By Cory Crouser
For Boarders Magazine
SOUTH COLUMBUS, OHIO — MAY, 2016
A swift kick in the ass.
Conner Cox, 20, recoiled from the sudden impact; startled and breathless — though feeling no pain — he strained his tired eyes, hoping to identify the misty shapes in the darkness.
What the hell is going on?
With labored blinks, Connor toggled focus and settled his gaze on a distant, undefined shape. Is it a city skyline? He winked each again to rid his eyes of residue. No, wait; it’s the tree line!
Gilded in silver moonlight, the black mass of the distant forest reflected on the nearby reservoir’s glassy surface; Connor remembered himself as a traveler, camped in a roadside patch of gravel outside of South Columbus, Ohio.
He noticed slight motion in the foreground; the amorphous heap of Geoff’s waking body stirred in a nearby sleeping bag. Oh yeah, and Geoff is here. And he… he’s blinking colors?
Geoffrey Braught, 22, opened his eyes and briefly met Connor’s groggy gaze before turning his own upward toward the glare. Behind his friend’s body stood a towering silhouette backlit by alternating strobes of blue and red light.
Huh? Geoff thought.
“Aheyyhe!” The figure vocalized with heightened urgency.
Remembering he’d used earplugs to drown out the drone of the nearby interstate, Geoff quickly freed an arm from his sleeping bag and cleared his canals.
“Hey!” said the officer. Ah, so much better, Geoff thought. “You guys can’t camp here!”
It was just past 1 a.m. when a second patrol vehicle arrived; Geoff and Connor reluctantly exchanged the warmth of their sleeping bags for the frigid night air and followed the officer toward the parked cruisers; questioning began soon thereafter:
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
The men looked toward one another; “Well,” Geoff said, “here’s the story.”
BOZEMAN, MONT. — APRIL, 2015
Geoff raised the gun toward the man before him; with a steady finger and little hesitation, he pulled the trigger. He felt nothing; he’d become numb.
The man stood, unaffected.
Geoff slid the stick of deodorant down the laminate countertop and repeated the process; BEEP. Junior Mints. BEEP. Nose hair trimmer.
It was early spring in Bozeman, Mont. and Geoff was growing restless. There’s a world out there and I’m in here, scann… “Hi; welcome to CVS Pharmacy.” I’m in here, scanning deodorant.
Working as a store supervisor to support his schooling, Geoff spent his days pursuing a degree at Montana State’s school of Film and Photography.
“One day — during some free time between editing videos — I was on the internet and I saw this article,” he said. “It was something like Scientists figure out best way to see the country.”
On March 15, 2015, The Washington Post had, indeed, published the results of a study conducted by a team of statisticians led by data analyst Randy Olson. Data geniuses have figured out what the ultimate U.S. road trip looks like, the headline read.
Employing a complicated algorithm, Olson’s team worked closely with Discovery News to determine “the quickest driving route that would stop at a national natural landmark, national historic site, national park or national monument in all of the lower 48 states.”
The experts’ article boasted exhaustive maps, itinerary suggestions, mileage calculations and even budgeting projections. Geoff thought, ”this is awesome, but I can make better route.”
“I opened it up and read through; it seemed like they missed a ton of the spots people would want to see, national parks and stuff,” he said, “And I thought, I should design a trip, myself. So… I did.”
Using the article as a foundation, Geoff spent several months compiling research and constructing his own Great American Road Trip plan.
“I had this plan,” Geoff said. “I had the plan all worked out; I had the vision; I had the car; I just didn’t have the purpose.
“Originally for the summer I had planned to backpack around Europe,” Geoff confessed, “but after seeing Randy Olson’s map it made me realize just how little of my own country I had seen. At 15 I spent my summer in France, at 17 I went to Serbia, and at 19 I moved to New Zealand for 6 months. It was time for me to explore in-depth the country I grew up in.”
Capitalizing on connections, Geoff hopped on the phone with his brother Danny, a Dallas Texas, media executive.
He mentioned his plans for a trip around the US and Danny enthusiastically said, “Why don’t you make a video series for Boarders Magazine and we can find you sponsors for the trip to help fund it?”
