North Carolina has always been good to me. Well, I mean, there was that whole Ridgecrest debacle — but that only lasted a couple weeks. The rest of that 2012 summer quite literally changed the rest of my life.
Then there was another North Carolinian summer in 2007 — that time me and my siblings took our first solo road trip to the Outer Banks, sans parents. It was new, it was invigorating, and it was terrifying as we nearly ran out of gas at 2am. Ah, we were so young and naive.
But we survived. In fact, that drive with Mitsy down the Cape Hatteras sliver of a seashore was perhaps the first time the road ever called out to me. Whispered my curious name.
North Carolina has long had this particular affinity for inspiring me. Beckoning me toward growth. And so, should I have expected anything less than spectacular as #RunningTo took me on yet another jaunt through this story-filled Carolina?
It all started in Raleigh — the city I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce.
In any case, North Carolina’s capital city introduced me to a young married couple I’d found on Couchsurfing. They showed me the guest bedroom past the shelf of a dozen rustic cameras, and we traded stories in their living room. They’d originally hailed from Iowa but were in search of a new existence with new stories to live. North Carolina called their name, and eastward they ventured.
And here they were in a living room with a sloppily bearded guy who’s been on a similar eastward quest. And thus, the simple beauty of Couchsurfing: two parties exchanging the stories of their journeys leading to this place in time.
The husband is a gifted musician, having once opened for the likes of Vanilla Ice and others. He cracked the door to his magical music room inundated with instruments, and he even let me play his accordion while manning the drums. We videotaped our performance, and it may someday change lives.
After Raleigh came Chapel Hill: home of the mighty Heels. My host was a 19-year-old UNC student, a freshman. My youngest host yet.
We’d messaged a couple times prior to my arrival, and he informed me that he and his roommate lived in a dorm. He hoped I wouldn’t mind staying in a dorm.
I couldn’t wait to stay with this guy. His Couchsurfing profile stirred a lot of stuff inside me:
I aspire to be remembered as someone who was madly in love with being alive. My favorite thing is the crazy grin people give each other when they reach mutual understanding.
Turns out he and I would exchange lots of crazy grins over the course of the next 16 hours. Namely over the commonality of our respective adventures.
He once hiked the 500-mile El Camino in Spain. He conquered the trail in a month and found some friends along the way — pilgrims, they’re called there.
He’d also hitchhiked from North Carolina to Portland just to listen to one of his favorite songs on California’s coastal highway. On-ramps are the best spots for hitchhiking, he told me.
Once again, this guy is a freaking teenager. I’ve tutored teenagers. I went to camp with teenagers.
When I was 19, I was doing everything I could not to be seen, not to be heard. Isolation was easier than interaction, and my bedroom far more comforting than finding foreign comrades on the open road.
With a crazy grin, he told me he loves trusting people. He is a mere freshman in Tar Heel blue, and he speaks with the air of a thirty-something who indeed seems madly in love with being alive.
And finally, Charlotte; dear, sweet Charlotte. That poor neglected place my dad would always drive us past en route to Pennsylvania for the holidays. That city with the airport where I’ve transferred at least half a dozen flights.
The Queen City with uptown streets and sparkly lit skyscrapers and people and places I’d not actually seen until just last week. Over the years, I’ve heard of a special church in Charlotte.
The church is Renovatus, and it is a church for people still in renovation.
Throughout my road trip, I’ve made it a point to experience different denominations. Baptists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and Catholics and Winnipeg cults, oh my.
Renovatus ascribes itself as your grandmother’s church and your church. A place for hymns and a place for primal shouts. A church with an evolving story it believes you have some role in writing.
I’d met a couple former Renovatus members in New York, and they connected me with a houseful of guys in Charlotte. I went to church with them, I ate out with them, and I was even interviewed by one of them for his blog. Stay tuned.
It was a fun day spent with those great guys. Leaving Charlotte in my rear view mirror the next morning was hard.
Was it because I was off to another Carolina of less fame and intrigue? Or did my brief time in Charlotte supply something more meaningful?
Now more than ever, I see North Carolina as the state that never disappoints. A place that always pours more and more stories into my lap and soul.
Perhaps this southern Carolina will provide sweet memories to come. I certainly hope so. But there’s just something about that northern Carolina . . .