The happiest day of my life.

Someone recently asked me about the happiest day of my life. I thought it was a great question because it can only bring up positive answers. I was instantly brought back to a cold morning in Frisco Colorado in September 2009. I stood there at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level screaming from the top of the world about how happy I was to be alive.

chuck manley's happy face

This here is my happy face.

A bit of backstory…

The 7 days prior were some of the highlights of a 6 month adventure. It was a raw experience that unfolded magically before my eyes and was what I dreamt of when I set off. At the beginning of the week I was with my family in Las Vegas. I hadn’t seen my parents since I hugged my crying mother before walking out of their house 4 months prior. My time in Vegas was full of all you can eat buffets, drinks by the pool, and love. Lots and lots of love.

When my family left Vegas I hopped on a bus to the outskirts of town to hitch a ride out. I hung out at a truck stop just off of the interstate. I held up the most clever sign I’ve ever used saying “spaceship broken, need ride.” In no time at all I was approached by a younger girl saying that her and her friends wanted to give me a ride but there was no room. After saying I could ride in the back of their and that she was going nearly 100 miles, I eagerly loaded up my bag for the ride to St. George, Utah.

Along the way, the back window would open and someone would hand me some potato chips. I munched on chips, laid down out of sight, and took in the desert sun on this beautiful start to my day. When we got out, we exchanged contact information and took a group photo to keep as a memory of our shared experience. Before I got my next ride, we were Facebook friends.

Chuck Manley hitchhiking across the US in 2009!

Hobo Chuck and his ride to St. George, Utah

I ended up getting off of the interstate and opted for the back roads of Utah. Utah is the best kept secret of the united states and is absolutely gorgeous. I was picked up by a Dominoes pizza delivery driver and taken into a small town.  It was a single strip of road with one traffic signal that was in front of the modest high school. A group of wide eyed teenagers asked me what I was doing walking through town and told me they met another hitchhiker just down the road.

Just down the road I met Azami at a picnic table having some food. I reached into my bag and pulled out what I had while we shared stories of life.  We spent the next several days together camping out, hitchhiking, attending a free music festival, and drinking cheap beer while eating homemade guacamole from our camping tins. We met some nice folks who brought us into Zion national park with their pass and showed us around for the day. They bought us beer and pizza and let me take a shower at their hotel room.

utah camping

Camping on the side of the road in Utah.

The next day I was off in the early morning onward to Denver. I ended up walking the nearly 10 miles through Zion over the course of the afternoon. After several hours I was picked up by a french couple who were spending 3 months on a national park tour. They didn’t speak much English and I only speak about 4 words in french, so our conversation ended quickly and I passed out in their backseat. I woke up sometime later at Bryce Canyon a little out of my way. I didn’t have time to check it out, so I walked from the parking lot and started hitching back to the road going north.

I got picked up by a man probably in his seventies driving a sprinter van full of stuff he sells to hardware stores. He asked me if I liked beer and told me to help myself to his cooler. I took him up on the offer and started drinking as fast as I could during our short 10 mile drive he was taking me on. After buying me some more beer and chatting with me for a bit, he dropped me off and headed on his way. I was shocked how cold it was outside!

I was layering up with all of my clothes that I had in my bag and I noticed a county sheriff sitting in his car watching me. Ignoring him, I continued to put on my clothes while he circled the block. He got out of his car and approached me asking what I was doing. “Going to Denver,” I said. He asked if I was hitching and afterwards noted I smelled like alcohol. I told him about my last ride and how I helped myself to his beer. I handed him my license and he returned to his vehicle to run my ID.

He got on the phone for a minute and came back to me saying he was going to give me a ride to the county line. He asked if I had any weapons on me and I told him about the knife in my pocket. He asked me to put it in my bag and then proceeded to pat me down. He told me he was going to have to handcuff me for our safety and I laughed and told him my mother would be proud.

