American Bear completed their Journey! (Or at least the first stage)
We left home 49 days ago to do something that sounds simple – rely on strangers for a home each night – but what we did feels a lot more complex than that. We traveled around the country, learned about trust and fear between Americans, experienced American culture in a very personal way, and made many new friends. We’ve had tons of new experiences and tried lots of exciting new foods; We’ve learned about ourselves and our relationship and therelationships we form with other people.
We’re now at Greg’s home in New Jersey – the last couple hours of footage transferring to the hard drives, Greg’s mom making lunch. We slept in a familiar bed last night.
The project was supposed to be 60 days, but we got caught in a bear trap – a car crash that happened at the exact intersection that directions say is the center of Bear, Arkansas. We were both fine, but the car was not drivable. A stranger we contacted via Couchsurfing.org led us, by three degrees of separation, to a couple in Hot Springs, Arkansas, who took us in for three days while we figured out what to do next. We ended up renting a U-Haul truck to drive ourselves home – but for the six days that the rental allowed, we continued making our project, dipping into the south and even visiting the eastern shore – or at least the Chesapeake Bay.
So our project was cut short, but we still went through exactly 30 states and visited the 5 places called Bear. We relied on strangers for 40 of our 48 nights – we had one break night, two nights with Sarah’s family in Colorado, and the 5 Bears, where we camped, stayed in a motel, or, for our last night in Bear, Delaware, slept in the back of the U-Haul. We stayed with strangers for 36 of those 40 nights, only failing to find a host in four towns.
In total, we spoke with 711 people around the country. 55% of those people agreed to do an interview with us, and 7% of all those people offered us a place to stay. Of all the people who offered us a place to stay, 51% were male, and 49% were female – the same percentages we discovered at our 30-day update. However, of all the people we spoke to, 47% were male and53% were female, suggesting that women said no to us slightly more often than men. Another interesting fact: If you recall our 30 day update, about 47% of people declined an interview. After our experiences in the South that number is down to 45%; In the two weeks we spent in the South the number of people who agreed to interview was raised by 2.5%.
We stayed with families, grandparents, single men, single mothers, college students, and retired couples. We spoke with people of a wide variety of races and backgrounds, but the majority of the people we stayed with were white and Christian – a tendency that may represent the communities we visited rather than a label of hospitable people.
Every day we spoke with dozens of strangers, on and off camera. Every day, we woke up knowing where we were headed, and nothing else – where we went within a town, who we met, and what adventures we would experience on our own or with our hosts, were all surprises. Every day was completely fresh, as were all the personalities we discovered.
We began this project feeling optimistic about Americans – a friendly, welcoming, and fascinating culture. In our 48 days, our optimism was not only proved correct, but expanded exponentially. Even when we slept in our car, it was after talking to many friendly people and learning about interaction, culture, and kindness. We started with a theoretical faith in the goodness of people and ended with an actual one.
What’s next? In the next couple days, we will each post a personal reflection on the blog –BearDocumentary.blogspot.com. We are beginning to compile our footage, organize it, and create outlines for the structure of the finished film. Soon, we will have a richer website, and we’ll definitely let you know when that happens. And in approximately a year, we will have a film that shows 49 days, the best of 100 hours of footage, and hundreds of Americans, through the lens of two young adventurers and an unbiased camera.
Thank you so much for your interest in our project – whether we met you in the last two months, whether we stayed in your home, whether you supported us months ago – you have made this entire project possible, and you have been essential in representing the kindness of Americans.
Greg and Sarah