The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette will update readers on some of the most memorable people we covered in 2016. Here is the sixth story in our “Where are they now?” series.
Nicole Arnold has rules about hitchhiking.
She won’t ride with a man unless he’s with at least two other women.
She will ride with a woman who’s driving solo, but only if she gets a good vibe.
Never miss a local story.
Arnold, the Hilton Head Island native who, at 17, cycled across America — she finished this summer after setting out alone — snagged a ride to Moab, Utah, in October with a woman who was working on a project that had something to do with water. Arnold was standing near an on-ramp holding a cardboard sign — “Moab, or that direction,” accented with a smiley face — when the woman picked her up.
“I’m really lucky that I’m a female,” Arnold said during a recent phone interview. “Because it only takes me two or three minutes max to get picked up by somebody.”
The woman was nice, Arnold said, and was staying in a house with a spare room, which she offered up. Arnold accepted. The pair went to the grocery store and shared dinner.
Upon reaching Moab, Arnold went skydiving.
“It’s been pretty nice; I’ve been traveling for the past few weekends,” said Arnold, now a freshman at Loyola University in Chicago.
Her most recent trip: Asheville, North Carolina.
Before that, Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I definitely have a case of the travel bug,” Arnold said. “It’s real.”
She even slipped back to Hilton Head to surprise her parents — which she did, because her mother, who was watching TV late on a fall Friday night, bolted from the couch when her daughter appeared after sneaking in through the garage.
It was nice to be home, she said, but she likes living alone — no one nagging her, telling her what to do. It’s easier being on her own.
In Chicago, she sneaks her black Trek 520 — the bicycle she rode during her 4,000-plus mile journey on the Trans-America Trail — into her dorm room. Sometimes she gets caught by a desk worker, but she’s learned to keep her earphones in and hustle to the elevator as she pretends not to notice. The bike, which she shipped to the Windy City after her ride, does not stay outside.
Her new cause? Helping and hanging out with the homeless.
She has an unlimited meal plan, she said, so she takes a big bag to the dining hall and when the cafeteria workers aren’t looking, stuffs it full of fruit. She raids the mound of unclaimed clothes — “the free pile,” in her words — in the laundry room. She catches a bus downtown and divvies out the goods, her weekly routine.
Is that kind of like stealing? No, she says. She pays for the meal plan, and the fruit will just be thrown out anyway. As for the clothes, the same garments have been piled up all fall, and no one’s claimed them.
“It means the world when I give (the homeless) something they don’t have,” she said.
College? She likes it but thinks it’s “overrated.” And expensive.
“For a lot of people it’s very stressful, and I don’t know if it’s worth it, to be honest,” Arnold said. “You gain so many experiences by being hands-on and traveling.”
So, she’s thinking of taking next semester off, finding a full-time nanny gig — preferably in Chicago, though New York, Los Angeles and Denver will do — saving some money and, next fall, going to school in Europe.
“Now that I realize I am in debt, it’s hit me all of a sudden,” she said. “And it’s real, and I want to pay it off.”
Plus, she’ll be able to do more traveling.
Right now she’s traveling on the cheap.
She always flies standby, keeping an eye on flights’ booking levels and making educated guesses.
She couch surfs.
More often than not, she goes to the grocery store instead of eating out.
Sometimes she hitchhikes.
And makes new friends.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
HOW WE KNOW THEM: Hilton Head's Nicole Arnold set off alone this summer to bike more than 4,000 miles across the country on the Trans-America Trail.
WHAT'S NEW: Arnold still has the “travel bug,” and it's tempting her to hitchhike, skydive and maybe drop out of college and move to Europe.