Wedtrip 2016: How Chuck, Bucky & Ron Kept Me Moving

‘Out battered suitcases were piled high on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.’ -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Topping off at 6300 miles round-trip, this year’s ‘Wedding Roadtrip’ was by far mine and the General’s most extensive excursion yet.

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Inside the General–probably the most common setting for my snapchats

I was so thankful when I heard the three weddings I wanted to go to this summer all happened to be in an eight-day span–I did not have to consider choosing.

 

midwest15Seeing college buddies again after a year of separation brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Thank you to all the happy couples for gathering everyone together again! I also stayed with friends en route–Matt and Maddy in Portland, The Sean Berry outside Denver, Mitch during one of my four treks across the state of Nebraska. In St. Louis I had three days ‘off’ from driving, and stayed with Emily & Tommy, experiencing St. Louis and relaxing by the pool. I also explored St. Charles with college friend Brittany and Arizona-childhood friend Kristen, the latter of whom moved to St. Louis and strangely enough met Brittany at their mutual church.

midwest12I could not even begin to list all the beautiful people with whom I reconnected at the weddings and during Seward NE’s famous Fourth of July celebration. I love making friends wherever I go, but relaxing in the presence of dozens of people you love and who love you back brings a peace beyond words. We reminisced old memories, made new ones, listened to a lot of country music, shared a few drinks, talked about tractors, and danced the night away. Country people and their gracious communities will always captivate me.

midwest7The mechanical issues on this trip were a bit disheartening, but each situation was better manageable. I left Seattle almost directly from the shop after replacing a severely frayed throttle cable. After 2000 miles, only 100 miles short of my first destination, the bearings in my A/C compressor locked up and snapped the fan belt while I was on the highway at 9 p.m. on a Friday. (Nothing ever breaks during normal business hours, does it?) I tearfully called Dad in Montana and he immediately had a tow truck take me to a mechanic who was open late, and I drove away two hours later. In addition, I knew plenty of people in Omaha NE, and the Doerrs opened their home to me, complete with air mattress, until I could finish the final stretch the following morning. On the return trip I ran out of oil in Kimberly ID at 10 p.m., but a helpful country boy and his sister added oil to the thirsty General, directed me to my campground, and gave me the name and address of a mechanic who opened early the next morning for a proper oil change.

midwest5In regards to timing, I broke down in all the ‘right’ places and without major readjustments to my schedule. The bigger damage was, of course, to my wallet. I had budgeted generously for the trip and even portioned out a few bucks for a tune-up at Chuck’s Auto Repair before the trip, but did not think I would have two more trips to–you guessed it–Bucky’s Express and Ron’s American Car Care Center before returning to Seattle.

midwest3Financially there was one major thing that kept me from complete disaster: an app called Roadie. Roadie, the self-termed ‘On-the-Way Delivery Network,’ allowed me to compare my route with people who needed stuff hauled across the country. Kevin C. wanted his motorcycle hauled from Portland OR to Millcreek UT, and I happened to be going that way. By using the app to contact Kevin, I met his brother outside Portland, who loaded Kevin’s bike into the bed of my pickup, securing it themselves with their own equipment.

I was off! I drove 13 hours with what felt like half the gold of Fort Knox in the bed of my pickup. ‘You’re paying for this trip,’ I whispered continually to the red machine in my rearview mirror. ‘Please don’t get stolen. Please don’t bounce out. Please don’t break.’ I even slowed down around mountainous corners and did not drive more than four miles per hour over the speed limit (vast improvement, for those of you who are unaware of my safe yet cop-infested driving record).

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Castle Rock NE–I also spent time in Castle Rock CO on this trip

Since I was pulling into Millcreek late, Kevin and his wife Katie offered to swap me a night on their couch for two six-packs of Oregonian beer. Another trade in the books, and I not only saved on money for lodging, but got paid enough cash to cover my gas money from Seattle to Omaha! Thanks to Roadie, and Kevin, I was able to finish my roadtrip only $25 over my original budget, which includes expenses paid to Chuck, Bucky and Ron. My diet for the past couple weeks has consisted mostly of rice and Top Ramen-esque meals, and the General’s A/C is permanently condemned–but this trip was worth every penny for the sake of mental clarity and emotional fulfillment.

 

Joining a national gym (24-Hour Fitness) last December turned out to be one of my better ideas in regards to travel plans, because I was able to lift in Denver and Portland to supplement my running and burn off some extra drive energy. I ran around three lakes, in Storm Lake IA, one outside St. Louis, and one outside Lincoln NE. Regarding diet, this was also my healthiest trip yet: I only ate out twice, and bought everything else at grocery stores to pre-make meals in St. Louis, the halfway point.

