My Quest to Give Hugs and High-5s Across the Country

Hi Everyone!

Swedish Flight attendants in Chicago

Swedish Flight attendants in Chicago

Since the tragedy of September 11th took the life of a dear friend, I have bicycled around the world offering hugs and high-5s to people in need of care and uplifting. Pedaling across Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America have been special journeys to say the least. They have had me embracing thousands upon thousands of people around the world but, thanks to Advantage Rental Car, I was able to continue my journey of goodwill in a very different way. In the summer of 2017, I took a 77-day drive throughout the continental 48 United States.

Whether bicycling or driving, going across a country is always a cool trek was the hugs, high-5s and smiles I received/gave that morphed this mere trip into the experience of a lifetime. That’s right, I said it: The Experience of a Lifetime!

How else would you describe a summer trip where you received positive interactions from almost 14,000 people - and you aren’t a movie star, musician, a part of a reality show, or a social media sensation??

Nope, I am none of those.

Who is “Big Dave?”

I am just a regular, old dude who hugged all types of people from newborns to 96-year-olds - from sworn bachelors to brides that were minutes from getting married - no joke  - from nomadic hitchhikers to US Senators and every type of person in between.

I high-5’d some people in two different cities, two people in 3 different states, and even hugged one person in 4 states…at the same time. Go ahead and figure out that riddle!

I have interacted with people from 57 countries, you can see full list below. This means I heard, “When are you coming to my country,” 57 times in a ton of different accents.

I hugged hip-hop legend KRS-1, rock god Michael Anthony of Van Halen, that dude from the Apple Commercials Justin Long, and Bryan Wilson, The Texas Law Hawk.

And the landmarks...I embraced people at The White House, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, The Sturgis Motorcycle Festival, the Four Corners Monument, The Field of Dreams, The Bridges of Madison County, Wrigley Field, The Oklahoma City Memorial, Dodger Stadium, Grand Teton, Twitter’s HQ, Mount Rainier National Park, Dartmouth, Brown, Ohio State, The Mall of America, 12 state capitals, and more.

I even came within a whisker of ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. 

Me with a D-Day survivor in Doge City, Kansas

Me with a D-Day survivor in Doge City, Kansas

The Start of My 48 State Journey

The seeds for my 48 state journey were planted in January of 2017 when, as a way to give people a good story to read. I came up with the crazy idea of hugging and high-5ing people at the geographic center/heart of the country on Valentine’s Day.

Lebanon, Kansas, pop. 195 is not only the geographic center of the nation but pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state as well. To get there, I had the option of either flying into Kansas City and driving 300 miles west or fly into Denver and drive 350 miles east, I chose to fly into Denver. My time in Lebanon was everything that I hoped it would be; friendly faces, good people, and plenty of open skies. However, out of the 105 people I embraced, one really stuck with me.

As I stood at Ladow’s Market and gave out hugs, high-5s, and good vibes, one man came up to me and said that he read an article about me and drove all the way from Wyoming for me. Knowing that Wyoming was at least 400 miles away because I just drove from Denver, I  looked at the man and incredulously asked, “For what? 

“A hug,” he replied.

“For real???”


We embraced after that exchange but, I kept an eye on this guy as I hugged other people in the market because of the effort this guy put forth. I watched him hug others in the market, watched him smile as he ate and watched him walk up to me again for another hug but what I really did was listen to him when he said: “Keep going, man. This is awesome...I gotta go."

And with that, the man that drove 5+ hours for a simple embrace was gone.

All the way back to Philadelphia, I thought, “Surely there was someone within 400 miles that this dude could have embraced, right?” 

“Maybe not,” I concluded.

With this in mind, I hatched the idea to drive the continental 48 states offering hugs, high-5s, and good vibes to anyone that wanted it. It was a crazy idea, I know, that required a lot of prep time looking at routes, reaching out to the press, and trying to find venues where I could go offer hugs, but I was committed. The world needed something to smile about and with Advantage Rental Car telling me to,  “Just keep doing what you do, Dave, and make people happy,” I worked like a friend at giving people a reason to grin.

This couple just tied the knot in Vegas!

This couple just tied the knot in Vegas!

The Journey Begins

While I’ve put together tours in the past, I never did anything this big. So ,I just went into this with the barest parameters in place. First, I set a start date of June 26th, a route throughout the nation, and an end date of September 11th in NYC! 

Everything else would depend on my personal will to go after as many positive interactions as I could. The tour began in Delaware, the first state, and went through Baltimore, Virginia Beach, Charlotte, Charleston, and into Advantage Rental Car’s HQ in Orlando. With each city, I grew bolder and bolder and found myself going after positive interactions with even more aplomb. 

For starters, I hugged every employee at Advantage.

I walked into a random frat house in New Hampshire.  

I visited Birmingham's 16th street Baptist Church, a Greek Orthodox church in Rhode Island, a southern California synagogue, and Colorado's oldest Mosque. 

I picked up twelve different hitchhikers.

I hugged multiple generations of families at reunions in Mississippi, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma.

I gave a talk at a women’s recovery group in West Virginia.  

I high-5'd people on land, sea and air! Go figure! 

I ambled up to two Motorcycle Clubs in Oregon.

I even ventured into a few establishments with confederate flags hanging outside and engaged people in a conversation, not necessarily to change their mind, but to have a good exchange and open their mind. And yes, I did get hugs and high-5s each time.

I pushed every boundary I possibly could on this tour because we need smiles and good vibes more than ever right now in order to reclaim, revive and reestablish trust in each other.

We need to smile and see others smile right now.

Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa!

Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa!

Why Bother, Do You Say?

We need to connect, I mean, actually connect, and not just give a “thumbs up,” right now.

We need to reach out to hug as well as feel safe within an embrace's warmth right now.

And everyone could use a high-5 right now.

So, look through my Instagram images, @thehumanhigh5,  and when you do, please pay close attention to the smiles.

Pay attention because those grins and good vibes are what made all the difference this summer as well as what makes all the difference in our daily lives.

In closing, I want to thank the 13,986 people that I hugged and high-5’d last summer. Your warmth and encouragement brought me more joy than you realize and your life stories gave me a perspective that will fuel me on to new heights. Blessings to you.

I also want to thank the many people around the world that I didn't embrace on this tour but who stayed in touch with me throughout my journey. You honor me as well as motivate me to see more and be more.

To the four individuals I met on this trip who went on to NYC and took the time to take a picture of my friend Kevin Bowser's name at the 9/11 Memorial. The touch of your gesture is beyond measure. Thank you.

You may be wondering if, after hugging 250,000+ people in 49 states and 36 countries in 17 years, I am done.  

Not at all.

I am planning another trip as we speak, so stay tuned and trust that I will hug you soon:)

Thank you for reading! 

Hugs and High-5s  

Big Dave

David Hale Sylvester1 Comment