In the first days of 2012, four lives came together to finally leave the East Coast and see what else was out there. Brother and sister, Ryan and Jessica, two nomads at heart, initiated the idea a few months earlier as a method to escape from work, school, and family stress; not really thinking something would actually materialize. A month before liftoff, the two acquired the interest of Liz, a brilliant fourth year bio engineering student with a wild side. A few weeks before liftoff, the final piece of the group came together, Ed, a French exchange student who sounded more American than French. Much to the dismay of Jess, Ed wouldn’t be able to help drive, but Ryan assured her he was an asset.
The stars aligned further and with the sibling’s mother in the U.K. at the time, the four would be able to use her car, a lofty 4-wheel drive that would be their trusty vessel throughout the duration of the trip.
The trip was a-go and would commence right after the new year. After a night of heavy partying and drinking, the group sluggishly met at the starting point and with a car packed to capacity, the long drive began at a brisk and dark 5 am.
The first leg would take the group all the way from New Jersey down to Atlanta, Georgia with a stop in Charlotte for some food. The four had 14 hours of road time to acquaint and talk about the expectations of the upcoming trip. With Ryan knowing Ed well and Jess knowing Liz well, the group hadn’t fully warmed up to one another. But after a few hours of conversation, the deepest taboo of topics begin to surface. At some point, someone brought up the topic of “poop” and just like that, any prior distance between the group members was broken; the most graphic of personal stories providing an inner glimpse of one of the more vulnerable essential bodily functions that makes us human. This was going to be a compatible group, and with three more weeks on the road, it had to be.
Ryan drove the entire first leg of the trip. A third year university student with a burning zeal and desire to travel, this would be one of his first trips of many that would inspire a lifetime of continuous nomadism. As his right leg reached a point of numbness, the car finally pulled into Charlotte in the afternoon. The group found a hip taco restaurant and over avocado and salmon tacos observed the slower pace of the people confirming they were no longer in the north east any longer.
With not a moment to lose on the longest leg of their trip, the team continued south with a goal of pulling into Atlanta before midnight. Thanks to persistence, little traffic, and maybe a bit of excessive speeding, the group passed the South Carolina-Georgia state line and made it into Atlanta. Seven states in fourteen hours, not bad.
As they pulled deeper into Atlanta, with only a badly programmed GPS in hand, the car drove by tents suggesting the leftover remains of the Occupy Wall Street movement that had taken over sections of cities across the US. Desperate for some food, the four parked and got out searching through the shockingly cold city for any 24 hour restaurants to satisfy their hunger. Not far from the tents, a girl maybe a few years older than the four ran towards them and started blurting out nonsense. A member of the movement, she mentioned her name was Kella, and after some more nonsensical and erratic words, she gifted Jess the necklace she was wearing and wished the group good luck on their journey. Kella was just one of the many crazy, lost souls of the great US that the group would come across.
Failing to find food, they got back in the car and drove on to surrender to their hotel room for the night. The GPS took them further and further into some questionable parts of the city, and just a few streets before the hotel, they hit a red light…next to a dilapidated homeless shelter with occupants swarming the street opposite.
As the only car on the road that late at night, the lights attracted a few of the shelter members and they crossed the street and step by step approached the car. The sound of locking car doors echoed throughout the interior as the group took caution and tensed up–