As a recent empty-nester, I’m reinventing my life. My dream is now being put into action! For my my first official adventure in my 1963 Shasta Airflyte travel trailer, I went to visit my son at college. I wasn’t sure how the visit would go since we haven’t been communicating very well for a long time. I intended to go for Family Weekend in September. I made it clear to him I wanted to come, but I expected to be treated more kindly than he had been. After an awkward conversation about this, he said it would probably be better if I didn’t come. My heart broke again. A few weeks later, I asked if I could come later in the Fall, and he agreed! I had no idea how this was going to go, but I wanted to try. My plan was to see him and then head to the desert southwest for the winter. I planned to fly home to see him during the holiday breaks.
Let me jump to the good part – he was a changed person! When I arrived, he greeted me with a big smile and a hug – a REAL hug. This was the kind of hug that shows you love someone – wrapping your arms tightly around and pulling them in – holding them long enough to express your warm feelings. I had not had this kind of hug from him since he became a teenager. I stayed wrapped in his embrace as long as I could. Tears flooded my eyes, and joy filled me. This hug said, “I love you, Mom.” Be still my beating heart! My little boy still loves me (and so does this tall man!). I will remember that hug for the rest of my life.
For those of you who are struggling with having a child leave for college, there is hope. They are embarking on a journey that we can’t control, manage, or supervise, but that’s OK. They need this time to learn to become an adult. Mothers kept telling me to give him space, and he would eventually appreciate home and the love he will always find here. I agonized that this would never happen.
We spent some time together over three days. I was astonished to see a man that was confident, composed, calm, anxiety-free, friendly, and willing to share his life. My heart feels full as I dare to think I did something right. His manner never wavered during my visit, even though we got lost in the city, stuck in traffic, tried to unload his things I brought (computer and bicycle) in the driving rain, and even when I had a meltdown at the mall when my energy ran out and my pain was too fierce to go on. He was patient and kind with no trace of the attitude of the kid I dropped off in August. I was so happy to see him so thoughtful and mature. My heart burst knowing he was adjusting well and thriving.
This trip, however, was much harder than I anticipated. I planned the trip to be a week. It took me two, and I came home a mess. This was my trial run, so I knew it would be a challenge and a learning experience. My mother talked me into leaving my dog, Happy, with her as she thought it would be difficult enough without having to worry about him. I reluctantly agreed, so Happy did not trail along. I was sad about that, and I felt like I was cheating or something because this is, of course, my adventures with HappyTrailsAlong! Turns out, she was right. I had enough trouble taking care of myself.
I planned to leave on Tuesday, then it turned to Wednesday, then Thursday, and I eventually left on Friday. I was going to drive 6 hours the first day, and then about 2 hours the second. I don’t know why I thought I could drive that long by myself!?! I tried doing a little each day before I left to get ready. On Friday, I was up at 6am to get this party started! I needed to do my regular morning exercise routine (approx. 2 hours), pack the trailer, and hit the road as early as possible.
With my disabilities, I work a little, then rest, work a little, and rest. I keep going, but it takes me longer than most. I had to carry heavy items out to the trailer and make many trips back and forth. My mom helped me as she was able. As the hours went by, I wasn’t near ready to go. I was exhausted. At lunchtime, I realized I wasn’t going to make it before noon. I took a good break and ate at home instead of on the road. My back was killing me. Fatigue was setting in, and my right hip throbbed. I remained persistent. I finally packed the final items – mostly food – because I can’t just stop and eat anywhere with my food allergies. At two o’clock, I was ready to hitch up to my car. I was getting close!
I was very tired at this point; I knew I needed to make different plans for the night; Driving six hours was no longer an option. I changed my plans so that I would be driving just two hours that day, and I would stay at a hotel.
