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Love on the Road

Traveling does seem to facilitate encounters—especially between like-minded people searching for similar things

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Ryan Monger (at left) set out for Costa Rica in 2004 looking for waves. There, on the beach, he found something much better.

People’s paths cross endlessly as they make their brief journeys through this world, but only occasionally do eyes meet and sparks fly. Even less often, the two paths will course together for a distance, and more rarely still do they stick together and proceed forward evermore as one—a rough description of love and partnership.

But who needs metaphors of motion when love strikes two travelers on the road—two strangers on separate trips who had probably assumed that their best companions would be their sleeping bags? Ryan Monger of Washington state was a single man in 2004 when he flew to Costa Rica with two friends. They had gone with surfboards and weren’t looking for much more than waves. But in a beach hostel Monger met an English woman named Joanna—and riding emerald curlers quickly became the least of his interests. The two spent night after night just talking on the beach, sundown to sunup. They adjusted their itineraries to keep on the same course, and soon they were officially traveling together. After several weeks, the two lost their footing completely and went sliding down that perilous, slippery slope.

“By the end we knew we were in love,” Monger explains, though it wasn’t the end. Monger’s three months in Costa Rica may have been up, but his journey with Joanna was only beginning. Monger was going home, and back to college in Santa Barbara, but he made Joanna an offer:

“I tried to convince her to come up to California by asking her for her favorite fruit, vegetable and flower,” Monger explains. “I told her if she came to visit, I would have all of those growing in my garden. She said raspberry, carrot and sunflower.”

Monger got busy in the dirt that spring, and when Joanna arrived his garden was full of weeds and arugula – but a handful of raspberries, several scraggly carrots and a single sunflower told her that this young man was committed. The two became a pair, and the next year they spent five months in New Zealand, working on organic farms (“WOOFing,” as it’s called) in exchange for lodging. Much of the labor was picking apples. Winter came, and their trip came to its end, and Monger secured work in England as a science teacher. Finally, as though the knot hadn’t been tied years before on a tropical Pacific beach, the two were married in 2009. They’ve since made it extra official by having a son and buying a three-acre farm in northern Washington, where raspberries and carrots are sure to grow. Sunflowers have been a bit more finicky.

Traveling does seem to facilitate encounters—especially between like-minded people searching for similar things. (Then again, I am surrounded just now by caravans in an RV camp in Pounawea, in the Catlins, where the most common greetings I receive are: “Makes me tired just looking at your bike!” and “Hate to be you on those hills!”) Travelers—especially those going solo—also tend to be more outgoing than they are when at home, and meeting others is just part of the daily routine. And so it was that Pauline Symaniak (featured in this blog several weeks ago) found a brief romance recently while cycling through New Zealand. The object of her affection was also a cyclist, a man she first met on the lower slopes of Mount Cook.

There is a rule that rarely proves fallible in encounters between cycle tourists: The two parties are headed in exactly the opposite directions. They meet, usually, on the highway, briefly chat by the roadside and then say goodbye and carry on. This is probably the chief reason that most such meetings don’t flourish into romance. Sure enough, Symaniak was going south on the West Coast highway and he north—but the man quickly rewrote his plans and backtracked to remain in Symaniak’s company. And while he was lightly loaded for a brief tour and she heavily encumbered on a bicycle rigged for two years of travel, they made their paces match.

As Symaniak says, “when you’re traveling, you’re free and happy and flexible with plans.”

Their companionship only lasted a week, and Symaniak has yet to know just what the future holds. They will likely meet again in the United Kingdom—but, she asks, who ever knows just what sort of a person a perfect travel mate may be while at home, among familiar things, stationary?

“(While traveling) you don’t see the person in their regular routine, their normal life,” Symaniak says. “Are they different? Would you find each other boring in normal life? You don’t meet their family and friends, which is part of getting to know somebody.”

Of course, to avoid the pain of difficult—and usually inevitable—farewells, travelers might just avoid making close friends while on the road. I recall Chris McCandless, the main character in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, following just such a tack. While that route isn’t necessarily a recipe for starvation—a fate which met McCandless—it does serve up a generous portion of emotional loss. It precludes a whole world of potential, diverts one off entire unwritten maps of possible adventures.

And isn’t half the thrill of going anywhere just to see where you might end up?

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