Exploring 509

A stranger approached our remote boondocking campsite, the last one before the gravel road became treacherous. Crunching her way past our shady oasis under Libbie’s awning, her pace slowed as she began to take in the pitted, potholed, and perilous terrain of the road just beyond. Blonde, sun-bronzed, fit, short hair, she could have been from Anytown, USA. Hand targeting the morning sun to help her sunglasses combat the glare, she was scouting for the passability of her waiting truck.

From his reclining lounge chair on our front porch, coffee in hand, Glenn asked if she was German.

“Ja?!” She said, multiple questions in her voice.

Glenn pointed at her truck. “509?”

Recognition and relief shone in her face. “Yes, yes. Do you know us?”

We did, in a way. But we’d get to know them better.

The License Plate Game

Two weeks ago and 180 miles away at Canyonlands, while walking past rows of cars spilling out of the over-full parking lot at the trailhead for Upheaval Dome, we heard the voices of several young boys nearby as they tried to outscore each other: “I found Nevada!” “Here’s Colorado!” “Whoa! … Alaska!”

At that moment, we were strolling past the most fabulous all-terrain beast of an RV with wildly out-of-place plates. What a coup for the first boy who spotted this one!

What’s the story behind 509? Sporting license plates from the European Union, this mighty, modern monster conjured images of the most intrepid adventurers as its pilots. How did it get here from … reading the plate … Deutschland?

We took a picture for later when we could learn more. At the end of our hike we even looked up these world travelers. Would their adventures inspire us?

Indeed they would.

Exploring 509

Their website introduced us to Peter and Michaela, a pair from Germany who asked, “What do we want to do with our lives?” Their answer, “To travel with time.”

Clearly, these people shared our sense of wanderlust and their spectacular choice in exploration vehicles caused even our eyes to stray from our beloved Libbie. For two years they traveled Europe, and since September last year have been criss-crossing North America, staying a day or a week at a time, living the lifestyle that many dream of but lack the gall and patience to realize. The 1500 hours they spent remodeling the truck’s interior to become their rolling home base is a testament of their commitment to make their travel vision a reality.

And so it was that, on this October morning, their path led them to the dead middle of nowhere, where we, their American doppelgangers in temperament, had been camped alone for a day and a half.

German Hospitality

When Glenn saw the top of the 509 truck near of our camp, and one of its owners walk past, all he could remember in the moment was their German license plates.

Soon, after Peter and Michaela had both scouted and scrutinized the hairpin descent beyond our camp and (somehow!) deemed it passable, the four of us chatted in front of Libbie long enough to recognize kindred spirits. 

“Will you come join us for a beer?” Michaela offered.

“We’d love to. We’ll let you get settled and come down shortly.”

We watched with no small admiration as the 509 truck wobbled, slipped momentarily, regained its footing, and then easily caromed around the lumpy hairpin slope. Despite the extraordinary capabilities of their truck, they later reported the experience was a real nail-biter. We accepted their perspective as clear evidence that our choice to avoid that stretch with our comparatively meager equipment was a wise one.

Peter and Michaela brave the steep drop-off near our camp in their rugged rig.

We spent a few hours gathered in the angled evening shade of 509. They made camp just past the hairpin directly to our north but out of sight below the stone outcropping that was our front yard. We shared drinks and stories and travel plans from the requisite safe social distance today’s decorum dictates. We traded thoughts on politics, independence, and travel.

From them, we learned some new things about the US that are more easily discerned by a foreigner than a local. For example, we learned that getting a vehicle into this country in the time of COVID is much easier than getting people into it, even those with ten-year tourist visas. We learned that our countrymen are largely hospitable and welcoming toward our visitors, but that Homeland Security, decidedly, is not.

And we learned that the middle of nowhere turns out to be a great place to find new friends, an unexpected delight for two introverts seeking solitude. We were sad the next evening when our Natural Bridges day-trip took so long that it was too late to seek out their charming company a second night before they left.

Comparing notes on our planned routes we also learned that our paths diverge for now. However, with some coordination and perhaps a bit more serendipity, we hope to meet up again in the near the future in another newfound but remote part of this land.


  1. I love travel stories such as this highlighting the specialness of meeting and making new friends that were previously unimagined. I’m hoping your paths definitely cross again as they seem as interesting as you two. Keep sharing!!

  2. Wow! Wow! WOW! What else can we say with tears in our eyes while reading your heartwarming story about our meeting. Must be serendipity that we found you at this incredible place in the White Canyon! We hope that we will meet again soon! Michaela & Peter

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