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St. Louis: penguins, pool time, and a museum exhibit that possibly inspired a future roadtrip…

This year I only spent one night in a campground (sorry Mom) (she hates when I do that) (but it’s cheap and I love falling asleep under the stars while surrounded by the comforting sides of the General’s truck bed) (sorry Mom), as opposed to the four nights last year on a shorter roadtrip. I was also travelling through areas where I knew more people, and to my benefit (?) my friends have spread out more, allowing me to see more people on a given route rather than only at a destination.

 

There was a moment, while crossing the desert north of Moab UT at 84 mph, that I thought, ‘Even if my truck is disintegrating around me, perhaps I can make it just a little closer to home before the inevitable happens,’ and I laughed a maniacal laugh. My windows were rolled down and half my current driving outfit was lying on the passenger seat while I tried in vain to beat the heat, and my left arm became more sunburned with each passing minute, and my hair was tangled and my face was grimy. I was high on hugs and love from all the people I had seen in the previous two weeks, and I laughed. I was rocketing through hundreds of miles of burning sand on a tiny strip of pavement inside an inanimate machine which was the closet thing to a best friend an inanimate machine has ever been to me, and currently my only friend for as far as the eye could see, and I laughed. For a time I did not know if I would have enough money for fuel to get home to Seattle, but I just kept laughing, because my mind was at peace and there was still road ahead of me, so why not laugh?

‘But no matter, the road is life.’

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Haiti Mission 2015 — #avoidingCarla

Every journey, honestly undertaken, stands a chance of taking us toward the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. -Parker Palmer

Riding to a clinic in the back of a pickup

The school bus was our main form of transportation

It started out as #avoidingcholera and somehow ended up #avoidingCarla as such things do, so we named it the unofficial motto of our trip. Thankfully, we never found Carla…and she never found us.

Haiti was an experience like none other thus far, a whirlwind of culture and language and clinics and beautiful views and mentally avoiding the heat by dreaming of our next swim.

We held medical clinics five of the days, and we were able to see hundreds of people. It was such a beautiful thing to be able to care for people in this way. Since I’m not pre-med like many of the students on the team, I took my usual scribal position, recording vitals and symptoms. We worked for three days at the school, one day at the church, and one day in a small town outside Thomassique.

More of the team riding in the pickup

In scrubs at the home base, gearing up for a clinic

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Some of our 22 checked bags, leaving from the Omaha airport

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A gathering storm

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Watching a volleyball tournament

We improved the clinic each day, learning more about one another on the team and how we could work more efficiently together. We had two doctors, one from Nebraska, and another from Thomassique. One of our nurses was also from Haiti. We had a team meeting afterwards to discuss what we could improve in the future: more of some medications and less of others, hopefully more doctors, and better planning of our days so that we can fit the entire clinic into a single week. This is the first time this team has added the medical side to the mission, so much of it was trial-and-error, but we learned a lot from our experiences.

Volleyball afternoon tournament

We also helped out with a high school-age volleyball camp, mostly in the mornings when the kids were practicing and working on drills. Personally, my volleyball skills were a little rusty, but I got better with practice, just as the kids did. The coach, Fritz, proudly showed us all of the awards his kids have won in the past five years since his volleyball camp started—including a number of national titles! We had two afternoon tournaments, Americans vs. Haitians, by Fritz’s request, which were quite competitive.

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Campfire one night where we made s’mores for our Haitian hosts

The volleyball camp was an important part of the relational building and cultural learning that Josias, our team leader on the Haitian side, stressed as a part of our trip. He was aware of the dangers of being a one-time fix-it crew, coming in and leaving without building trust in the community, so he involved us in the community as much as possible, such as inviting dozens of his family members over for supper and games one evening. Another night, they taught us Haitian dances, and of course we ate Haitian food every day, which was often an experience in itself. Except for goat tongue and intestine, I think I tried everything I was offered.

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Riding the bus with new friends

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Home base

One of the downsides of the trip was that our team burned itself out the first week. By the second week, many of us were sick or injured in one way or another. The heat increased from the first week to the second, which zapped our energy even further. One of our goals for next time is not to push ourselves so hard at the beginning of the trip.

haiti14However, our Haitian hosts gave us a couple days to rest and recuperate at a waterfall and at a spring where we could swim. Everything we did brought us closer together: with each other as Concordians but also with our hosts with whom we spent each day.

