The next two-and-a-half days are spent at OSDI. The top of the crop is there, presenting groundbreaking projects, networking smartly… it’s an interesting time, but nothing for a travel diary. Let’s skip forward to Wednesday lunchtime:

I heave my backpack into the trunk of Austin’s car. He and some other MIT students plan to have lunch in downtown Boulder. It’s a fun crowd and an interesting lunch, where discussions turn around the advantages of Go vs Scala, and the best autocompletion plugins for Vim. I smile when it comes to paying for the lunch. We decide to split the 164$-bill equally over eight people. The waiter ends up with 22 dollars in cash and seven credit cards. After that, I’m on the road again.

My goal is the mountains. I have three days left, 120 dollars in my pocket, and a backpack. This is what freedom must feel like.

A little town called Nederland is the closest to the mountains that one can come with public transport. The bus there costs 5$, drives uphill for twenty miles, and drops me off at over 8000 feet above sea level. The road is scenic: big hilltops covered with aspen, fir, and pine trees alternate with small streams and rocky parts. Nederland itself must be one of the hippiest places in the States. It occupies about a square mile next to a pretty mountain lake. Souvenir shops border a Marijuana store, and further down the road dreadlocked people get their food at the Mountain People Co-op organic veg* grocery store. This is where I head, too, because I need supply for two days, and a lighter to make a campfire.

Thus equipped, I’m on my way out of the city. The city map tells me there are two possibilities: The road goes left to the Eldora ski resort, or right towards Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains National Park. This is where I walk.

A few hundred steps out of the city, a car stops. The driver is a man in his thirties, short hair, with a cigarette. He asks me where I’m going to. It is one of these split-second hitchhiking moments; I muster all my intuition, try to listen to my guts, and decide that the guy’s friendly. I tell him I’m heading north, and he says he could take me for a few miles.

Brad tells me he’s a mover who lived and worked in a number of states, and ended up here five months ago. He rents a room with a lady in a house a few miles outside town, and offers to take me there. Sounds good, I think. “There’s a tent in the backyard,” he tells me, “and you could stay there for the night. Just gotta ask my flatmate.”

I stay in the car as he goes to ask her. Apparently, she is far from delighted that Brad used her car to pick up a hitchhiker. Furthermore, she is waiting for some people who are about to arrive and discuss business. We leave her alone and decide to come back later in the evening.

Brad tells me he’s got a few buddies further down the road, and drives me there. Now if I said that Nederland was a hippie place, it pales in comparison to what comes next. Imagine a stream in the woods, with clear water flowing silently over a couple dams. Next to the stream, a clearing with a large table and a propane grill. A wooden cabin stands to the left. To the right is an old, tattered mobile home. A large 2x3m USA flag hangs above the table.

Brad introduces me to his Buddies. John is sitting in a beach chair looking out on the stream, and asks me to join him. He is a learned chef, and used to cook in many upmarket restaurants in California or Florida. Now he has come back to where his roots and family are.

Bob and Bill are playing horseshoes. They have put two metal poles in the ground, some ten yards apart, and each have a pair of large iron horseshoes that they throw, trying to get as close to the other pole as possible. Only a few throws are needed to convince me that they have ample practice in this sport. The guys’ long, lank hair and beards perfectly fit into the picture.

We exchange some beer for Swiss chocolate. As it gets darker and the horseshoe poles (despite orange spray paint) become harder to see, John tells Bob that the grill is ready at 500 degrees. “Barbecue Bob” needn’t be asked twice. He prepares delicious sausages, and there is an eggplant sauce with rumours of self-hunted rabbit meat. As the sausages frizzle on the grill, Bob asks me whether I have tried pot before. I haven’t.

There’s a first time for everything, and I couldn’t imagine a more matching place… By now, the stars shine in the sky, the food is ready, and suddenly John points upwards. We see the ISS, bright as a comet, peacefully tracing it’s way across the sky.

I stay with these friends a bit longer. We chat about this and that, and they give me a few recommendations about where to go. Bob has a map of Colorado (how practical, a state that’s perfectly rectangular :-) ) and shows me the stations on the way to the national park. I’m even being offered a hammock next to the stream, but in the end I decide to go back with Brad and try that tent.

The landlady is much nicer by this time, and introduces herself as Liz. There’s indeed an igloo tent in the backyard. I put my stuff there, and Brad and I light a fire in the fireplace before the tent. Looking back on this day, I’m so thankful about all that happened… I could never have imagined that my trip would start so well. Brad seems to be skilled with his hands, his car was full of all kinds of tools. Thinking about how I could thank him, I decide that he’ll be a good owner to my Swiss army knife. He seems surprised, and proud to receive such a gift.

Back in the house, the situation turns sour a bit. Apparently, Brad forgot to bring back a movie that Liz had rented. How on earth could he have the audacity to use her car and not even do the one single thing she asked him to??? I politely retire to “my” tent, and listen from afar as the quarrel goes on. When I’m convinced that it won’t turn violent, I fall asleep.

It gets bright around seven in the morning. The house is still quiet, its owners haven’t gotten up yet. I pack my bag, take one of the postcards I bought in Boulder, and write a thank you. After silently depositing the envelope with the card and a twenty-dollar-bill on the doormat, I continue my way north towards the national park.