Getting On The Road

As we reach mid-April and the weather warms, one thought occupies my mind constantly: getting on the road. Rob and I loved to travel, and when he began working from home four years ago we committed to increasing the amount of time we were on the road. Over the following summers we logged almost 30,000 miles in our travel trailer, camping all across the country. Last summer, after Rob died, I drove our camper the last 1,000 miles home, committing to the kids and to myself that this wouldn’t be our last time on the road.

When I arrived back in Massachusetts after Rob’s funeral services in Washington, I dropped off my camper at a local mechanic to get the hot water heater fixed. We’d taken cold showers all summer because Rob couldn’t figure out how to fix the heating element and anode. As it turned out, the whole system needed to be flushed and fixed by a pro. (Rob would have been relieved to hear that!)

The day I arrived to pick up the camper, I decided to tell Dan the mechanic my situation. I explained that my husband had died recently, that we were a road warrior family, that I needed to learn to do this by myself. Would he teach me? With that understated kindness that defines New Englanders beneath their gruff exterior, he agreed and ushered me out back for a lesson on trailer maintenance.

I pulled my truck around to hitch up and grabbed my journal from the front seat. I was going to need to take notes. Over the next forty-five minutes, with my kids sitting in the audience in the backseat, my new friend Dan taught me how to de-winterize my camper and check the water heater to head off the previous year’s problems. He climbed into the driver’s seat and showed me how to calibrate my trailer’s brakes, a tricky job that had frustrated even my coolheaded husband. 

I wrote furiously, stopping every so often to read him what I’d written and confirm I’d gotten his directions right. I asked every possible question I could think of. When all my questions were exhausted, Dan gave me his card and told me to call any time. He loved camping with his wife up in Maine, he said. “You can do it,” he assured me. 

Right now I’m devouring David Gessner’s All The Wild That Remains, a beautiful book about the American West and two of Rob’s and my favorite writers, Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey. As Gessner describes his road trip across the west, I close my eyes and remember. I can see the exits he describes off I-70 in Utah. Every mile of that road is familiar to me. I know the way the front range rises from Boulder, Colorado, toward the heights of the Rockies. I’ve camped in the shadow of those mountains. Every page makes me want to hit the road.

This summer, Lord willing and COVID-19 permitting, I’ll hit the road again with my four kids and our family dog. It will be the first time I’ve ever driven so far on my own, but the highways across America are familiar friends. The West feels like home. I know Rob would be happy to see me climb behind the wheel and take off. Even though the front seat will be empty beside me, I’ll sense his wander-loving presence there. And if I start to lose my nerve, I’ll remember my friend, Dan, who taught me to do this by myself. I’ll catch my reflection in the rear view mirror and channel his confidence. “You can do it,” I’ll tell myself, and I’ll keep on driving.

Published by Clarissa Moll

Discovering grace in grief

13 thoughts on “Getting On The Road

  1. Show your children all the lovely sights you previously explored with their father. It will mean a lot to them in the years ahead.

  2. This spring I thought I would be on the road in our van healing myself through travel of the grief of my young son and elderly Mum. But here we are in the UK sat at home and still due to Covid19.
    Our day will come and we will write of our wanderings x inspired post thanks x

    1. Yes. You’re right. Everything in its own good time. We’re still under stay-at-home orders here, and I am holding my travel plans loosely. If not this summer, there will be another time, God willing.

  3. Love this! My husband who had a stroke in December, keeps talking about how he wants to get a truck and trailer and continue to camp with me and the kids and grandkids. This makes me so nervous because as it looks now, I will be the one driving and that terrifies me yet as I read your piece, I was calmed and thought – I can try this – I can at least try this. He will be wheelchair bound and we are an active family – I am nervous and still praying for a miracle. He is still in quarantine at a rehabilitation facility working hard for movement of his left side. Thank you for the “You can do this” attitude! I think about you and your family during this crisis and lift you up in prayer.

    1. Thank you, Jacqueline! I’m sure you’re experiencing the same things I am — reassessing what you can do on your own, shifting your expectations for what you can handle, grieving the things you need to let go of. That’s a big enough job on its own, isn’t it!? If camping together is something you really want to do, just start super small. Camping in your driveway in your trailer or backyard in your tent counts! Build your confidence in teeny tiny steps, and be open to charting your own course — making camping work for your new lifestyle. There are no rules, no expectations and no timeline. You can call “uncle” when it’s too much, and still feel a great sense of accomplishment for trying. And if you try it and discover you don’t want to do it anymore, you’ve learned something too! Whatever you face, you CAN do it!

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