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Elisha is excited to begin the trip!

haiti2This trip was a lesson for our team of living out Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We were living on what we called “Haitian time,” when things happen when they happen, often is not how we foresaw it. But God works through everything, often making “better” from what we might have considered a “missed opportunity”—even from our first few moments in Haiti, when we discovered that all 23 checked bags, carrying medical supplies, volleyball supplies, and our team’s personal items, had been left in Miami and would not arrive until over 24 hours later. This situation “forced” us to get a good night’s rest in Port-au-Prince instead of taking the four-hour bus ride through the mountains, preventing an even earlier burnout, among other blessings.

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My home for two weeks–but we moved under the shelter when the heavy rains hit

Taking a trip to Haiti is expensive, which I learned during fundraising in the months prior to the trip but did not realize the purpose until I arrived in-country. Our team lived on a plot of land about three miles outside Thomassique. This was a huge blessing: we were able to sleep in tents, which helped keep us cool, and we had about 15 acres or so inside a cement wall where we could exercise and go for walks, or just separate ourselves from the group to have some time alone in the Word. However this required the use of the school bus to take us everywhere, which used fuel. It also required extra team members for upkeep of the land, as well as living expenses not only for our team, but also for our cook and her family, our bodyguard and his boss, our translators, and more bottled water than I ever thought could be consumed in the span of two weeks.

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Selfies with kids holding on to our bus on the way home from school

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My Haitian pen pal, Anide, who lived about five hours from Thomassique

At the end of the trip Josias shared with us the plans for the future of the Lutheran church and school in Thomassique. This project has been going on far longer than the time I have been involved, and with the help of a developing bridge between Seward NE and Thomassique, the plans for the future are bigger than ever. These plans include expanding the school, purchasing a second school bus so the 350+ kids have a safe way to commute sometimes several miles to the school, and more medical clinics for future trips, of which I hope I am a part, Lord willing.

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Medical clinic day

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Caves near the waterfall

For me personally, this trip was an incredible exercise in trusting God hour by hour. I can see now how He has been preparing me throughout this year so far in my other travels. He was also teaching us about the necessity of prayer and the importance of being joyful. I plan to go back someday, but I will have to wait and see where the Lord guides my steps.haiti1

My Grand Gypsy Experiment

‘Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.’ -George Eliot

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Ole Miss, Oxford MS

14 days. 13 cities. 8 states. 2400 miles. One giant travel-induced adrenaline high.

wedtrip10I saw two friends get married, spent several days with friends here and there and everywhere, slept in the back of my truck when I couldn’t crash on someone’s couch, and met new friends every day. I saw parts of the country I have never seen before: the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas, the reservoir outside Jackson, Mississippi, the riverfront murals in Vicksburg.

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Riverfront murals, Vicksburg MS

I called this crazy, incredible, whirlwind trip my ‘gypsy experiment’ because one of my dreams is to find a way to make travel sustainable. I know it’s possible (as shown by pioneers such as The Professional Hobo, and also by my own dear Bridget Ervin), but I also know that everyone has to find their own way in the world of full-time travel.

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Hiking in the Trail of Tears state park with Tori & Sarah, Cape Girardeau MO

The purpose of this trip, besides spending time with many wonderful people, was to test myself to see if I actually could travel cheaply, but still get the full experience of travelling that I have enjoyed in the past. Oftentimes, I feel I got more.

Now all I have to do (ha) is find a source of income (more on that in future posts) to balance my (hopefully minimal) cash flow out, and boom. Full-time travel.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

But this summer is the period of experimentation. Travel opportunities/necessities are keeping me from holding a ‘normal’ full-time job, so I’m making do here and there, mostly working online and the occasional yard work and weeding, a delightful rest between trips.

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Kettler Wedding, Clinton MS

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Reynolds Wedding, Norman OK

A quick overview: Seward NE –> St. Peters MO –> St. Louis MO –> Uniontown MO –> Cape Girardeau MO –> Memphis TN –> Oxford MS –> Jackson MS –> Clinton MS –> Vicksburg MS –> Little Rock AR –> Tulsa OK –> Norman OK –> Seward NE.

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View of the Mississippi during our hike, Cape Girardeau MO

If you’re counting states and not coming up with eight: I spent quite some time driving in Louisiana and Kansas, though I never stayed the night in either (but have in the past). Sometimes I covered more than one city in a day, so I wasn’t in a different location every night (though I was close).

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Bass Pro Shops pyramid, Memphis TN

The trip as a whole was unforgettable: call me crazy, but I love driving for hours on the open road, calling friends if I want to, or just boppin along to some good tunes. For the purpose of this post, however, there were some moments were notable in themselves: sitting for an hour in a tree after the Kettler wedding in Clinton, feeling the breeze and watching the clouds roll by and not having a care in the world.