I sat in the front seat with my hands cuffed behind my back chatting like the drunk that I was. He got on his radio, spoke with his dispatcher, and set up a sheriff in the next county who would be driving me through his territory. This time the cuffs were off because they realized I wasn’t too crazy. After that county line, there was a third sheriff waiting for me. He dropped me off at a campground just outside of his county hundreds of miles from where I started this caravan.

I slept in a field down the road and got up early to continue onward. I wrote on my notebook “Grand Junction” and stood in a truck stop parking lot. I was picked up by someone who told me that they couldn’t get me to Grand Junction, but they would get me 55 miles closer. I accepted that offer and threw my bag in the back of his F150. We road off towards the east and for the next hour we spent time talking about life. He dropped me off at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.

I sat down on a bench and started reading a book. I was approached by an older hippie looking guy who said, “hey spaceman, I’ll give you a ride.” He explained the rules to me. No drugs or alcohol. We can talk about religion as long as I’m not trying to convert him. And, he was going to stop along the way to take photos of the landscape. If I was okay with those things, he would drive me all the way to Grand Junction (he eventually offered me a ride to Massachusetts).

Boston Massachusetts skyline at sunset

This is what Massachusetts looks like.

He dropped me off in Grand Junction and I met up with the couchsurfer that I had contacted before my arrival. I stayed with him for the night and his mother made me a delicious homemade soup with vegetables from her garden. She heard about my trip and figured I was cold and hungry. Bless her heart and the bowl of soup she gave me. Followed by a subsequent second serving after she noticed my bowl was empty.

The next day I got a ride to Parachute Colorado.  It was a tiny dot on my map and I hung out at the gas station right off the interstate.  When I got there I went inside and bought something cheap and said hello to the woman at the cashier.  I told her my story and asked if it would be okay if I hung out and tried to get a ride.

She gave me permission and it turned out to work to my advantage. I was outside near the exit flying my sign when the cops decided they had some questions for me. While we were discussing the laws of hitchhiking, the woman I spoke with came out and told the cop – by using his first name – that it was okay. They said they would leave me alone if I stayed on the sidewalk near the door.

truckstop-sunset

The smoking lounge of a truckstop at sunset.

I spent the next several hours reading until someone offered me a ride to another a better spot in the nearby town of Glenwood Springs.  There I stood at an entrance ramp on a concrete median because there was no where else to be that was visible. It wasn’t a very good spot because there was no where to pull off the road to pick me up. But, I pushed on. Eventually it paid off when an 18 wheeler stopped in the middle of the one lane entrance ramp to let me into his rig.

As we climbed the rocky mountains going east, I was getting worried. It was dark as far as I could see with the exceptions of what seemed like snow flakes the size of my fist. They were coming down hard and accumulating more and more the higher we got. My driver offered me a ride all the way to Denver, but he had to go a very indirect route to avoid weigh stations since he was driving heavy. He just wanted someone to talk to in order to keep him awake. I couldn’t stay awake any longer and he dropped me off near a greyhound station in Frisco, Colorado.

I started this trip in June with the intention of being gone for 3 months and therefore only packed for the summer. This was nearly October and Frisco is over 9,000 feet above sea level. It is a ski town in the mountains of Colorado and it was 2am and time to sleep outside on a concrete slab near a trash compactor. I’ve never been colder in my life.

I put on all of the clothes that I had with me, and I bundled up with my tent wrapped around me to block the wind. I curled up in the tightest ball that I could and began to shiver as much as possible to stay warm. I drifted between consciousness and what might be described as sleep, and at points I questioned whether I’d freeze to death out there. Eventually I ended up getting a couple hours of sleep.

The sun was slowly coming up and feeling was returning to the numbness of my body. The trash compactor near me was starting to make some noises and I knew the night was over. I crawled out of my man made cocoon to frost covered surroundings in time for the first signs of daylight. Frisco was coming alive and it was time to keep moving.

