When I first made the switch from Couchsurfing surfer extraordinaire to Couchsurfing hoster, I figured I’d ease into the transition. Host one or two people a month for one or two nights each, and that would tide me over, remind me of the road without having to leave for so long again. I’d cook my occasional surfers breakfast, and I’d go wandering around Asheville and the Blue Ridge with my occasional surfers, if my occasional surfers even wanted an occasional companion, that is.
Alas, I honestly wouldn’t have anticipated hosting seven surfers within my first seven weeks in Asheville. And I certainly wouldn’t have expected to host someone for not one or two nights, but one or two weeks.
His name is Michael, and he is a 19-year-old wanderer on a quest.
I wasn’t sure how exactly Michael was getting to my place in Asheville, considering he doesn’t own a car. He’d mentioned hitching a ride with someone he’d met in New Orleans, though, and he promised to hit my doorstep by nightfall.
Not ever wanting the full story before the story can unpack itself face-to-face, I waited.
He arrived with a backpacker’s backpack, a guitar, and a big floppy hat, and he was smiling as wide as the brim. I recognized that smile on his face.
It looked a lot like mine once did.
Michael’s from Rhode Island, and he’s been on the road for about two months now, about the same stretch of time I’ve been on my own new adventure in Asheville. We sat in my living room that first night and he told me all about New Orleans where he stayed at this ragtag commune sort of place by the train tracks, his hammock slung between two posts outside.
He told me about the cast of characters he slept alongside in New Orleans: a kid with a bike named Leaf who wouldn’t reveal his real name, a man with a do-rag and an actual sword who went by The Pirate, and Amy a fellow musician who gave him the lift to Asheville where she would stay with some friends for a few days before wandering further northward, herself on a quest.
Like something straight of Kerouac if ever I heard it.
Michael just started college last year, and he doesn’t want to go into any debt. He’s in a gap year now, or however long this adventure lasts, and he’s learning that he wants to live sustainably on a farm one day with lots of kids.
He had requested four nights with me, the longest anyone has requested me on Couchsurfing. Four nights was a lot, but there was just something about the kid’s profile and message and quest. I keep calling him “kid,” and yet he’s the most mature, articulate 19-year-old I’ve ever seen.
Traveling will do that to you. Books, too. Lots and lots of books. Kid was a walking encyclopedia talking about the Greek wars and Walden. “The Thoreau Life” is what he goes by on Instagram, and he hopes to turn the name into a blog soon.
Before the first night ended, I told Michael to stay as long as he’d like. Partly out of courtesy, but partly for what was already obvious fact — gosh, this kid is amazing. I kinda never wanted him to leave.
Over the course of the next four days, we explored a waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we enjoyed countless conversations about writing, traveling, religion, personalities and the Enneagram (he’s also a Type 4, praise Him), as well as where he’d be wandering next.
“I think I want to go back to WWOOF’ing,” he told me after already working on a farm in Tennessee. I first learned of WWOOF’ing on my own road trip, these world-wide opportunities on organic farms, a chance to work the fields in exchange for free room and board.
I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve interacted with many who have, Michael included. “I got a picture posted on the official WWOOF Instagram,” he told me, “and this girl found me on there. We messaged back and forth and I think I might’ve convinced her to quit her job in Indiana. Now I think she’s gonna go WWOOF’ing with me in South Carolina.”
Why, naturally. Because that’s just how life on the road works.
The road — long winding uncertain — simply has a way of materializing before you.
What was supposed to be four nights in Asheville turned into fourteen, and I can honestly say Michael did not overstay his welcome. I had three other surfers come and go while Michael also stayed with me, and it was especially fun to see all these different journeys converging in my living room.
I certainly haven’t “eased into” the hosting aspect of Couchsurfing, and for that I am grateful.
The Instagram Girl from Indiana rolled by the other night, a woman of the fields if ever I saw one with her denim overalls. She whisked Michael away to South Carolina, this “kid” whose journey will surely continue unfolding with each passing day and mile.
“You should go WWOOF’ing with me someday,” he said before hugging me goodbye.
You know, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I never thought I'd host someone in my new home for two whole weeks. And then @the_thoreau_life came along. He's the best read, most articulate 19-year-old I've ever come across, and his journey is just beginning. Give him a follow, and live the Thoreau life along with him. Consider me inspired anew. #couchsurfing #blueridgeparkway #blueridgemountains #blueridge #eastforkoverlook #thoreau