When I left for the Rookie Road Trip in June, I expected everything to look like the above photo IMMEDIATELY. I also expected our van to be filled with bearded musicians from the ’70s, and for all billboards to suddenly show classily designed Coke ads instead of any for Attorney Peter Francis Geraci. Imagine my surprise when I realized that not everything looks like an old movie!

Of course, the scenery did end up being beautiful, and my fellow road-trippers were much better companions than any of the dudes from Almost Famous would’ve been, and I kind of got used to ignoring the billboards. But the memories that are most prominent to me now, the moments that most strongly satisfied the curiosity with which we faced this GREAT NATION OF OURS, are the ones that were just about the folks we came across every day—be they kindred spirits, or people with lives very different from our own, or dogs. (The dogs we saw were SO CUTE.) Staying with Olivia’s boyfriend’s family in Portland, with Joey and Mark in Omaha, and with Ira’s sister Randi in San Francisco; having dinner at Dylan’s mom’s house in Seattle, and with a family in Big Sur; a woman at a restaurant in northern California talking about the tiger she was planning to purchase and train; the family at a gas station in Nebraska that played a prank on Petra’s boyfriend, Avery; and obviously, all our meet-ups with our readers. It was comforting to find that no matter where we were in the country, there were people who made it feel like home, and that no matter how far we’d traveled, there were people who’d be unlike anyone I’d previously met. The country is very big and very small at the same time, and scary in all the right ways.

In that sense, this month isn’t really about being physically on the road; it’s about meeting strangers and hearing their stories, about memories and keepsakes, and about the kinds of secret discoveries that lie along the way to a final goal or destination. I couldn’t wait to get to California, but there were pockets of beauty and weirdness along the way that I found myself thankful we sought out.

I’m taking this chunk of space in my own damn editor’s letter on my own damn website to thank those who could make it to our events once again. Thanks to Urban Outfitters and Space 15 Twenty for their collaboration, for supporting our vision for the meet-ups and the installation, and for understanding why we needed a whole collection of Sweet Valley High books for the installation and miraculously finding them. During these events, Rookie felt like a real presence in the world, not just a corner of the internet. And that whole humans-connecting thing? That happened! Thank you again.

Oh, and we’ll be using this month to prepare for school starting again. Positive thinking and stuff.