Geoff had already thought about starting a vlog for the trip so this was right up his alley.
SOUTH COLUMBUS, OHIO — MAY, 2016
“Where are you traveling?” the officer inquired with a subtle nod in Geoff’s direction.
“We’re traveling the continental US, paddleboarding in every state; completing it in 100 days,” Geoff answered.
“Paddle-boarding?” the officer asked.
“Yeah; it’s like kayaking on a large surfboard.” Geoff subtly motioned toward one of their sponsor’s decals on his nearby Subaru; it depicted a Hala Gear paddle-board.
“Oh… What do you eat?” the officer asked.
Weird question. “Well we try to avoid fast food,” Connor interrupted. “We’ve been eating these freeze-dried Mountain House deals.”
“Sponsors? What does that mean?” the officer scanned the area; with a pointed finger he gestured toward the camp, “Did someone sponsor your sleeping bags?”
“No; we bought those ourselves,” Geoff said. “But the paddle-boards are from a company called Hala Gear,” he motioned again to the decal, this time more more animatedly, “We also have amazing waterproof speakers from Ultimate Ears and longboards from Moonshine MFG. We use their gear feature it in weekly video episodes we produce; they pay for our gas and some other stuff; that’s how the sponsorship works.”
“…Ok. So it’s like the hunting channel,” the cop said, sounding certain of his conclusion; the men stayed put.
Then the officer turned, walked, rounded the bumper of his colleague’s cruiser and began conferencing with its driver. Geoff and Connor quieted their breathing and waited in forced silence; they strained to discern the hushed nuances of the distant exchange.
Sorry, Danny; I didn’t mean to interrupt you. The cop’s gone though; continue.
DALLAS, TEXAS — OCTOBER, 2016
“Oh, okay,” Danny said, “Well I was just saying that we contacted some companies and told them… I mean, yeah, Geoff sort of covered it with what he said up there.”
Okay, cool! So Geoff — now armed with a plan, videography skills, two paddle-boards, a couple of waterproof Bluetooth speakers to go around #MakingMusicSocial, and a longboard — set his sights on finding a road trip partner.
“I met him through a mutual friend, actually,” Geoff said. “My buddy Tyler invited us both to spend a week with him up in Canada and we ended up really clicking.”
“I didn’t really know Geoff before Tyler introduced us,” Connor confessed. “But Geoff mentioned his plan for this road trip he’d been concocting I honestly didn’t think it would come to fruition.
“A couple months later Geoff reached out to me and asked if I wanted to join him on the trip he’d told me about and said he had secured funding. I was between jobs at the time and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to go with him!”
So they set a date; Geoff and Connor would leave on May 10, 2016 from Bozeman, MT.
ALL OVER THE PLACE — MAY-AUGUST, 2016
For 100 days, Geoff and Connor traveled the US according to Geoff’s plan. Ideally, they would spend no more than two days in each state. During that time they’d paddle-board, rock climb, longboard or any combination of the three.
“Shortly into the trip, when I got to North Dakota, I couldn’t help but think Why the hell am I doing this?” Geoff confessed. “But I thought to myself I am in the middle of nowhere North Dakota where it was still barely 40 degrees with 40 mph winds, things will surely get better as I get to more exciting states.”
Together — among other highlights — Geoff and Connor paddle-boarded in New York Harbor, rock-climbed sandstone cliffs near Greer’s Ferry, Ark., and swam opalescent springs outside of Vernon, Fla.
Before and after paddleboarding at each location, the two men had to hand-pump their paddleboards, install the fins and assemble the oars; “We were just too far ahead of the game,” Geoff said, “Hala Gear is releasing an electric pump kit in 2017.”
It was on a Connecticut lake that Geoff and Connor began tossing their Ultimate Ears speakers to passing boaters. Unfortunately, one of their receivers had slippery fingers and a $200 sound system sank into the silty abyss.
“The UE Mega Boom floats,” Geoff recalled. “But we were using the UE Roll, and that one went down fast. Luckily Connor was able to swim down and grab it from the bottom. When he brought it back up, it was still playing music; that’s some good waterproofing.”
