CCO Project Hopping/Roadtrip out East

Last week, my friend Meagan & I took a road trip out east to visit Philadelphia & Ocean City, then I visited Pittsburgh & Cleveland on my way home to Cincinnati. It may have been the best week of my life — it was SO clear that God was clearing the way for us to take this trip. So how did it come about?

From June 5-July 22, I was in Columbus on a summer mission with the CCO, a college ministry I’m involved with. I met Meagan through this; she was the staff member living in the house with us, and was both my leader and friend throughout the project. She spoke a lot of truth into me and helped me to realize a lot about myself & God.

Meagan’s boyfriend Mark was leading at the CCO summer mission in Philadelphia, and they had decided that to focus on their missions they were only going to write letters once a week to each other over the 7 weeks she was in Columbus. I would hear from her all the time about how this separation was making her miss him, but also making her become even more fond of him at the same time. About 4 weeks into Encounter Columbus, Meagan & I were talking in the kitchen and she told me the Philadelphia project ran a week over our project, and how she would be alone in Pittsburgh because Mark and her best friend Natalie were both in Philadelphia. I remember saying nonchalantly, “Well, I mean, I’d drive you to Philly.” And that’s how it started.

We also realized that because the Philly and Ocean City CCO projects were so close, we could visit both. My best friend Jason was doing the project in Ocean City, and I had been talking to him once a week on the phone about his time there. Meagan had also done the Ocean City Beach Project two years ago, so she was completely up for the idea of returning. Over the next week we kept saying, “IF we go to Philly, IF we go to Ocean City,” in excitement but uncertainty. Then, one day the next week, I looked at her and said, “Meagan… why don’t we stop saying ‘if’ and start saying when?”

Meagan started making phone calls to people she knew out east, and we were set.

DAY 1 // Columbus to Philadelphia

We left the Encounter Columbus house on July 22 at 2pm with my car packed to the brim. No, seriously — we were dropping Destiny, one of the other students that did the mission, in Pittsburgh. So we had three people’s lives in one car and my SUV is not very big.

When we dropped Destiny off at Robert Morrison University, we said our sad goodbyes, but were then about 6 hours from Pittsburgh. And we started driving.

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Around 8:00pm, we got into a deeper conversation about something while driving through the mountains on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was starting to get dark, and raining a bit. I looked down at my gas gauge and noticed it was on E. I said to Meagan, “I’m on E. And I have no idea how long I’ve been on E.” We resolved that there should be a gas station soon, so for the next 10 miles, I was fine. Until we realized we were in the middle of NOWHERE and it was pouring and it was really dark.

I immediately started to stress out. I was convinced that we were going to end up stranded on the side of the road and helpless. Then Meagan said, “Alesha, we need to trust that God is going to get us where we’re going to go.” So she grabbed my hand, and we prayed.

The next fifteen miles, we continued with no sign of a gas station. I’ve never run my tank that far on E before, and I had been told to never expect it to go more than 20 miles when the light is on — AND that’s disregarding the fact that I didn’t know when the light went on. We rounded a bend, and a sign read ‘GAS STATION: 10 MILES.’

10 MILES?! We couldn’t make it.

So Meagan turned on “Almost There” from the Princess & the Frog and started singing the amount of miles we had left. If you know the song, it goes “I’m almost there, I’m almost there” in the chorus, but Meagan was singing “Just 10 miles more, just 9 miles more” and it definitely calmed my nerves a bit.

The miles kept knocking down until we’ve only had about a mile, and suddenly I looked ahead and said “Meagan…the sky is so much lighter up there.” Then we round a bend, and I KID YOU NOT, there was a rainbow over a gas station.

So we pulled into the gas station, jumped out and were hugging & nearly crying. And there was this unbelievable sunset and we were at this gas station in the middle of the mountains and it had a food court attached to it (did I mention we hadn’t eaten?) and God was SO PRESENT.

