Do not trouble your hearts overmuch with thought of the road tonight. Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them. (From Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings)
It’s Thursday afternoon as I write this, and it’s quiet and it’s hot. A few flies buzz around the door where the sun reaches in and scorches the bus’s black leather passenger seat. Maile and the kids fled to a small lakeside beach not far from where we are parked. Through the vents I can hear the A/C rush and roar but it cannot catch up.
The bus is messy, as it usually is at this time in the afternoon. An empty cereal box stands at leaning attention. A sippy cup, a styrofoam cup, a random shoe, a plastic deer, and a John Deere tractor clutter the floor under the table. The couch I’m sitting on holds a box of Legos, two of the kids’ backpacks, Maile’s purse, and a pile of homeschooling folders.
But soon it will all be over. By Saturday night we hope to have this bus parked in my parents’ driveway, and by Monday it will be cleaned out. We will probably never spend a night in it again. How strange.
Two weeks ago we were parked in a beautiful campground in South Dakota, wearing sweaters and coats. One month ago, Salinas, California, and we hadn’t yet lost our brakes. Five or six weeks ago, we were in windy Amarillo, a visit that seems to have taken place years in the past. Tulsa, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Sarasota, Gainesville, Orlando, Charlotte, Bremo Bluff – all seem like settings in a book I read, long ago.
Four months ago (or one week before we left on our trip), I could not have begun to envision the amazing people we were about to meet in person, or the awesomeness of the landscape, or the heart-in-mouth moments of stress, anger and fear. We’ve experienced things I never could have imagined.
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This is an adventure: setting out to do something that doesn’t make sense, something for which you are not completely equipped, something that takes you into a place fraught with danger or uncertainty. This is true of changing professions or moving or writing a book. It is true of saying hello to a stranger or giving away money for which you had a very good use. There are many ways to embark on an adventure, and very few of them involve a big blue bus named Willie.
Also, this about adventures: there are many terrible things that can happen along the way, and many terrible things that WILL happen along the way, but the worst thing that could possibly happen is that you return unchanged.
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We return from our adventure with very little to show for it – at least in a material sense. We have a good deal less money, not much work lined up, and for at least a few weeks we will be living with our parents. Again. By most measures used by this world, taking this trip was a mistake, and it has left us worse off than when we began.
Thankfully, there are other means with which to measure a life. Ones less arbitrary than the numbers on a bank statement.
I know my wife better than I did before. I now understand why she wanted to take the trip, something I didn’t know before we left. I have a better understanding of what she needs from me, and I understand (at least a little more) how I can provide her with that. I now see that she does put her right hand up over her chest while she reads something that moves her.
I’ve learned how much my children need me to be present for them. What a soft heart Cade has. Lucy’s yearning for affection. Abra’s enjoyment of a messy, crazy, moving life. How, when Sam watches the landscape go by, it tames his savage side. His “Red Rackham” side.
I’ve changed, too, but in less tangible ways, ways that I have trouble articulating. At least right now. Give me a few days. I’ll let you know.
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It has been quite an adventure. I wish you knew how much I appreciated the fact that you took the time to join us, to read our posts, to comment, to encourage. The countless emails that I received from people who were inspired by our trip in turn inspired us to keep going. We didn’t always want to keep going. But we did.
So for now I say good-bye from the road. The next time we meet, I’ll be in my parent’s basement again. Full circle. Looking for writing work. Going to visit grandma. Taking my aunt for her chemo treatments, if she’ll have me. That’s another thing I’ve learned on this trip: I can have little adventures every day, if I’ll just get outside of myself for a minute.
In the words of JRR Tolkien, who penned perhaps the greatest adventure story ever written:
Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.
Take an adventure. I can see it in your eyes. You could use one.
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Photograph used with permission. Copyright Michelle Walls.