Emtpy Suitcase

Words & Photos: Ben Birk

No boards, no boots, no car, and nowhere to stay. Running on 40 dollars a day, Will Bateman, Brendan Gerard, and Jonas Michilot take to the streets of Boston in this social experiment.

Our walk of shame down the stairs of vertigo in Beacon Hill.
The key to eating good on a trip like this is to pool your money together. Chinese food after a long day exploring Boston on foot.

I’m sleeping on a brick fireplace. It’s 8:30 a.m. and Brendan Gerard is attempting to stir me from my slumber. Will Batman has his head in a white garbage bag that has intensely foul smelling stomach vile pouring out of it, and Jonas Michilot is asleep on the floor next to the only couch in the small studio apartment.

We quickly gather our meager belongings before being rushed into the hallway on the top floor of a building, in Beacon Hill, where the social elite of Boston, Massachusetts, like John Kerry, live. The building was constructed in 1860 and has no elevator so we’re forced to walk the stairs, which from the top, look like they twist endlessly downwards. Making our descent in full snow gear with heavy backpacks induces vertigo and overheating. We stumble out the front door and are refreshed with a blast of cold air. Once the initial sickness wears off, the shock starts to set in.

Jonas and Will running wild in the streets on night one.
Winter had transformed the grassy knolls of Bean-town into powder fields ripe for ripping. Will Bateman toeside slash.

We just drank our whole first day away out of excitement. Here we are, hung over, mid-February 2015, standing in Boston’s biggest snow-storm on record* with no place to sleep, no car, no friends to call on, and one mission—find snowboards, meet new people, and shred the city.

When we were kids, we used to dream of taking a trip with our best friends to a large city that was getting dumped on, just to run free in the streets and ride anything we wanted to. But it always remained an idea because we figured it would be too expensive. The car, gas, hotel, drop-in ramp, gear; it all just cost too much.

But what if it didn’t cost as much as we thought? What would happen if we showed up in a city, with no boards, boots, bindings, car, and nowhere to stay, but with a budget of 40 dollars per person per day, plus expenses for gear, and one backpack per person. To encourage adventure, we set a rule we weren’t allowed to stay with anyone we knew, or use Facebook or Instagram to solicit places to sleep. We were, however, allowed to use Tinder.

Would we be able to find boards? Would we be able to find rides and places to sleep? Could we actually get shots or would it backfire, ending up with all of us sleeping in an igloo in the park? We wanted to find out.

*30-day snowfall from January 24 to February 22 totaled 94.4 inches. The previous record of 81.5 inches was set in the 1993-1994 season.

Three snowboarders getting on a bus is not an everyday sight, even in Allston.

Transportation

The first thing we had to figure out upon arriving in Boston was how to get around town. Our combined knowledge of public transportation was good enough so we each purchased a seven-day unlimited train/bus pass for 19 dollars. Unfortunately the train shut down two days into our trip, which left us unable to get across the city quickly. We were forced to ride the buses that operate on a much smaller route. When the train or bus couldn’t take us where we wanted to go, we trudged up and down the streets carrying our snowboards and looking for spots.

This ended up being our favorite mode of transportation, mainly because it allowed us to soak in the culture, get a good lay of the land, interact with locals, and slow the day down. During one excursion we must have walked close to five miles around one neighborhood. As long as I live, I’ll be able to recount the layout of those streets. Plus, all the energy spent walking guarantees a good nights sleep.

Waiting at a bus stop, with the last light of the last day hitting their faces.

Gear

We originally planned to find most of our gear at thrift stores. Real gear, bought from real Boston-ites, that at one time had actually been ridden. But we soon learned that wasn’t going to work. After a whole day of searching high and low, from north Boston to south Boston, we were left empty handed. Don’t get me wrong, we found some gear, but it was all stuff like size 12 boots, and 160-centimeter snowboards that were as stiff as a 2×4. It seemed like there might not be a single working pair of bindings in the whole town.

With little choice, we turned to the internet. Craigslist has been a favorite for anyone trying to buy or sell anything to local communities for over a decade now and sure enough Craigslist had everything we needed.

Will had done some Craigslist surfing before the trip and was already in contact with a seller of a 1995 150-centimeter Burton Air with Burton bindings from the same time period. Upon arrival, Will inspected the board, found it to be in mint condition, and was able to talk the seller down from 90 dollars to 60 dollars for the whole setup.

Will Bateman’s kit was so street chic he could have made it into Teen Vogue.

Brendan bought a Mountain Dew board with “Feel the Rush” emblazoned on the base and a pair of SnowJam bindings from Tyler, a teenager who had a really random collection of gear for sale. The pair settled on 40 dollars for the board and bindings. Before leaving, Will bought a pair of early ’90s Airwalk boots for 25 dollars and 10 dollars worth of extra straps for his 20-year-old bindings.

