that evening waiting for me to land. I sat in the passenger seat and watched her, in complete awe that someone as pretty as her was interested in this adventure with me. We drove through the night, picking up our conversations from Facebook and phone calls as naturally as if we had been sitting right here the past two months.
As the sun started to rise I suggested we pull over and sun gaze, something she did on a daily basis. I would have been happy to stop at a gas station and stand in the grass staring at the sun while cars drove past, but Brittany is too hippie for that. She drove past the gas station, down a country road, and to a gate leading to a pasture. She parked the car, grabbed her yoga mat, jumped the fence, and never looked back. I hesitated…this was trespassing, but I knew Brittany well enough already, I was prepared to step outside my comfort zone, a lot. As I stepped forward, a little stressed, I walked right into a big pile of cow poop in my sandals. Great. We walked a bit, tried to wait for the sunrise, but the thermometer read 39 degrees. We only lasted a few minutes before we ran back to wait in the heat of the car. As soon as the sun peaked up we stood outside for 10 seconds looking at the light, then I grabbed her waist, pulled her close, and we shared our first kiss. It was both the longest and shortest I’d ever waited for a first kiss. Two months of talking non-stop before locking lips, and at the same time, just a few short hours from meeting in person for the first time. We jumped back in the car, my cow pie covered sandals relegated to a plastic bag in the trunk for the rest of the trip.
Friday was a long day. That might be an understatement. We drove from Indianapolis straight to Denver, 16+ hours in the car, covering 1,000 miles of flat farmland. It was like Indiana on repeat. Were we really making progress? We neared Denver, booked a hotel room, and finally got out of the car for more than a quick stop to relax and prepare for another day of driving. We uncorked a bottle of Indiana wine and headed to the pub for our first dinner date.
Saturday we woke up and drove west again. The miles had flown by on Friday, but as soon as we reached the foot of the Rocky Mountains our progress slowed to a crawl. I drove the rest of the way to give Brittany a chance to enjoy the views. We climbed into the mountains and took a side trip to Breckenridge and Hoosier Pass for an Indiana photo opportunity. Back on the road we stopped at each viewpoint available. I drove with the sunroof open, the crisp mountain air filling the car, and a beautiful gypsy girl painting her toenails in the passenger seat beside me.
We followed I-70 as it meandered through the mountains and lead us into Glenwood Canyon, one of the most amazing stretches of highway I’ve seen in my life. We stopped to hike up to Hanging Lake, a small lake nested into the side of a steep mountainside. The unique travertine bed creates an out of this world blue body of water. We jogged back down the trail to the car to continue forging west to see more of Colorado before the sun faded to black.
After driving 1,000 miles the first day we covered a mere 250 miles on day two, stopping to hike and explore the mountains around us. In Grand Junction, CO we picked up a pizza, some local Colorado beer, and called it a night.
Sunday morning we left Colorado as the sun came up in the east. Utah’s landscape left us in awe as it changed throughout the day. Just inside Utah we stopped at a viewpoint and took it all in as dark clouds formed overhead. We made it back to the car just before the skies opened and the rain started to fall. Then, within seconds it changed from rain to nickel sized hail, pelting the car and turning the parking lot white with ice. Luckily we had stopped to see the lookout, back on the highway a few minutes later we passed numerous cars that had slid off the road in the sudden hail storm.
Midday we passed a sign for Arches National Park. Neither of us had ever been in Utah, and we were already on an adventure, so what the heck, we took the exit and headed south. We spent a few hours exploring the fire red arches and making notes of places we’d like to come back to visit.
Back on I-70 we climbed another mountain pass with dark clouds looming overhead. The skies opened, but this time there was no rain or hail, just white fluffy powder. I pulled off at the summit rest stop and we put our warm clothes on and hopped out to explore the winter wonderland. At this point, with more cars sliding off the highway, we decided to call it a day early and spent Sunday night in Beaver, Utah, less than 300 miles from Grand Junction and more than 500 miles from Santa Barbara.
Monday we were up and on the road early. We had a lot of miles to cover and I wanted to get to Santa Barbara before sunset so Brittany could see the Pacific Ocean. We left Utah, hit a little of Arizona, and then drove through Nevada. In Las Vegas we stopped for the mandatory In-N-Out Burger visit and followed the 15 south toward LA and back to Santa Barbara.
Hours later we reached Ventura, CA and popped out onto the 101 and Brittany saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever. For a half hour leading up to that moment the car got quiet, the reality of this crazy idea to drive across the country together started sinking in. We both tried to lighten the mood, but it was intense, knowing that this was the point of no return. What were we doing? I lived in my car. Brittany had no job. Were we crazy? Too crazy? Was this the best or worst decision we had ever made?
As we rounded the turn on the 101 and the Pacific Ocean came into view the tension lifted. Immediately, without saying a word to each other, we both felt comfortable, at home, and completely confident in the decisions we had made. We both let our hearts lead us together, and then beyond. We drove up the coast, mountains to the right, ocean to the left, sun creeping lower in the sky, hand in hand, driving toward our next adventure in Santa Barbara. We made it to town just in time to park along Cabrillo Boulevard, ditch our shoes, and sit in the sand to watch the sun set.
It had been a 30+ hour, 2,200 mile, 4 day journey from Indiana to California…The World’s Craziest First Date. We more than survived, we had thrived. Brittany decided that she wanted to stay in Santa Barbara, something we both knew she would do from the beginning. I didn’t have much to offer her, but what I did have was a thirst for adventure that matched hers.
So what’s next? We actually don’t know. We have plenty of ideas, but for now we’re just enjoying the moment, living life to the fullest, and taking it all in, one day and one adventure at a time.