Story 39 | Co-Pilots

 Megan Bristol & Nick Polinko (@thelongcruise)


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San Francisco, California, 1 Year Ago...

Megan was commuting 3+ hours a day to work in Silicon Valley at Facebook's Head Quarters, then putting in 10-14 hours a day leading a Direct Response business team as a Product Marketing Manager for Instagram.  It's a miracle she found time to download the Bumble dating app, she barely had time to dig through her closet of designer clothes before she walked out of her beautifully conceptualized apartment on her way to meet her date.

This was Nick's first date since returning to the States.  As a successful mechanical engineer, he had worked with a team to develop the Kodak Mini, a water-proof, credit card-sized, HD video camera with slide out USB. He continued to work as a mechanical engineer until a ski-trip with a friend led to an idea that raised over $250,000 on Kickstarter.  Before he could blink Nick was full-fledged CEO of Rumpl (, puffy, weather-resistant, blankets that roll up like sleeping bags.

As Nick talked, Megan began to worry that the most interesting thing about her was where she worked because that's all she had time for.  Lately, she didn't have the energy to write, develop new business ideas, or read a good book.  

Nick was explaining the daily grind of being CEO of Rumpl. "In the past four years, somewhere between the Monday, Wednesday, Friday weekly All Hand meetings and bloated inboxes, I forgot to give myself the very thing that spurred the original idea: down time.  Then my business partner and I had a sudden and irreparable parting of ways," 

"A fight?" Megan asked.

"Well, we couldn't agree on what was the right direction to take Rumpl so I sold him a percentage of the business.  I was spent. I didn’t have the energy for another startup rat race and going back to work at “some corporate job” no longer felt like an option after tasting the freedom of being my own boss."

"So what'd you do?" Megan wanted to know.

"Heartbroken, jobless, and idealess, I did what any self-respecting lost soul would do: I booked a one-way trip to Europe to blow off some steam."

"No way!  I was just in Europe visiting friends and checking off a few bucket list items," Megan said.  "Once you work at Facebook for five years they offer you a six-week mini-sabbatical called, 'Recharge'." 

"Did you come back feeling recharged?" said Nick.

"Not really.  I came back feeling like I had been neglecting my passions.  The time off only made me crave more time off."  Megan said, "What about you?"

"After 3 months, 2 vans, a Tuscan villa and a whole lot of wine later my mind finally began to find the space to think and I wrote down 52 new 'highdeas'." 

"Did you just say, 'highdeas'?" Megan laughed.

"Yeah, named primarily for their outlandish, right field, you-gotta-be-high-as-shit-to-think-they-would-actually-work qualities about them," said Nick.  

Megan tipped her wine glass to the air and said, "Let's hear'em!"

"All of them?"

The Pan-American Highway, en-route to Patagonia, Present Day...

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After only three months of dating, Nick and Megan decided to live one of Nick's "highdeas' and together drive to Patagonia via the Pan-American Highway, over 15,000 miles of adventure.  In their 2002 Landcruiser, towing a Turtleback trailer with a roof-top tent they've driven outside their comfort zones through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador.  

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Along the way, they've surfed epic waves; biked amazing trails.  When they reached the Darien Gap (60 miles of inhospitable jungle and marshland between Panama and Colombia) they were forced to ship their vehicle from Panama to Cartagena.  Then they hopped on a 51ft catamaran, the Santana, and sailed through the San Blas islands to Cartagena.  Nick got PADI certified in Bocas (Carribean province of Panama) and he and Megan, for the first time together, went scuba diving on a wrecked catamaran.  In Cartagena (Colombia) they learned to Salsa dance, and after only three lessons they went dancing at Cafe Havana, unafraid to be the beginners.

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It's Ecuador's prime surf season, and Megan and Nick parked the Land Cruiser on the point at sunrise.  Megan is learning to surf, so she's happy to try out the 5'10" board, that she bought in Costa Rica, on this beautiful point break as opposed to the sloppy beach breaks they just left behind in Panama.  She and Nick surfed the morning together.  The surf is 4 to 6 feet, which she found challenging and a bit scary, but Nick couldn't get enough.  At least the water is nice (80 degrees).  Midday they had popped the rooftop tent to hide from the equatorial sun.  Nick had written in his notebook while Megan sat next to him reading a book.  Now, Megan had their table set up with a tablecloth and two chairs.  The pantry doors, on the back of the trailer, were open.  As she sliced a tomato for the salad she was preparing, she watched Nick catch his last wave of the day and carve a juicy turn.  Nick came up the point and was putting his board away.  Hanging just above the horizon, the sun looked like a blood orange.

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"Did you see that last wave?"

"I saw," Megan said then motioned to the pan in front of her. "I feel like the fish is missing something."

Nick walked over, kissing her on the lips.  She could taste the salt of the ocean.  "Nope, that's not it," she smiled.  Nick brushed past her to the pantry, dug around the curry pastes, the soy, and grabbed a pair of dried Oaxacan chilis. "Here," he handed them to her.  As Megan was plating the fish and salad, Nick was opening a bottle of Justin, Iscoseles wine.

"All that time spent in a Tuscan villa and your favorite wine is from Paso Robles?" She smirked.

"What? It's a Bordeaux-style blend," He shot her a serious look.

"Bordeaux is in France, dummy," And they both laughed.

"Besides, I'm pretty sure I drank all of the wine they had in that Tuscan villa," he said as he poured them each a glass.  

Megan held up her glass and Nick mimicked her.  "May our relationship continue to be strengthened and deepen in unexpected ways as we spend this dedicated time together," she said. A cascade of color filled the sky as the sun sank into the sea.

Their glasses touched with a "clink".


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Follow Megan and Nick's journey to reform life: @thelongcruise or

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David Walden