I stood near the I-70 entrance ramp with my frozen thumb in the air. The wind was ripping through my fleece sweater and piercing my flesh like needles. The pain made me laugh because only someone who was alive could possibly feel pain. As my hand got too cold to bare, I’d put in my pocket while rotating my body 180 degrees to use the other one.

I looked off into the mountains as the sun was finally hitting the apex. The rays were beginning to pour into my world as the clouds wrapped around the mountain cone like an endless stream of cotton candy. The orange glow of daylight flowed between the peaks before my eyes covering my skin with a heavenly warmth that welcomed me back to life.

I thought about how far I had come on this journey. I thought about every ride, every person, every city, every night of sleep, and every day of life that I got to experience since June 1st when I had set off to go discover answers to things I didn’t have the words to question. I thought about how a year prior I was hoping for moments like this. At points in my life I had only dreamt of things like this being possible.

I stood there smiling about how proud of myself I was that I actually did it. I made some incredibly bold choices that got me to the point of standing the highest I had ever been on Earth waiting for a unknown person to give me a ride. I got so excited I wanted to yell as loud as I could. I knew nobody could judge me because everyone around me would be in my life for such a short period of time that their existence didn’t matter. So neither would their judgement.

So I looked towards the rising sun and I took a deep breath that filled my lungs with enough air to make my chest hurt. I let out the loudest yell from the bowels of my being and I may have heard it echo back at me from the mountain’s peak. It felt good to be there feeling the burn of what would turn to frost bite if it had enough time. I was alive doing what I said I was going to do in the face of everyone who thought maybe it wasn’t the best idea.

There is no better idea in the world than standing on top of it so fucking happy that all you want to do is scream until the mountains fall. I had made it through a blistering cold night that I thought at some point might be my last. I had survived hitchiking thousands of miles in the past months. I had quit my job and set off to build a life of adventure. I was alive in ways that I didn’t know were possible doing things that weren’t imaginable in the just the most recent past.

Eventually I’d get a ride straight to Denver with an old hippie, 2 dogs, and a van full of groceries.  We showed up just as the bars were opening and he got me good and drunk before we went our separate ways.

Denver Colorado

Denver, Colorado

Life is truly good.

Tell me about the happiest day of your life and what happened.  Was it a child being born, climbing mount Everest, marrying the love of your life, a day of service, an accomplishment of a physical feat, being acknowledged for greatness, or something else?

  • Rick

    The day Greyson was born was pretty spectacular! But of late finally
    graduating and walking across the stage to shake hands with people that
    we adorned with all manner of collard sashes and ropes and ribbons.
    Indicating their years and years of educational achievements. As I
    walked across that stage with these images before me I realized my,
    seemingly meager bit of “higher” learning meant just as much as theirs! I had finally made it to at least ONE major goal in my life and now I need to set out to achieve another then another. Someday! As discontented as I am
    with things. My quest now is to actually WORK within the field of which
    I have a degree as I know once I “pay my dues” and learn the “real
    world” ways of the industry. I know I will be able to actually
    contribute meaningfully and substantially to the field! I just have to leap that hurdler that still remains HIGH in front of me! I shall prevail!

    • chuckmanley

      Every parent I’ve met tells me that their first born was the happiest day of their life. Too bad I’m the second child ;)

      Keep your head up, stay focused, and I’m sure you will keep on reaching more and more goals.

  • http://tech-shizzle.com/ rsbell

    Chuck,

    I just found your blog (I think you posted a
    Iink at JamesAltucher.com), and so far it had been a fantastic read!

    I’ve got nothing but respect for you and the way you’ve taken control of your life and your happiness.

    I will read every other post here in the hopes of finding the strength to do the same no matter how crazy everyone says I am.

    Thanks!

    Scott
    scottv2.com

    • chuckmanley

      Hey Scott!

      Thanks for stopping by. James was the influence for this blog when I started reading his sometime last year. He has been a big inspiration to me and I’ve found a lot of insight into his words.

      I appreciate your kind words and hope you follow along for future updates.