Would you welcome a stranger?

Daniel Alvarez, getting a lift in North Carolina. Photo: Predictably Lost
When I first started following the story of Daniel Alvarez, the Florida man who kayaked from Minnesota’s Northwest Angle to Key West and who is now paddling back by way of the Atlantic Ocean and Hudson River, I was deeply impressed by the kindness of Canada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin individuals who looked after him, if only to be a part of the expedition that they could not be part of.

Consider this post from last year about the woman in Brainerd who emptied out part of a restaurant pantry to keep him supplied. Or this one in which Alvarez recalled the people who helped along the way…

Ana made pizza and gave me a bed to sleep in off the St. Louis River on the recommendation of a volunteer named Ben from Isle Royale. Sam Cook fed me information on the Savanna Portage. A guy in Jay Cook pretended he didn’t see me and let me pass when he could have stopped the trip with a phone call. Steve in Floodwood drew me a map of beaver dams and old paths to give me a bit of hope before entering the Savanna Portage. A nice woman who works at the state park showed me a secret put-in on a lake so I didn’t have to walk another three miles. A guy handed me a giant Northern Pike he wasn’t going to eat when I was resting on the shores of Big Sandy. Mike and Wade welcomed me to the Mississippi with a warm campfire and steel-cut oatmeal (which is amazing).

There are people, and then there are people.

On his blog, Predictably Lost, Alvarez writes today about a man in North Carolina who, like most of us, met him along the water and asked what the heck he was doing. And, like most of us, the man wanted to help when he heard the story of kayaking from one end of the country to the other, just because.

So he took him home to give him a place to sleep (in his garage, as it turned out). And that’s when he met the rest of the family.

I did my best to charm her. I threw all my credibility into it. Yale Law, the Outside Magazine grant, my card and website, an offer to call my mom to vouch for me, stories about accents along the Mississippi River, and paddling past aircraft carriers in Norfolk a few hours earlier, but it all washed up like waves against a seawall.

“Don’t worry,” Keith said to her. “He’s a good guy. I can just put him in the garage.”

She turned and left. Keith backed the truck up to unload the boat.

“Keith,” I said. “I don’t want to cause you guys any trouble. I can just keep going…”

“No, no,” he said. “You can sleep in the garage.”

Then his son came out, a nice kid in his first year of law school.

“Dad,” he said. “Can I talk to you for a minute.”

They disappeared around back. I stopped untying knots and sat down on the tailgate to wait. The ropes had already held once so I didn’t want to mess with them. Keith came back and I knew from his face.

He was sent back to the water to fend for himself and make his own way.

Now, it would be easy to just say, “that’s the difference between the Midwest and the East Coast,” but we know in our hearts that’s not true. There are people who’ll welcome a traveling stranger with a scraggy beard on faith, and those whose fear will get the best of them. Maybe it’s justified. Maybe it’s not. But Alvarez’s account is another invitation from him to hold a mirror up to us, and see us as others see us.

What would you do?

  • MN123

    You know, I’ve wondered about this several times. I did have a woman stay with me for a couple of nights whom I had only known through blogging. That went well. My daughter and some friends talked with a woman in Europe (don’t recall the country for sure) while traveling. The woman invited them to her apartment, fed them, offered to let them stay, and just talked with them for an afternoon. I don’t picture many Americans doing that, or travelers feeling safe taking up the offer. We miss out on much human kindness and connections due to the fear that has been built into us by the media in particular.
    As a woman, I would feel a bit uncomfortable inviting an unknown man into my home, but if my spouse were with me, I would probably extend an invitation.

  • JB

    I don’t know how anyone could turn a personality like Daniel away. But hopefully they at least take a look at his blog and see what they missed.

    It’s too bad you couldn’t catch either of his presentations at the Midwest Mountaineering Expo. I brought my sister (a corporate lawyer) to his presentation about adventure. It was very inspiring. She’s emailed him several times since as she prepares to hike part of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. We are both tempted to go up to the Northwest Angle to welcome Daniel on his NB finish. The Angle provides much less fanfare than Key West, especially in the Fall.

    • Starquest

      Eventually they’ll have to turn people like Daniel away. These stories of a person who [biked / paddled / ran / whatever] [x thousand miles] from [one point] to [another very remote point] are becoming so common as to not be news.

      • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

        Why would the fact it’s “news” or “not news” have any impact on how people treat a stranger? I’m missing the point on that. I might stop to help a person change a tire even though it’s not unusual to get a flat.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      I almost flew to key West to greet him there.

  • Kate Graham

    I think it’s interesting that we’re all so wary of strangers when, I believe statistically, stranger-on-stranger crime is so rare. My personal theory is that the media perpetuates an outsized stranger-danger fear. Folks from older generations are always telling me about how safe everyone was when they were kids and their parents would let them loose on the neighborhood without anyone watching them; yet, today in most places crime rates are down, by many measurements. I don’t think the world has gotten more dangerous, I think we’ve gotten more afraid.

    • http://www.oldtokyo.com noodleman

      Sadly, IMHO, ours has become a more fearful culture the past 40 years. I doubt I would today be the hitchhiker I once was in the ’70s … and I met a few, um, strange or unsavory characters back then. But, watch the news. Xenophobia has become our creed, compassion be damned.

  • Joseph

    I have hosted a handful of people over the past few years through CouchSurfing. Although the site offers more safeguards than if I were to make a judgement call after bumping into someone on the street, it still amounts to inviting a stranger into your home. I tried it out with interest and apprehension and now look forward to the chance to host. So I guess I understand apprehension with trusting a stranger, but I must also say that it’s pretty liberating letting go a bit in order to help someone out.