Every year, roughly 80,000 travelers from at least ninety countries pass through the doors of HI New York City, the largest hostel in the Americas. Each week, Narratively’s Daniel Krieger will spend a few hours in the landmarked building on New York’s Upper West Side, listening to their stories for our Hostel People series.
Who: David Clapham, 51, Sheffield, England
What do you do? I’m an IT engineer. I look after the computers, Internet services and networks for a small company.
What prompted this journey? A midlife crisis. I never had a gap year, and I always regretted it. Before I knew it, I got married, got a house and had a mortgage and two kids. When my midlife crisis started in my early forties, I started to consider my own mortality. I noticed myself decaying in certain ways. I needed a tooth fixed here and my joints were getting a little stiffer there. My eyesight wasn’t as sharp. I decided that if I wanted to do something, I should do it before time runs out. So I planned to take this trip when my kids got older.
What was your plan? One of my main goals was to travel the length of the Mississippi River on a Mark Twain-type paddle steamer riverboat. I was inspired by Huckleberry Finn. When I read that book I thought, “I’d love to float down the Mississippi one day.” But I’m not so good at organizing. When I got around to booking, the cruises were all sold out, so I had to compromise and rented a car in Minneapolis to drive down the Mississippi. I followed the river all the way to New Orleans. I could see it most of the way. After driving down the Mississippi and then out to California, Las Vegas and then Chicago – 6,500 miles total – I took a train to New York. It’s the last four days of my 43-day trip.
What was the low point? Camping for a night in Yosemite. I woke up rather stiff and hungry and cold. I realized I’m too old for it. Not only did I not think it through, but I didn’t bring food with me. I just had a bag of M&Ms that I had to make last for supper and breakfast.
How did you end up at this hostel? I thought it was a normal hotel. When I opened the door to my room and saw six beds, I nearly canceled. But I decided to stick it out and see what it was like. Even though I’m an old fuddy-duddy, everybody is so friendly. When I went to the hostel’s comedy night, the fellow next to me introduced himself and offered me a beer. Don’t recall his name, but he was from Ireland and had a loud and enthusiastic laugh that put me at ease.
What’s your New York Moment? I was walking through Central Park, approaching the reservoir with the fountain coming out of it, and I don’t know why but I started thinking about all the times I saw references to New York on TV and in books. And I thought, “Wow – I’m here! I’m actually in New York.” You hear the beeping of the cars and the get-outta-the-way-I’m-walkin’-here attitude. It’s just great. At that moment, I felt proud of myself for putting my plan into action. I made it to the end of my trip. I’ve done it.
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Come back to Narratively next Wednesday for more Hostel People.
This interview has been edited and condensed. HI NYC management has granted permission for this project, but plays no role in shaping the stories and has no affiliation with Narratively.