When I checked my mileage, I realized we had driven 36 miles with my gas light on. That’s not including the miles I drove before I realized the light was on.

Honestly, God is always there. He knew Meagan wanted so dearly to get to Philly that night. He knew I would allow the darkness to cast doubt into my mind. He knew we needed to trust in Him. He knew He could get us there.

And that’s so true. Once I laid down my doubt on that dark road, I turned the corner, and the light was right there. I just had to trust that He is a good, good Father.

That night, we arrived in Philadelphia at 11:30pm. I was exhausted from the 9 1/2 hour drive, but was so excited to witness Meagan & Mark’s reunion.

When we pulled into the driveway, Natalie whisked Meagan inside and helped surprise her boyfriend. When Mark saw her, he literally fell to the ground and as he was falling she caught him. They were just hugging on the ground for the next 5 minutes. That in itself was worth driving all of that way — I knew our road trip was off to an amazing start, and I was honored to be a part of their love story in that moment.

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They spent a bit of time together that night, I had a chance to meet the students & staff that were part of the CCO’s Encounter Philadelphia project, then we drove to West Philadelphia to Michael Chen’s house — he is a CCO staff member that Meagan is close with, and he offered up his house for us to stay at during our time in Philly.

DAY 2 // Philadelphia

It was a Sunday, so in the morning we went to church with the Encounter Philadelphia crew. They had been going to a cultural center church near downtown, and it was much different than any other church I had been to. The preacher practically screamed at you, but he had so much soul and truth to him that the message really got rooted in you.

After church, Meagan & I went downtown to the Rocky Steps! We had this vision of the best photo ever — to pose doing the Rocky fist, but with a Philly cheese steak in our hands. It was going to be epic. But after looking all around the square surrounding the steps and having no luck finding a cheese steak, we decided to just climb the steps and give up the dream. So we ran the Rocky Steps and looked out at the city, listening to the theme song like classic tourists.

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After Meagan took this picture, we turned around and noticed a food truck parked on the side of the steps. So after all our searching and giving up our dream, there was a Philly cheese steak waiting for us at the top.

Honestly, can we just talk about how God likes to make us work for the things we desire?

So I had my first REAL Philly cheese steak and it was beautiful. And we even took THE picture.

Meagan & I then paid a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, which were too expensive for us to afford, but we admired them from outside! #brokestudentproblems

These art walls are made out of ceramic and glass, and I was blown away. It was honmesmerizing to look at the way people create so intricately.

We also got to visit a super cute little popsicle shop. My popsicle was Coconut Hibiscus flavored — I didn’t even know that was a flavor.

After our adventures, we went back to Michael’s house to help him prep for a barbecue he was having for the Encounter Philadelphia group. We helped set up his dining room table in a way that we could fit 18 people around it — it wasn’t easy, but it was worth having everyone together.

That night was unbelievable — I got to know all of the students from Encounter Philly and hear about their summers, and then Michael had his worship band come over to do a worship session with us. So I was sitting in this living room of a person I didn’t know before that day with people that welcomed me into their summer singing along with a folk band and praising God. And Michael is playing cello with his son on his shoulders and I was just being reminded of how GOOD our God is. It was beautiful.

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Before we went to bed, Meagan and I were sitting there contemplating how we got to this point and how we got this lucky.

DAY 3 // Philadelphia to Ocean City

When we woke up in the morning, Meagan & I went downtown to a cute little coffee shop before we left the city. It was rustic and adorable and I LOVED IT.

Then we were off to Ocean City, New Jersey. I had heard so much about this place and the people in it from Jason on the phone, so I was both excited and nervous. But when we arrived, Jason ran to me and gave me a huge hug, and immediately people started coming up to me saying that they were so excited I was there.

We had dinner with the 30+ students & staff members of the Ocean City Beach Project and got introduced as guests, and I got to get to know a few people better over dinner!

