"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Ode to Couchsurfing

Most of you readers know that I have been couch surfing my way across this country over the past month.  It's not my first time traveling through couch surfing, and I'm sure won't be my last.  I get a lot of questions about this aspect of my trip.

"What is couch surfing?"

"Is it safe?"

"How do you know you can trust the person?"

"How do you find couches on which to surf?"

These are great questions, and all ones I had myself before I had any experience with CSing.  I will answer them here by way of telling you the story of how I ended up in Durango, Colorado with my current, fabulous CS host.

First of all, yes, it is an actual website and I do this "formally."  (www.couchsurfing.org)  You can make a profile and begin hosting or surfing immediately.  Every time you make a new connection, that person leaves a reference for you.  Members become quite thoroughly referenced and vouched for, which adds tremendously to the safety aspect and to my (and I'm sure my parents') peace of mind.

When I know I want to go to a town, I hop on to the site and search hosts in that place.  Personally, I only ever look for females, families, or group houses (no single men), and I only contact people with photos (there are search filters for this).  I usually send out multiple requests for a town and see what comes back to me.  If I don't get a response in time, I either stay in a hostel (like in Moab), or decide that the universe must want me to skip that town.

My host in Durango has been especially wonderful.  Whitney accepted my request very shortly after I sent it.  She was at work when I rolled in to town Friday night, but she left the key for me.  She also texted me the wireless code and told me to feel free to use the kitchen, shower, and laundry machines - all of which I did before she even got home.  What an amazingly trusting, kind person!

Whitney with J.C. the pit bull
The next morning, we officially met (after I had already slept on her couch, taken a shower in her bathroom, washed two loads of laundry in her machines, and cooked dinner with her cookware).  We got to know each other over some morning coffee before she had to rush off to another shift at work.  She felt badly that she couldn't hang out with me on Saturday due to her busy schedule, so she connected me with some couch surfers she had just hosted last week and whom were still in town canvassing for the Obama campaign.

I texted Maya (Whitney's previous couchsurfer) right away, asking if she wanted to hang out later.  She invited me to meet her and her canvassing crew for drinks downtown later that evening.  Perfect.  I decided to spend the day exploring Durango on bike and foot, on my own, until that time.

My evening with Maya and her Obama-loving friends was a raucous, great time!  I'm not very political myself, and probably care less about this election than anyone else I know.  So I didn't really care if they were for Obama, Romney, or anyone else.  The anthropological observation experience was fulfilling enough for me!  I joined in a bit, but I mostly just sipped my beer and listened to everyone argue passionately about which part of Obama's platform is most important, and the difference between Clinton and Obama era America, with a little good ol' fashioned Bush-hating thrown in for fun.

The Obama crew at the bar

I was planning to leave Sunday, but when Whitney told me that she had the day off of work, her best friend from back in Minnesota was flying in that morning, and she wanted to take both of us to some hidden hot springs in the woods, I was easily convinced to stay.

We picked Acacia up at the airport and immediately headed to the hot springs about 45 minutes away from Durango.  There are many commercial hot springs here that cost money and are in buildings, like swimming pools.  That's not what we did.  We hiked two miles down an 800 foot drop (really it was more like sliding on our butts some of the time) to reach these springs, which were just little pools dug next to the river in which we could sit and soak in 107 degree water all day.

Acacia and Whitney enjoying the springs

These weren't necessary

View from the hot spring pool

I could stay here forever.

Can you see the steam rising off the water?
We met another beautiful woman while down there - Amanda.  Just when the four of us were starting to get hungry, three "elder" goddess-like women came down the trail.  We shouted to them to join us.  They immediately stripped down and hopped in the pool.  And they had brought ice cream!  Now all seven of us - from ages 25 to 65 - sat soaking, laughing, sharing the joys and sorrows of womanhood, and eating ice cream.

All of this never would have happened without couch surfing.  But let me be explicitly clear.  I don't just love this way of travel because it's free.  This isn't about being a freeloader.  I often cook, clean, and leave little gifts and notes with my hosts each time as a small token of my appreciation.

This is about coming one step closer to erasing the illusion of separateness between us.  Phrases like "my" house and "my" food and "my" car just won't serve us for much longer as humans.  It is not natural for humanity to be closed up in separate boxes like houses and offices, pretending we must do this life thing all alone.  For the majority of human history on this earth, we have lived in small communities, sharing food, shelter, and the tasks of life with one another.

Couchsurfing brings people together under the premise that your happiness is my happiness.  If you are safe, warm, and well-fed for the night, than I am fulfilled as well.  We all have things to teach each other, and we can all benefit from meeting another kind soul on this journey of life that ultimately, is shared.

So thank you to Whitney (and her roommate, Nikki, whom I just met when she returned to town from a weekend in Denver) in Durango, Colorado.

Thank you to Kelsey, Ethan, and Theo in Missoula, Montana.

To Katie and Emily in Whitefish, Montana.

To Deanna in Duluth, Minnesota.

To Scott and Krissy, and also to Mike in Toledo, Ohio.

To Alex and her crew in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

To Jeff & Alice in Great Falls, Montana.

To the girl in Bismarck, North Dakota, whose name I can't remember now.

To the Swiss paragliding photographer in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland,

And to the woman in Paris, France, who was my very first couch surfing experience.  She picked me up at the train station, let me stay with her for three days, and even left me alone in her apartment for the last day after she left for her vacation.

You have all contributed to my deepening belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.  May I only aspire to repay all the kindnesses I have been shown tenfold!

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  1. Hey Melanie!!!
    So glad to have met you and shared a perfect day at the hot springs! I hope you're well and that your journey is continuing just as great as it has been. It was so fun to read your blog! I can't wait to see what happens next for you!

  2. Thanks, Amanda! I'm glad you remembered my blog address and super glad to have met you. In fact, we might still be wandering around in the woods without your help. :) Find me on Facebook - Melanie Cobb.

    Much love to you!