Today was meant to be Day 61 of our trip. We would have had our last night relying on strangers in New York City, then arrived back to my family's house in New Jersey. 60 days had been the timeline from the very beginning -- the perfect length for us to explore the entire country and drive an average of three hours a day. And that final night in New York was meant to be the perfect ending, especially after having heard so much about New York from people we met around the country, many of whom had never been there. It's got a scary reputation, and it's expected that everything moves too quickly for people to be nice. We were confident that we would disprove that.
On Day 39, in Bear, Arkansas, we had our car accident, and when all was said and done, our U-Haul got us home to New Jersey on Day 49, wrapping up our journey. The accident was, of course, very stressful -- but Sarah and I quickly realized that to stay positive, we should focus on the movie. And for the sake of the movie, the car accident was awesome. It couldn't have happened at a better time: we had already captured dozens of hours of fantastic footage, and it was now about 2/3 through the project, the perfect time for a turning point (or an action-packed climax). Nor could it have been a better location: not just one of the five Bears, but literally at the intersection that Mapquest deems the center of Bear, Arkansas. We used the Bears to reflect on what we were learning, what was changing -- we found way more to reflect on in Arkansas that we ever expected.
It's one thing to have the camera to talk about the crash; it's another thing to have footage of the crash. We had the incredible luck of having the camera on when the accident happened, a clip meant to be just us driving around and exploring Bear. We watched it the night after the accident, and haven't watched it since. The camera is facing forward, so the impact isn't seen so much as felt and heard: our escalating voices, the camera shaking every which way upon impact, and the movement coming to a stop seconds later as Sarah starts to cry. Sounds upsetting -- and it is. But if "silver lining" is this footage, we'll take it.
We knew that if we had no solution other than to fly home from Arkansas, our movie would be fine. We had the footage, we had plenty of experiences, and giving in to the drama of the accident would be fine. But instead, we had three days experiencing the kindness of strangers, with our hosts Tom and Becky, and then continued our project in a U-Haul truck for six more days, still visiting another region of the country (Bible Belt and Southeast), another big city (Atlanta), and the last Bear in Delaware. Fittingly, Bear, DE was our last night, and while it's not quite New York, it felt right to be there. We ended up sleeping in the back of the U-Haul in a kind stranger's backyard and leaving at 4am so we could get to my house and surprise my family before they left home at 8am. Our last day, and our first sunrise of the trip.
In the last 12 days, Sarah and I have both been working on plenty of other projects -- it's hard to imagine how we would have felt comfortable preparing for the upcoming semester if we were just getting home now. But while it's been more relaxing than making our project ever was, I can't stop thinking about it. Every day I tell a story from our adventure, I think of a particular host, I look at the necklace Jolene gave me, the whistle Wade made us, and I note the absence of the car from the driveway -- still being repaired in Arkansas. This project has such a huge future ahead of it, and plenty of work involved, but the actual adventure, the countless experiences, those will always be present with me. It's a shame that we didn't get all 60 days, but only because there are friendly people we didn't get to meet. That will always be true. Instead, we got 90 hours of fantastic people, places, conversations, and memories -- including a turning point that we could never have planned, but that provided a different breed of lessons altogether.