Towards the end of my travels I hit a bit of a dip. There was only one week left before I had to go home, I’d said goodbye to almost all of the friends I’d made and loved and it didn’t feel like there was enough time to make more. My money was running low and I didn’t think I could afford another adventure. Then I came across Maia and Miles on CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing is a website that allows you to visit a city and sleep on somebody’s couch. This is great for two reasons, first it gives you a friend in a city, so you can get to know a place from a local’s point of view. Secondly, it’s cheap, sleeping on a couch costs nothing.
Throughout my trip I’d been planning to go to Seattle. I’d found some pictures of ridiculous beef-burgers on the internet and I just had to have one. I’d tell people from time to time I planned to go to Seattle and usually they’d ask why, I’d say “to get a burger.” “You’re going to travel hundreds of miles for a burger!?” “They do good milkshakes as well.” “Oh, now it makes sense.” Nobody seemed to understand, but to me it was as good a reason as any to travel somewhere. Isn’t it the journey that’s fun? Not the goal? So does it matter if the goal is as ridiculous as a beef-burger?
Looking at Miles and Maia’s profile on Couchsurfing they mentioned they lived between Seattle and the Cascades, so it was easy to travel to either and use their house as a home base. They also mentioned you could get a cheap bus from their street to a beautiful waterfall in the Cascades and that was me sold straight away. On a Wednesday I sent them a message. “I know it’s short notice, but I was wondering if I could come to stay with you guys on Friday. I’m coming to the end of my travels and would like to do a little bit of hiking before I leave. You both seem like great people and it would be amazing if you could put me up.”
Now I didn’t expect much to come from the message. In honesty I’d sent about five messages to people in Seattle and they’d all said I couldn’t stay with them. I felt completely rejected. I expected Miles and Maia to do the same. I was surprised then when I received their reply “Sure, you can come and stay with us. We’d love to have you…” yet, that wasn’t all. “…in fact, we’re going hiking this weekend in the Cascades. Why don’t you come with us?” In the matter of an hour I’d gone from having no plans except to get a burger, to being invited on a weekend of adventure.
Two days later I was knocking on their door. They led me into their small studio apartment, boxes of camping gear were strewn around the room and I couldn’t step onto the floor without feeling like I was going to crush something. Maia looked slightly embarrassed “we haven’t been hiking for about a year, we’re just getting our stuff ready.” I shrugged off her apologies. They were letting me stay in their house for free and taking me on a hike, who was I to complain. “There’s a lentil soup in the kitchen if you want some as well” And they were giving me free food!
As we started to pack our gear I learnt a little about Miles and Maia. They had just been married the previous Autumn and had big plans for their future – a big houes, children. Maia had a passion for dance and loved to teach it to kids, Miles on the other hand worked for an insurance firm during the day but at night he turned into a complete hippy. He’s like Clark Kent, but instead of turning into Superman he turns into Ecoman.
When I asked where we were going to go on our hike. Miles smiled and revealed we’d be going to a hot springs. “Awesome! I’ve never been to a hot springs before.”
Ten minutes later we were in the garage walking to Miles’s car. At least, I thought it was going to be a car. I stopped walking abruptly and looked in front of me. Across the garage I could see a blue VW camper van.
“Is that yours, Miles?” “Yup.” “That?” “Yup.” I pointed to clarify. “THAT?” “Yup.” “The camper van with dragons painted on it?” “Yup.”
A mural was painted on the side of Miles’s van. Dark green hills led to grey mountains. A large red dragon flew over a forest. Another large green dragon flew over a tiny village – fire coming from his nostrils. It was all straight out of a Tolkien novel. To top it all off, the van had a moon painted onto it with a cow jumping over it.
Immediately I started to feel fear. I could picture the scene. The van stalls and some hillbillies appear out of nowhere. One hillbilly with a large beard walks over to our window. “Nice van” he sneers before spitting on it. “Hey, it’s dirty!” What follows is us getting beaten up with steels pipes until we’re left for dead, just like the movie Easy Rider. Such a van could only invite hostility, I was sure of it.
But I was wrong. As we sped along the interstate towards the Cascades I looked out of the van window at the passengers in other cars. Little kids looked up with wide smiles and waved. Angry commuters looked at the cow jumping over the moon and for a moment they weren’t so angry – they smiled. It seemed like I was travelling in a magical camper van that made everybody around us happy. I was amazed that one simple thing could bring so much happiness to so many people. Just by driving around town, Miles was making the world a nicer place. Miles truly was Ecoman.
The van didn’t stop moving until nightfall, we set up our camp and I started to discuss the hot springs with Miles, asking him as many questions as possible. What do they look like? Where does the water come from? How many people will be there? Have you been there before? What do you do there, do you just lie in a pool, or do you have to go through a series of different springs? Then he opened his mouth. “Well, first of all you get naked…” and that’s about the time I stopped listening.
