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New bonds between old (and new) friends

I think I kicked my severe case of hosting anxiety.

A couple weeks ago, I used these pages to explain my fears of entertaining visitors.

My lameness in this area cannot be overstated. I'm terrible at planning fun. I don't even seek it out much myself these days, as I am broken and old.

Imagine the squalls of terror and excitement blowing through my head when my best friend John announced he was dropping into my world for a week.

And on top of it all, he was bringing The New Girl.

They blew in from Illinois last week for a six-day vacation, with yours truly in the driver's seat the whole way.

Understand, I love John dearly. I've known the cat since the late '90s. We met in college and spent a four-year tour together cramming plastic junk onto shelves at Walmart.

As I saved for my big trip out West, John allowed me to live cheap in his closet-sized, back bedroom. There might of been 3 inches of cat hair on the floor, but I appreciated his kind gesture in my time of need.

As I said in these pages, I've been hampered by hosting anxiety my whole life.

I was involved in a long-distance relationship in college with a girl from St. Louis. She would come to visit me every two weeks, and each time I would be woefully unprepared for her arrival.

She'd walk through the door and find me watching basketball playoffs, exactly zero boxes of food in the cabinets and a barren fridge.

"Um, so you wanna watch some hoops," I'd mutter, knowing full well her hatred of all competitive sports. "I think John is coming over to watch the game. I ... I figured we'd all watch it ... together?"

Daggers were stared. Grumbles were uttered. The defeat was palpable.

Since I've lived in Oregon, only my parents have dropped in for extended stays. They are easy to please. They spend a few days with their beloved oldest son and then hit the road to the coast and the mountains.

Sorry son, we raised you, now it's time to have fun. Thanks for letting us sleep in your bed for a couple nights as you head off to work. We'll be in Ashland most of the day!

The John and The New Girl visit would be different, however. I would actually plan something.

I wouldn't be militant about it either. I decided to map out a rough guide to some areas of Southern Oregon and Northern California that I'd like to explore with them and let the chips fall where they may.

My goals were to hit Jedediah Smith State Park and then shoot over to the Brookings area.

Mountains and ocean in one week? You can't go wrong.

The visit got off to a slightly awkward footing when John and The New Girl burst through the arrival doors at Rogue Valley International Airport. They looked exhausted and flustered.

I approached John for the inevitable back-slap-man-hug ritual. His cold stare stopped me in my tracks.

"You're not the easiest person to visit, man," he said.

Ah, I forgot that direct flights to Medford are a fantasy.

Also, I neglected to warn them about the infamous Rogue Valley descent. The air can get a bit choppy above Medford, and pilots love to zoom into town after negotiating a teeth-clenching bank maneuver over town before whooshing toward the tarmac.

The New Girl (OK, dammit, I'll refer to her by her Odin-given name of Tam henceforth) is not the most confident flyer. She looked rattled as we waited for her bags to arrive. Or maybe it was the Ativan she'd popped during the flight to calm her nerves. Who knows.

We then spent the next couple days trying to avoid the confinement of my cramped apartment on South Holly Street.

The excitement-o-meter was dipping to dangerously low levels, when I made the decision to jam the three of us in the front seat of my truck and just drive to Dead Indian Memorial Road. We still had a day before we rented a car for the redwoods and coast trip. However, we needed eye candy and now.

As we puttered up Dead Indian in my crippled GMC Sonoma, I saw their faces brighten as the landscape turned steep and rocky.

"This is really nice," Tam said.

I pulled over, and we ran down an embankment and into a wide meadow. We heard a stream nearby and decided to search for it in a treeline.

This seemed to loosen them up. I fed off their hey-Conrad-is-a-good-timing-dude mojo and kept the momentum going throughout the week.

Jedediah Smith State Park was Godly, and the coast was as eerily beautiful as ever.

I had never been to Jedediah and had only passed through the Brookings area on the way to Bandon, so I was discovering these spots with my friends.

And therein lies the lesson. I found that exploring a place together builds a bond between host and visitor that transcends any anxiety the master of ceremonies might feel.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.