I have had some practice with the hitch. I like to do it myself because it gives me an opportunity to improve and remember all of the steps. That day, I made just about every mistake I could trying to get the trailer hooked up. I backed the car up just to realize the lock was still on the trailer hitch. Pulled forward. Got out. Corrected the problem. Then, I kept turning the handle for the stabilizer in the wrong direction. I didn’t get it high enough the first time and bumped my car into the trailer when I backed up instead of aligning it properly. Then, I spent 15 minutes trying over and over to position my car correctly to the trailer hitch. Pulled forward. Got out. Corrected the problem. I finally got it aligned only to have trouble adjusting the height again on the stabilizer. Pulled forward. Got out. Corrected the problem. My mom and Happy thought this was about to be the moment to say goodbye, and they waited watching me patiently. Each time I made a mistake, I had to get in and out of the car to adjust it. I’d have to bend over and check if I had done it right, and start over again when it was off. After an hour of this nonsense, I was done. I went in the house to take a break. I had never had this much trouble! Even though I hadn’t gone camping, I had to hitch and unhitch every time I took it in for repairs or got it in and out of storage to work on it at home. I had practice doing this a dozen times by now. My frustration and anxiety and pain were through the roof. My mom didn’t know how to help, as much as she wanted to.
When I was rested, I went out to try to hitch up again. This time, only two tries! I attached the chains and sway bar, and I was ready. I thought I’d be fine when I got to sit down and drive. My drive would have been 2 hours, but it was rush hour – on a Friday. And I still needed to fill up the tank. I was determined to do this, so I hit the road on my first solo adventure.
The next morning, I got a fairly early start to the day. Thunderstorms were expected. As I got on the road, the storms started, and I was paralyzed in fear. The rain was driving down, and there was poor visibility. I clenched the wheel trying to keep in my lane and staying at a slower speed. Tears started coming from the anxiety and stress.
I needed to do something. I needed to call someone who could talk me down; Someone with experience pulling a trailer; and a friend who knows me well. My friend Vickie fit the bill. Fortunately, she picked up, and she was wonderful. Even though she was busy with her kids, she took the time to explain the criteria for pulling over if it was too bad, talked about appropriate speed in the rain, and assured me that I could do this. I felt better. She also encouraged me to stay somewhere for the night and not to push it.
After I got off the phone (hands-free, mind you), I put on my audio playlist called “Road Trip”. I’ve been working on this for a year. As I dreamed about this adventure, I would find songs about traveling and being on the road and add them to my list. I have almost 4 hours of music on just that one playlist on my phone. I listened and tried to get strength from all of the daydreaming I had done while compiling and listening to these songs for inspiration. I was doing it! I gave myself a pep talk about how I was living my dream, and I knew there would be days like this. I felt a little more confident, but the rain wasn’t letting up.
I fully enjoyed the actual camping. The people at the campground were very helpful. I had trouble getting the trailer parked and hooked up, and several people came to help. There were people of all kinds and rigs of all sizes. One of the people that helped me with the electricity ambled over in overalls (with no shirt, pant legs rolled up unevenly, and one shoulder strap hanging loose), barefoot, and a toothpick in his mouth. It was Jethro reincarnated (I kid you not)! He was as sweet and friendly as he could be, but he explained in his southern drawl that he didn’t quite know how it worked. I ran into him later and thanked him for trying. We tried to have a conversation while he was out with his dog. The entire time, his 80 lb. pit bull barked and lunged at me. It almost got to me at one point. Terrified, I retreated to my trailer. I wasn’t thrilled with the local wildlife. I only talked to them when there was no sign of that dog. Yikes!
My neighbors had a half a million dollar Class A Motorhome and pulled a Jeep behind them as they traveled (when you pull a car, it’s called a “toad”). I can’t even imagine having something that large. They were kind enough to invite me to sit around the fire one chilly evening. We chatted about travel, our children, and being self-employed. At one point, they brought up a couple they knew. I repeated the names with astonishment. I didn’t know the woman, but I went to college with her husband! He’s a good friend on Facebook! This has always happened to me and my family. My parents ran into friends in St Petersburg, Russia many years ago! I loved that all different kinds of people coexisted at the campground with a very friendly spirit – all enjoying the great outdoors.
My trip home brought more challenges. After taking 8 hours to pack up at the campground, I was only able to drive 2 hours out of town. I stopped at a hotel to rest for the night. The next morning, I had so much pain I couldn’t walk. I stayed three nights before I could get my back and hip pain settled down well enough to drive. Two days later I made it home.
I’m not able to travel west like I’d hoped. I’m reevaluating my plans and trying to figure out my next step. Have I dreamed the impossible dream? For now, I will rest at home, get treatment, and feel a heart full of love for my son. I’ll be here ready and waiting to welcome him home for the holidays. My sweet boy has grown up, and he still loves his mom. In this respect, it was the best trip of my entire life.