The following is the fifth article in a recurring series featuring Kevin Lu and Joe D’Amelio’s cross country roadtrip, #RoundaboutUSA.
“This is for you, Mom and Dad. For you gave me a set of eyes to see all the grandeur and beauty of this world, as well as a heart to appreciate and cherish what’s before me – yet you have never had the opportunity to do it yourselves. So I will try my very best to take in as much as I can, and then tell you all about it. And I hope that the next time I return to Grand Canyon, you will stand right beside me.
From Arizona, with love.”
After spending a little more than a week in California, Joe and I started headed east, leaving the beautiful west coast and its major cities behind. As we made our way toward the Grand Canyon, I found myself feeling both anxious and excited. It would be my first visit to the Grand Canyon Skywalk – a transparent bridge in the shape of a horseshoe known to be an engineering marvel. It allows visitors to walk directly above the Grand Canyon.
Joe and I made it there after more than 3 hours of driving on unpaved roads. We approached the ticket counter feeling giddy. Then, we were hit with utter disappointment: the fee for the Skywalk was more than we could afford.
I was heartbroken.
On the drive out of Grand Canyon West, I couldn’t contain myself. Tears gushed out of my eyes, not only because we couldn’t experience the Skywalk, but because I realized how tough our road trip had actually become. It was emotionally exhausting – we were always cutting corners, trying to make the best out of the worst, internalizing hardship, and improvising on the fly. It was far from the trip I had originally planned back at home and the reality hit me hard.
We decided to make our way to the canyon’s South Rim. We arrived late in the day and photographed the sunset before having a quiet dinner nearby. As per usual, we slept in the car in the parking lot that night.
The next morning, we woke up early to watch the sunrise. As the sun hit the horizon, I realized that I was standing before one of the most fascinating landscapes in the world. At that moment, as the golden rays hit my eyes, the gloom that followed me from the Skywalk seemed to evaporate into thin air. I had seen many, many sunrises with Joe, but this one was one of the most memorable ones. As it dispelled the darkness, I couldn’t help but feel rejuvinated; refreshed.
After Kevin and I left California, my thoughts were suddenly consumed with home. Part of me was excited to get back to New Jersey, but a bigger part of me was not. I reflected on all we had accomplished over the last few weeks. When I got home, would I return to being an “Average Joe”? My mind wrestled with that question often.
When I looked back on the first 30 years of my life, there weren’t a whole lot of accomplishments I was proud of. I was rarely able to hold a job (I found it difficult to find work that kept my interest). I had very little money saved. I had dropped out of college. I still lived with my parents. Those facts were in front of me and I saw them each and every mile.
At some point, inevitably, I would try to remind myself of all the things I am grateful for: my amazing girlfriend; my loving family; the roof over my head (even if it is my parents’ roof). Nevertheless, the stress of not knowing what life would be like when I got back home would usually get the best of me. I felt a lot of pressure to maintain the excitement of our trip; we had met so many people who consistently told us how inspiring our story was. The last thing I wanted to do was to let anyone down.
Preoccupied with the question of “what’s next?”, I found myself thoughtlessly driving from state to state. My mind was working overtime and I needed a break.
Sometimes, things happen when you least expect them to but when you need them to the most.
Amelia from Louisiana sent Kevin and I a message and invited us to have dinner with her family. We accepted, and when we got there, I felt like I was home. The house was packed with people (as mine usually is) and there were kids running around everywhere. They cooked us an amazing meal and then asked if we would be able to spend the night. I took a deep breath. It was exactly what we needed – a break from (barely) sleeping in our car on the side of the road; an opportunity to relax and be taken care of. We had become so accustomed to always thinking about our next move: What should we eat? Where should we sleep? What direction should we head in next? This was an opportunity to let our bodies – and our minds – rest.
That night, after dinner, Amelia and her family took us to the Mississippi river. It felt so good to let the muddy waters engulf my toes. We woke up the next morning to a big homemade breakfast and were told that our day was planned: first, we’d hang with the family and jump on their trampoline, then we’d go pick eggs from their chicken coup, and then we’d take a boat ride on the bayou. Every minute of the day was amazing and by the time it was all over, I felt at ease.
Our time with Amelia and her family reminded me what our trip was all about: meeting new people, seeing new places and having fun. Yes, decisions would have to be made once I got home, but I needed to live in – and remember to appreciate – every moment.
As Kevin and I were packing up our things and preparing to say our goodbyes, Amelia’s mother yelled out to us: “You guys can stay another night if you’d like!” Kevin and I immediately looked at each other and smiled. Why not?