After we ate, the whole group headed to the beach for a worship session on the beach led by the students. It honestly was the sweetest time to spend with these new friends. This was also my first time to the beach here, and there was a gorgeous blue sky & big waves & it was all so surreal.

When we got back, Meagan led a little session with the Ocean City students about art — she was bringing a piece of Encounter Columbus to them. She gave us a piece of black clay to make something that represents God to us, then had us hand it to our partner, and had them crush it. This represented how God created the Earth and how the Fall hurt his Creation. She then had us wash our hands on towels that were hung around a cross to represent how only Jesus can wash us clean, and had us recreate something with white clay which she then baked for us to keep.

I got to sit in on a bible study that Jason led that night, and had some great discussions with the students within it.

Then, we went to get Hobby Horse ice cream, a local shop I’ve heard a lot about from anyone that’s been to Ocean City.

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DAY 4 // Ocean City

Jason & I had planned to spend all of Tuesday together — he wanted to give me the full Ocean City experience in a day and take me to all of his favorite spots. So to begin, we woke up at 4:45am to go see the sunrise on the beach.

We walked out onto the jetty, a collection of rocks that extend into the ocean, and I could feel the ocean air better than I ever had in that moment standing on it. It was incredible.

Then we sat on a blanket on the sand for an hour or so and talked about our summers, what God has been teaching us, and we even laid down and took time to just LISTEN to the waves & to what God was trying to tell us in that moment. There was a sense of tranquility that the Lord washed over me in that moment — and then He washed a literal wave over us and we realized we probably should have put the blanket higher up.

After the sunrise, we went parasailing! We had the 8am, so there were only 2 other people out on the boat with us and it was much more relaxing.

If you haven’t been parasailing, it’s actually way more chill than you’d think it would be. Looking out on the shoreline and the boardwalk and the ferris wheel poking over the island, I told Jason that I thought it was crazy that I was here. I never thought I’d go to Ocean City, New Jersey. And there I was.

We went to a little brunch place called Jon & Patty’s because Jason knows I love breakfast more than I should, and it was a wonderful time. Then we walked down the main street of the island and looked in all of the shops.

The next stop on the list was the state park at the end of the island; we drove there and hiked about a half a mile on a sandy path that was in the midst of what looked like a jungle. It was the strangest combination. We ended up emerging from the path onto a remote beach. I was wearing my clothes, so I didn’t plan on swimming, but when Jason ran in I ended up doing it too. While we were in the water, it started pouring rain and we chased a man 50 feet down the beach just to get a picture.

That night, we went to dinner with the Ocean City group again, and Jason had class so Meagan and I went exploring for a bit. We went to Ocean City Coffee Company and then to the beach for the sunset. Then we ended up walking around the boardwalk and admiring how lit up it was.

We ended up hammocking and talking about how great our God is and our struggles and our excitement, and then Jason came and hopped in the hammock and I couldn’t stop thinking about how unbelievable my time in Ocean City had been.

DAY 5 // Ocean City to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh

I forgot to mention that in Ocean City, Jason had been working all summer as a hand in a woman’s house named Joan. Joan had offered up her house to us to stay, so that’s where Meagan and I had been sleeping. In the morning, we woke up to Jason and the other guy that works for Joan, Isaac, cooking breakfast for us as part of their jobs.

We headed to the farmers market and met up with a few girls we had met the day before, and got our last little taste of Ocean City!

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We then said our goodbyes and were on our way. We were sad to be leaving, but we also knew how blessed we were to even have the time that we did.

Philadelphia was our next stop; we stopped by Franklin Fountain and got some AMAZING ice cream — seriously, it might be the best I’ve ever had — and then went to a little hammock park by the river. It was bittersweet, because it was a beautiful memory, but it was the last time Meagan and I would be together before I left her with Mark & Natalie.

Then I dropped her off at the Encounter Philadelphia house and continued on the rest of my journey solo. It felt weird, because it was the first time I had been away from Meagan in 8 weeks.