Naked?! What do you mean ‘naked’?! Thoughts started to run through my head. I’d been travelling for 10 weeks, my body hair was all over the place! I’d look like a mess! What if it’s really cold and my penis shrivels up and everybody laughs at me?! What if I slip over and fall on my ass!? That’s embarrassing enough already, but my ass is so hairy! Falling on it naked would be the end of my life! ARGH!
Who likes getting naked in front of strangers!? Hell, who likes getting naked in front of friends? Not I. In my first year of high school it became apparent that our gym had communal showers, even worse, they were compulsory. At the end of every PE lesson our gym teacher would shout “kegs on pegs, lads” and we’d all quickly remove our boxer shorts and run in and out of the showers in half embarrasment, trying as hard as possible to look everywhere but at each other. Of course there was always one kid that would strut around the changing rooms, cock hanging out in all its glory. That kid seemed to enjoy getting naked in front of others, something I never understood. In retrospect he was just an exhibitionist. I am NOT an exhibitionist. The only thing I want to exhibit is my face, thank you very much.
I said none of this to Miles. I just nodded and smiled. “Cool.”
The next day after a 15 mile hike we arrived at the hot-springs and immediately started to set up our camp. Miles was eager to get to the hot springs as he was excited about sharing the experience with his new wife. I, on the other hand, was looking for every excuse I could to get out of it. “I feel sick, I don’t think I should go.” “You can’t hike all this way and not go!” “Damn, I think I’ve forgotten my towel, I just can’t do it I’m afraid.” “What are you on about, I can see your towel at the bottom of your bag.” Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to do it.
We hiked to the hot-springs, climbing up steep steps to a large waterfall. To the side of the waterfall a large cave had been dug into the rock and inside the cave was a deep, hot pool. The pool flowed out of the cave and into more deep pools outside. Beside the pools a small cabana had been built for getting dressed, or rather, getting undressed. With the cabana in sight I noticed something else. Six men with spades and picks, working on the trail right beside the cabana and springs. I gulped. It’s bad enough getting undressed in front of strangers, but in front of a fully clothed work crew? These are men so masculine that they make me look like a little girl, how could I unclothe in front of them?! Look at them. One of them is randomly flexing his muscles! If that’s not masculine I don’t know what is! The more I thought about getting naked, the harder it seemed it would be.
We stepped into the cabana and magically Miles and Maia were nude. I diverted my eyes to the ground and started to take my own clothing off. One thought stopped me from having a panic attack “you can just leave your swimming shorts on.” Sure it would be shameful, but not quite as shameful as being nude! I thought back on what my mother always says when she accidentally walks in on me in the shower. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, Daniel.” That doesn’t make it right though! Strangers seeing my hairy balls?! I’d have to take a girl on at least five dates for her to have that privilege!
As I undressed I heard a sound which was getting louder and louder. SLAP. SLAP. SLAP. Looking up I saw a fat, hairy man walking towards me from the springs. The top of his head was bald with straggles of grey, wet hair sticking out from above his ears. His large round belly was covered in thick black and white fur like a badger. He seemed more animal than man. After a moment I also became aware of where the slapping sound was coming from. His massive penis was slapping against his leg as he walked.
As he entered the cabana he strutted over to us, nodding with greeting. He started to talk to Miles and Maia, hips thrust out, his voice a powerful growl. He spoke with a force and determination that made me afraid of him. This was a man who looked ridiculous but gave off an aura of masculinity just with the way he spoke. In fact he didn’t speak, he ordered. As I watched Miles and Maia talking to him I realised they hadn’t even noticed that they were talking to a man that was half monkey. They didn’t even care that he could grow more hair on his back than I can on my face. They were totally entranced by his confidence.
Suddenly he turned to me and slapped me on the back. “And how are you doing, kiddo?” “I’m doing…” He interrupted, a snarl on his mouth, “HEY! TAKE THOSE GOD DAMN PANTS OFF, MAN! WE’RE NAKED HERE!” “What?” “TAKE THOSE DAMN PANTS OFF!” “Er…do I have to?” “YEAH! TAKE THEM OFF! TAKE THEM OFF!” He started to chant turning to Maia and Miles, they joined in. “TAKE THEM OFF! TAKE THEM OFF!”
Closing my eyes I pulled them off and waited for the laughter. Instead I heard a cheer. The man punched me in the shoulder screaming “YEAHHHHHH!” I screamed back, “YEAHHHHH!” We high five. “NOW GET IN THOSE HOT SPRINGS BUDDY!” he said, pointing his finger at me. With enthusiasm I turned around and stomped off towards the springs. As I left the man slapped me on the arse, making me abruptly swing around, no doubt with my penis following a millisecond behind me. I looked into his eyes, his teeth clenched together. “YEAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”
Pumped up I strutted towards the springs. Looking over to the work crew I noticed they weren’t paying any attention, they were too busy picking up large rocks with their muscles. Looking back at Maia and Miles I noticed they weren’t paying attention either, they were just talking to the hairy dude who seemed to be jumping up and down. Smiling, I slid into the hot pool and finally I relaxed.