3: A Road Trip to Find Me

3: A Road Trip to Find Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

A Road Trip to Find Me

As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are.

~Author Unknown

I check my rearview mirror to see what I’m leaving behind. Oh yeah — can’t see anything but the camper. It blocks the rear window plus some. The camper is going to be my home for the next two months. “Look ahead,” I remind myself. “The adventure is before you.”

My passenger seat holds what will be my companion for the trip: an old milk crate filled with maps, guidebooks and the book that started this journey, The Milepost. It’s a mile-by-mile guide along the Trans-Canada Highway into Alaska, my final destination. I’ve planned a solo 16,000-mile round trip from my home in St. Petersburg, Florida, across to California, north to Alaska, then back home through Chicago and Toronto where I’ll visit family. My compact truck camper is the most efficient RV for the torturous roads over the far northern permafrost.

•  •  •

My husband and I loved to wander through the aisles of the RV show every January in Tampa. It’s advertised as one of America’s biggest. We already have a ten-year-old camper. It’s small, but sufficient for two and comfortable for one. We thought we’d find a deal on a new camper or at least some travel knickknacks we couldn’t live without. Representatives from state visitors’ bureaus filled rows of kiosks offering pamphlets and candies to entice RVers into their states.

I picked up brochures for Alaska, a dream destination. Maps, campgrounds and visitor guide leaflets filled my increasingly heavy bag. Maybe someday. Alaska was too far away and would mean too much time off work. Besides, gas was too expensive.

Further along the aisle, someone was selling last year’s The Milepost for ten dollars. The current year’s book, also for sale, was thirty-five dollars. It’s considered the bible for anyone planning a road trip on the Alcan, the Alaska-Canada Highway. The guidebook includes where there’s gas or a pull-off, where to watch for bears, and where to get the world’s best or biggest cinnamon bun.

I was not ready to spend money on a trip I might never take… but it was a dream that wouldn’t let go. I heard my mother’s voice in my head. Before dying too young, she stressed the urgency of following your dreams while you could. Things happen to stop you if you let them. When you’re at the end of your life, you don’t want to look back at opportunities lost.

Several months earlier, we had to buy a new pickup when the old one died. Mechanically, this would be a perfect time to make a long trip. If I waited, I’d just end up with another old truck and wouldn’t feel safe making the journey alone. My husband couldn’t take that much time off work to join me, and I didn’t want to rush this journey. There would be too much to see along the way. Anyway, it was my dream, not his. He’d rather travel to warm climates and big cities, not long barren stretches. Truth is, I would prefer to travel alone.

Looking back over my shoulder down the aisle, the salesman stood behind a diminishing pile of The Milepost books. It’s only ten dollars, I told myself. I went back to the book vendor, feeling detached from my hand as it passed a ten-dollar bill and took the offered book. I was already categorizing the next steps to planning the trip, my chest tight as I contemplated what I was about to do. Only four months to plan if I was to be on the road by the end of spring. With my mother’s memory in my heart, I affirmed: “I WILL DO THIS.”

Preparing the truck and camper was first. The new truck needed some modifications: a step and an openable rear window for camper access. Having it all to myself made packing in the limited space easy. Organizing work so I could do most of it online was a little more difficult. I work with my husband and both he and my employees were supportive (although his friends wondered why he was “letting” me go).

I went through the motions and made a to-do list with due-by dates alongside each task. I made lists of necessary provisions: cans of soup, tuna and corn, rice, crackers and peanut butter. I looked up the average high and low temperatures in Anchorage and Fairbanks. With expected lows in the thirties, I’d need clothes for cold nights as well as for warm weather while traveling through the south. I surveyed my closet for my most versatile items.

The planning seemed disconnected, as if I was organizing a summer camp trip for my son, but the stationery and stamps I added to my list were not for him to send letters home to Grandma and Grandpa. They were for me to mail communications or payments for office expenses while on the road. I still hadn’t accepted the trip as one I was going on.

When I told friends I was driving to Alaska alone, I got strange reactions. One wondered if I was going to meet an old lover. “No one,” she said, “goes on a long trip like this alone.” Another offered to keep me company, at least to California where her son lives. It was hard to tell them I wanted to be alone. I like my own company.

I was tired of diluting myself; part of me caring for my elderly widowed father, part of me stressing about my twenty-plus son who still stayed out all night and slept all day, and the biggest part of me, living, breathing and working with my controlling husband.

•  •  •

I need air. I need to see if there’s any me left in me. I look forward to the freedom of planning my own day, stop or go as I choose, eat or not as I want. To linger at a stream or zoom through a city at my leisure. To set my own pace.

Heading out of town, as the camper merges onto the highway, realization strikes me. I shout to the road in front of me. “Woohoo! I’m going to Alaska.”

~Sheila Wasserman

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