Later that day, in a dimly-lit train station parking lot, Jonas met a middle-aged man who sold him a Beavis and Butthead board, a pair of un-branded bindings, boots that were too big, and, oh yeah, a leash, all for 90 dollars.

This is what happens when you ride 20 year old bindings. They break. You better have replacement parts and shoe strings. Will Bateman’s set up.

The biggest thing we realized was that finding a good pair of size 9 boots in the used snowboard market is harder then we an anticipated. I am not sure why there aren’t more size 9 boots in the used market even though it’s a common size. Jonas and Brendan both had their regular boots stashed at friends’ houses from a previous trip, so we bent the rules a little, they grabbed those boots, and we called it good.

Our crash pad at Mark and Ashley’s had all the couch space we needed.

Housing

Finding accommodations flat-out scared us more then anything else on this trip. We knew odds were slim that a random stranger would allow four grimey, long-haired snowboarders to sleep in their house, let alone dry their stinky boots by the fireplace where their children opened Christmas presents. But at least we knew our manners were perfect and hoped that given the chance, we could swoon some homeowners into lending us a couch and floor space for the evening.

As I mentioned earlier, day one we spent drinking heavily and exploring town. At one point we wandered into a camera store and meet a guy we called Camera Store Chris. He dug our trip and told us he was going to make some phone calls to see if anyone he knew would let us crash at their place.

By around 11 p.m. that night, we hadn’t heard back from Camera Store Chris, and three out of the four of us had blacked out at the bar. Luckily Brendan had matched with a girl on Tinder who said we could crash in her apartment for the night. Once the bar closed and we regrouped, our crew walked a few miles in the falling snow to her apartment and passed out nearly immediately. You already know what happened the following morning from the opening of this story.

Day two we caught our big break. Camera Store Chris called to inform us his good friend Mark, and Mark’s girlfriend Ashley, were hyped to house us for the night. Mark lived in a duplex located in the neighborhood of Allston. Allston could be described as an alternative town with coffee shops that employs punks, used music stores, foreign cuisine takeout, and multiple liquor stores. It turned out we were all around the same age as Mark, Ashley, Chris so getting along was quite easy. The next morning they informed us that they liked us so much that we could stay with them for the whole trip. We couldn’t believe our ears. Our biggest hurdle of the whole trip had just gotten taken care of, allowing us to now focus on snowboarding.

We spent the last night of the trip just like the first night.

Spots

With our tour guides of Mark, Ashley, and Chris we descended into downtown for our first sessions on day three. We moved quickly, riding down brick sidewalks, bomb-dropping in the government center, firecrackering the stairs of swanky hotels, hitting handrails at the court house, getting some wallies in the park, and finishing with a few more bomb drops in the financial district.

The snowstorm had left the city streets unusually bare in the financial district, which allowed Jonas to jump off this ledge.

Day four Chris walked us a few blocks to a school where multiple features were found. In one corner there was a flat rail and a gap over a rail to some stairs. Will rode powder in the playground while Jonas and Brendan sessioned a few small rails and jumps with some locals.

The fifth day we spent on our own, riding the bus and then walking to Beacon Hill where we found a classic Boston kink and a buried triple kink. Brendan boardslid both kink rails and Will 50-50’d the big kink with a broken heel strap on his front binding.

Traveling light meant no shovels, which meant no digging, which meant more time for fun. Brendan Gerard boardslide.

Day six was spent a few blocks past the park at an abandoned building where Brendan aired off a cliff, followed by Jonas and Will having a small session on a tree jib.

The final day, day seven, we walked a lot, ending up right by the mosque on 100 Malcolm X Boulevard. Across from the mosque there was a flat barrel closeout rail with a drop off the end. Jonas nospressed, Brendan boardslid and Will got a front board on the rail while the Adhan and Igama rung out from the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. After we were done, we spotted the Holy Grail feature of the trip. A car ollie! Will got to session the car alone because Brendan and Jonas’ boards were thrashed and couldn’t generate enough speed. After a few tries we got the shot we were looking for and left before anyone noticed us snowboarding on their car.

As we were leaving this spot we noticed the diver side window of the car had been smashed out and the inside had been ransacked.

Ender

It might have been one of the hardest trips at the start, but in the end, this was hands-down the best journey of our lives. Running through the streets with our snowboards in hand, no plan of where we were going, brought us back to being 15 and cruising around the towns we grew up in with our skateboards and best friends. Riding anything in sight and staying out until sunset might be one of the keys to happiness.

We encourage you to do the same. Grab a group of your best buds, pick a location, and send it. Who knows if it will work out, and who cares? But I bet if you toss yourself to the wind with an open heart and open mind it probably will pan out better then you could ever imagine.