Finding Love on the Road—Moab Style

It was the Monday before Memorial Day in 2018, and I had just scored a last-minute campsite in Arches National Park for that Friday. I was 8 months into a solo cross-country road trip, and Utah was my 34th state. By that point, I had learned that little-to-moderate research was my travel style.
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When I quit my corporate job to pursue a life on the road, I knew that I might fall in love. Photos of majestic California Redwoods, jagged mountain ranges, and rolling green hills had prepared me to have my heart stolen by the landscape. But I never expected to find my life partner in the middle of the Utah desert.

nicole bonilla in arches national park
It was the Monday before Memorial Day in 2018, and I had just scored a last-minute campsite in Arches National Park for that Friday. I was 8 months into a solo cross-country road trip, and Utah was my 34th state. By that point, I had learned that little-to-moderate research was my travel style.

So when I pulled into Moab, I had no idea that I’d stumbled into the outdoor-recreation hub of Southern Utah.

This laissez-faire attitude was a relatively new development for me. While working in Austin, Texas, before taking to the road, I lived for knowing all the details. I was the type of person who would read at least 20 reviews for a restaurant before settling on a place to have dinner.

Now here I was in a completely foreign town, a whole week to spare with no plans, and I was excited about it.

A trip to the visitor center and an email later, I was set to go on an off-road excursion with a local father-son tour operator the following day. A larger group was already scheduled to go out, and I would be tagging along.

On Tuesday morning, I showed up to the pickup zone five minutes late to find a gaggle of septuagenarians waiting for me in the tour vehicle. Aside from our guide who looked to be around my age, there was at least a 45 year age difference between me and everyone else in the truck.

As the last to show up, I sat in the back row behind my seven new compatriots.

Unimog tour vehicle
The excursion began with the ascent of one of the scariest 4×4 trails of the trip, aptly called Hell’s Revenge. As we began the treacherous climb, I giggled uncontrollably.

I was having a blast.

The only minor drawback was the bobbing of heads in front of me; I wanted a better view. So at our first rest stop, I worked up the nerve to ask our guide, Jamie, if I could sit upfront with him. He agreed.

That’s when I actually started to notice him. Jamie was funny, capable, and his reflective sunglasses lent an appealing air of mystery.

Throughout the rest of the tour, I found myself strategizing how best to communicate my interest. I was much too shy to ask him out, so ultimately settled on giving him the opportunity to ask me out.

Here was my master plan: I’d ask him for lunch recommendations. If he asked to join me, it was a date. (I found out later that literally everyone asks him this question after a tour, so it wasn’t much of a hint).

Little did I know that Jamie had also taken an interest in me, and had an idea of his own: “if she gives me a tip, that means she wasn’t interested,” he thought to himself. (He hadn’t considered that I’m not a cheapskate, and had planned to tip him regardless.)

The tour ended and I let everyone else pay first. When it was my turn, I enacted my genius plot.

“So, any place you’d recommend for lunch around here?” I asked as he ran my card. He rattled off a couple of suggestions and handed my card back. I paused to give him an opening.

Nothing.

I gave him a tip and we said our goodbyes, each having failed the other’s test. He drove out of the parking lot, and I settled into my vehicle.

That’s when I saw him walking back toward me, and lowered my window. “I’d regret if I didn’t ask,” he said. “Do you want to go to lunch with me?”

Since then, we’ve been on countless adventures together: road tripping to Wyoming, hiking in Yosemite, backpacking Havasupai in the Grand Canyon, and more. Our two-year anniversary is coming up, and after being long-distance nearly the entirety of our relationship, we are finally looking forward to settling down in the same place together.

jamie in Moab
Jamie and I would not have met but for our mutual love of adventure and travel, and our success as a couple comes from prioritizing these things in our relationship.

I think about that road trip often, and how I found more love than I ever could have expected. For those of you considering a solo adventure of your own, I say get out there and explore.

It just might change your life

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