Connor recalls swerving through tourists on longboards in New York City’s Central Park. “We were just cruising down the paths on longboards carrying these deflated paddleboards; people were looking at us like we were nuts.”
As far as they know — and judging from the sidelong glances shot their way — Geoff and Connor were the only Central Park paddleboarders that day; heck, maybe the only paddleboarders to ever row through the waterways of one of the Big Apple’s gems.
With charismatic outlooks and a bent for adventure, the men drove a total of 19,821 miles across the continental US over the course of two-and-a-half months.
You really get to know someone after that long in the car, yeah?
Both men highly stressed the importance of “good communication” when spending extended time with someone.
“We’d met only twice before I hopped in a car and traveled cross-country with him,” Connor said. “And we’re pretty different people. We avoided conflict by not avoiding conflict, by just sort of establishing an unwritten rule that we’d be open with our feelings.
“I remember a day where I was just feeling like crap and really slacking when I should have been gathering footage for the videos,” Connor added. “Geoff told me, openly and kindly, that I was frustrating him and that he needed me to step it up; instead of getting defensive I just apologized. I think we set a precedent there for the rest of the trip. It’s all about swallowing your pride and trying to be a good friend.”
“Connor rocks,” Geoff said. “I’ve never met anyone I didn’t want to kill after spending that long with them. Actually… Don’t write that; just say, ‘I’ve never met anyone I got along with so well after so long, and I think that has a lot to do with his good attitude and willingness to try new things.’”
In fact, Connor believes that a willingness to try new things, to step out of one’s “comfort zone” is the single most important decision a traveler can make.
“It really is a decision,” he stresses. “We all want to feel comfortable, so we stay put, and then we complain about being bored. It takes a deliberate mindset shift; you have to abandon your standards and just take that first step. But when you finally do, you stand to really experience the world and appreciate it a lot more, and to really appreciate the people in it.”
Geoff recalled a night in Florida. “It was 98 degrees at midnight and 100% humidity; my air conditioning had gone out weeks earlier and now my car had nearly stopped working. We just pulled over and parked; we had to spend the night in the car, soaked in sweat.
“Early the next morning a guy walked by; he was an older gentleman out doing his morning workout. Turns out he was a former mechanic; he paused his workout to look at the car and he told us exactly what we’d need to get it running again.”
“Yeah,” Connor added, “And then in Texas when the car went out again and there was like $3200 in repair costs. All of those people who stepped in to help; it just goes to show you that people — no matter where they are — really do want to help other people.
“The media portrays the world so negatively; it was really inspiring to see that people are generally just so kind; there are really good people out there, you just have to choose to get up and go meet them,” Connor concluded.
“You can see a lot of this stuff online; just go to boardersmag.com/1country100days. We’ve got our videos on there, a map of our trip and links to all of our sponsor’s websites,” Geoff offered. “You can’t really even begin to capture it in words, the trip and the people we met; you kinda have to see it.”
SOUTH COLUMBUS, OHIO — MAY, 2016
The lights strobed blue and red and reflected off the surface of the nearby reservoir.
“What are they saying?” Connor asked, in a whisper.
“I don’t know,” Geoff replied. “But I think I heard them laughing; that’s gotta be good, right?”
“I heard that too; yeah, that’s good,” said Connor. “Oh shit! He’s coming back!”
The officer returned and stood silent, stoic and motionless before the men; tensions mounted and Geoff became aware of his own racing pulse; he fought to steady it.
“I’m sorry I kicked you,” the officer said to Connor, with a directional nod, “I thought you were dead; needed to double check.” Connor forced a smile and the officer mirrored his gesture. “If you really want to,” the cop offered, “you’re welcome to stay here the rest of the night; just be careful.”
Geoff let slip an audible sigh of relief.
The travelers graciously accepted the officer’s generosity with handshakes and groggy grins.
As the squad cars pulled away the men returned to their campsite; the warmth of unsponsored sleeping bags beckoned.
Connor’s vision grew fuzzy as he began to drift off; the angles and swooping arcs of distant moonlit trees looked like a city skyline, he thought.
Beside him, Geoff lay awake thinking to himself, well if we already have the cops involved and we’re only in Ohio… this is going to be a great story to tell for years to come. -30-