The moments when I’m not doing anything are the moments that tie everything else together.

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Sun Records, Memphis TN

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Elvis impersonator at the Rock ‘n Roll Café, Memphis TN

In Memphis I stayed in a campground directly across from Graceland, and fell asleep in the back of my pickup listening to ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ and singing along softly until I fell asleep.

wedtrip20In Jackson I found a small pond on the deserted campus of Belhaven University where I lay down for a while in the sun after church on Sunday. I also had a tailgate picnic Saturday morning overlooking the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir before the wedding and soaked up some rays.

In Vicksburg I awoke early on Memorial Day and ran around the battlefield, even scaling the Confederates’ Fort Hill, the second-highest point between Memphis and New Orleans. It offered a breathtaking view of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.

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Art Museum at Ole Miss

wedtrip14In Oxford I parked my truck, offloaded my bike from the bed, and spent all afternoon riding around the Ole Miss campus and exploring William Faulkner’s hometown.

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View from the Bass Pro Shops pyramid, Memphis TN

To save money, I slept in campgrounds whenever I didn’t have a friend in the area, and bought all the food I thought I would need for two weeks in advance, and kept it all in a box on the passenger seat and in a cooler below.

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The morning after a crazy storm, Little Rock AR

No trip is complete without a few hangups. One of those could have been the rain, but I spent about $25 at Walmart on my way out of Missouri (I planned on camping the next five nights) to pick up a tarp and a set of bungee cords for the bed of my truck. I stayed dry every night = success! I also bought a toothbrush and toothpaste outside St. Louis because I realized after the first night that I had forgotten mine. Oops.

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Vicksburg MS

In Jackson I pulled into the campground at 7pm, only to discover that they closed the gates at 8pm until 8am, and they did not have showers as promised online: and I had a wedding to attend the next day! I panicked for only an hour or two, and while talking to my parents that night, they suggested I find a gym with showers the next morning. Workout + showers = two birds with one stone!

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Vicksburg MS

I wish I could say I spent the whole trip purchasing only the necessities and controlling my excess spending. But I had a few splurges: I got a hotel room the night I stayed out late in Jackson, since the campground closed at 8 and all others were booked. I’m also a sucker for coffee shops: even though I don’t enjoy the taste of coffee, I love the atmosphere of the coffee shop. I noticed they were not as plentiful in the South as the Midwest and Northwest, but I was still able to root out a few to sip chai and use internet.

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William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oaks, in Oxford MS

Anyway, the following night I wanted to see the Jackson nightlife after the wedding, but I was alone. I asked advice from a kind hotel bartender, and she pointed me to some safe spots. My heart was pounding as I said a prayer and entered Underground 119 alone, walked to the far end of the bar, and took the only open seat–which happened to be right next to a journalist from USAToday. He also was experiencing downtown on his last evening in Jackson, so we spent the evening talking travel and journalism, and I picked his brain for advice.

It was one of those moments when you know God is present. So many ‘coincidences’ had occurred all day, so many times I almost made a different decision that would have changed everything that day.

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View from the top of the pyramid. The floor was glass! Memphis TN

Another of those moments occurred when I was setting up camp in the rain in the growing dusk. I had found a headlamp in my truck box on my first night of camping (thanks Dad!), but it wasn’t working, and three out of four nights I camped I was able to set up in the daylight with no rain so I didn’t need it. On the fourth night, however, I did not roll into the campground in Little Rock until after dark, and the rain was less than a half hour away.

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The elevator inside the Bass Pro Shops pyramid is the world’s tallest free-standing elevator. Or course I went up! Memphis TN

I speedily began to set up my bungee-cord-and-tarp contraption in the bed of my truck in the dark, trying to hold my phone in one hand for light. As I opened my truck box, there was the headlamp lying in a corner, already turned on. I lifted a prayer and then strapped it on, beating the storm with literally seconds to spare. It was a small thing, but it certainly meant a lot to me that night!

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Memorial Day concert, Vicksburg MS

I learned a lot during my gypsy experiment: that cold ravioli is as good or better than the hot stuff; that I can set up camp in less than fifteen minutes when a storm is on the horizon; how to live hour-by-hour and accept and flourish in constantly changing plans (or no plans at all); that it’s less expensive to stay at a campground where the owner can’t speak English rather than at a KOA, even if there’s ‘not a square to spare’ of toilet paper; that travel can be cheap and still a lot of fun. I’m not sustainable yet but that’s the goal, and this is a start!

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Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, Jackson MS