I’m going to take this moment to write about how much I appreciate Meagan. She was willing to drop everything and take a risk and drive out east with me, to fulfill my love for road trips and new things and new people and to experience this unbelievable plan that God had for both of us. And we laughed and cried and smiled about how blessed we were to have had this opportunity and all of these amazing people surrounding us that were willing to take us in, feed us, show us around, hear about our lives, and so clearly display the love of God. Meagan, you really showed me what it’s like to love someone in a Godly way, in the way you love Mark and Natalie and the way you love me. Thank you. This wouldn’t have been possible without you.

I drove the next 5 hours by myself to Pittsburgh, and kept myself occupied by talking to people on the phone and listening to some music. The drive was beautiful and the sun set wonderfully on another great day.

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That night, Meagan had arranged for me to stay with her friend’s parents in Pittsburgh as a stop on my way to Cleveland. I had never met these people, but when I showed up to their door at 11:30 pm they instantly welcomed me. They sat me down and wanted to hear about Meagan, my summer at Encounter Columbus, my time at Ohio State — they were so clearly loving me in a Godly way. I don’t have any pictures of this wonderful family, but they truly blessed me with their generosity.

DAY 6 // Pittsburgh to Cleveland

The next morning, I woke up and was off to Cleveland. My friend Alexa lives downtown in a cute neighborhood called Little Italy, and had offered for me to stay with her for a few days. I got there around mid-afternoon, and since Alexa had to work that night, I sat down with her mom and brother Nick (who I knew from Ohio State) and had a spaghetti dinner with them. They were so welcoming and kind and let me tell you — they’re good cooks.

After dinner, Nick and I took their dog, Chicco, on a walk around Little Italy and he showed me all of the cute shops & restaurants. We ended up going into a bakery called Presti’s and sitting there for a while, then Alexa showed up because she had gotten out of work early. We all ate gelato and then we walked around some more. It was the sweetest time to be able to catch up with both of them and to see the place where they’re from!

DAY 7 // Cleveland

In the morning, Alexa and I went to Cuyahoga Valley National Park! We decided to do the Brandywine Falls Trail, which we quickly found was mostly just an observation deck. Both of us are pretty adventurous, and decided that we wanted to find a way down to the ravine to get a better glimpse at the falls. So, we found an alternative path and started creeking.

We went about a half a mile up the river to get to the falls. But man, oh man, was it worth the view.

I was so thankful to get this opportunity — not only to visit a national park, because I so clearly feel God’s presence in nature, but also to venture off the beaten path and take risks with the sweetest friend.

Alexa and I then visited Algebra Tea House, which is this ADORABLE little family restaurant where you sit on the floor on pillows and it’s super cozy and the falafel is incredible.

After this she had to go to work, so I went by myself to a local coffee shop called Rising Star and had the best cold brew I possibly have ever had. It was good time to sit and relax and debrief what God had done in the past weeks.

DAY 8 // Cleveland to Cincinnati

In the morning, we went to an adorable coffee shop called Duck-Rabbit — no seriously, look at the logo.

West Side Market may have been my happy place. I felt like I was in older times, where people only go to markets and grocery stores don’t exist. We got liquid nitrogen made ice cream and marveled in how tasty the food looked.

Then they took me to a place called Town Hall for brunch, where I had the tastiest crepe. And then we visited a park on Lake Erie, took the classic “Cleveland sign” picture, and they showed me all of the places they used to walk when they were children.

Goodbye was hard. I was leaving two amazing people, leaving my last adventure location, and finishing the greatest road trip I had ever taken.

This trip was a leap of faith. I put myself out of my comfort zone and into God’s hands. And He provided in ways that I still can’t comprehend. He gave me hosts that gave us places to rest my head. He gave me community that continually reminded me of how good He is. And He reminded me of how beautiful life can be when I trust in Him.

I’m in awe of how lucky I am to be a daughter of the one true king.

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