The Story of Our Wander
“I want to travel,” Lindsay said from the passenger seat of our beat up Honda Civic as we maneuvered traffic heading south on Interstate 95. It was our once-a-month weekend “off” from the kids and it had been quite a weary month. We made a late decision to get in the car and head south and “splurge” on some beachside “Resort” in a last minute bid on Travelocity.
“Like, a trip once a year? Or for life?” I responded after letting her statement settle in my heart. We were pretty decent at traveling already. We met on a trip in Cuba. We were married that same year on an island off the coast of Honduras. In the few years of our marriage we had traveled parts of the US together – Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Kentucky, New York City. Lindsay had spent 10 days in Costa Rica while I worked to repair the 40-year old sailboat we planned to take to the Caribbean someday. We permitted ourselves to celebrate our first anniversary on a cruise to a half a dozen foreign ports. All things considered, we did a pretty decent job of satisfying our wanderlust.
So in my heart I hoped she would say “for life” because who wouldn’t want their wife to give them permission to plan a life of wandering rather than a life in pursuit of the ever-elusive American Dream.
“For life,” she said. And then she elaborated in one of the few times where she used more words than me in a conversation.
So we set aside that weekend to sort through the answers to questions we allowed ourselves to ask:
- What kind of adventures could we reasonably expect to begin anytime soon?
- How could we afford to make travel our life?
- What impact would Lindsay living with Crohn’s Disease have on our ability to travel?
- Would it be possible to learn to sail our sailboat with enough confidence to “island hop” through the Caribbean as we once dreamed?
It was a pretty intense mental and emotional weekend for the two of us as we wrestled with different scenarios that provided reasonable answers to those questions. We loved our current role as “house parents” in raising the kids in our care and we were not eager to step away from them. But while planning a single trip is relatively easy, planning a life of travel would take some time and we decided that we would let our season of travel come after our season of parenting, whenever that might be.
And then there were the restrictions on life as we knew it:
- I had forfeited my role as partner in a documentary studio and had no income outside of a very modest amount that we received through house parenting.
- We were confined to traveling in increments of no more than 8 weeks due to Lindsay’s treatment schedule for Crohn’s Disease.
- We were still trying to fix issues in the sailboat that would allow us to even take her out for a day sail, let alone a multi-year adventure through the Caribbean.
But on the last morning of our weekend we both came to around the same conclusion as we sat down over breakfast: We could drive the Pan American Highway. It would be close enough that we could reasonably afford to fly Lindsay home every 8 weeks (as opposed to traveling in Australia!), was familiar enough to us having both spent a fair amount of time in Central and South America and, perhaps most importantly, it’s kind of hard to sink a vehicle on a highway!
We took the scenic road up the coastline to get home and passed an old VW van parked on the side of the road. In the rearview mirror I could see a bed and a makeshift kitchen setup, sure signs that the owner of the vehicle also lived out of it. We took that as a sign of confirmation that we would set our path to wander by road instead of water. But all the other details were too early to be determined.
FAST FORWARD A YEAR OR SO…
We had made our decision to purchase a very used Ford F-250 crew cab flatbed with a 7.3L diesel engine. From all of our research, diesel quality south of the US border was going to be questionable and the 7.3L diesel was famous for its ability to run on anything from vegetable oil to leftover vodka. We were also living on a ranch where we were raising the boys among horses and cattle and had many situations where we knew we could use a big truck to help haul things around. We also ended up finding a good deal on a slide in camper that fit so snugly on the flatbed that we only had about one half of an inch on either side of the bed before the camper would not fit!
For the next few months we set to acquainting ourselves with the truck and camper, finding and repairing as many issues as we could find and customizing the truck/camper “rig” since we had a flatbed and could build custom storage beneath the camper. We also started planning possible routes and studying both the logistical complexities of traveling from Alaska to Argentina as well as the physical complexities that would include things like road clearances, necessary safety/comfort items and the fact that neither of us spoke Spanish well enough to feel comfortable navigating the
THEN LINDSAY HIT ME WITH ANOTHER STARTLING QUESTION…
“So, if we’re going to go through 13 or 14 states on our way to Alaska why don’t we just go ahead and see all 50 states?” Lindsay again caught me off guard. But the thought was exhilarating and I did not waste one minute in my response.
“Sounds like a great adventure! But what do we do for people along the way?”
Lindsay thought for a moment and offered that we could volunteer for at least a day in each state. That way we were doing more than just passing through and snapping a photo at the state line. Of course in our research we found that there had been others with this same idea. There’s little, if anything, unique anymore. But that didn’t discourage us. This was our trip – it would turn out spectacular for us however it went. And whether anyone took notice of us or not, we could look back on the people we helped along the way, in whatever way we could help them, and we could feel pride in what we accomplished.
I started looking through an old atlas I had and envisioned all of the beautiful places that we would see along the way. I knew that we could spend our entire lifetime just exploring all 50 states. But we had the wanderlust bad and already had visions of Patagonia pushing us forward. So we played around with a route that could take anywhere between 8-9 months and give us enough time to stop in many of the National Parks and other places on our generic bucket lists but also to invest as much time in people along the way.
THAT ROUTE WOULD COVER OVER 30,000 MILES…
It would also take us across the US 4 or possibly 5 times as we dodged cold weather and tried to hit some key places before the crowds picked up. It would take us through upwards of 40-45 of the 59 US National Parks and provide us reasonable breaks in major cities every 8 weeks where Lindsay could hop on a plane and fly home for her treatment.