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And so it begins! The morning I left Minnesota and the Vet’s Camp, I was pretty frazzled. I was ready to get on the road and begin my long-awaited journey, but after being here for almost four weeks and getting attached to this fine group of people, it was hard to…just…leave. It wasn’t only this place, of course, it was here—Minnesota; my home, my family, and my friends.
I was physically ready, having spent the last month organizing my truck and trailer for my journey. Every allowable space was packed tight with organizational cubes, boxes, and inserts from IKEA and the Container Store, and all of it feeling like a perpetual game of Tetris. But emotionally? Not sure if the reality of what I was doing had sunk in. I wasn’t afraid—no, not one bit—I think it was was all nervous excitement. I was so thrilled about this I could burst into a tiny million pieces. It had been well over a decade since I felt this type of joy and it felt somewhat foreign to me.
You see, I became a widow, sold my house, and decided to travel full time on the road in a teardrop trailer—exploring the country and possibly looking for a new place to live; but mostly to just experience a new life. My plan was to take Route 66 to the west coast and land in Oceanside California, where I would scatter my late husband’s ashes on the beach. This was to be my “kick-off” journey, and I guess, my way to test the waters. I would decide later where I was heading after that, but I had no desire to go back to Minnesota except for a yearly visit.
The entire month at the camp was like one incredibly long goodbye. I spent time with my best friends and my family and tied up all the loose ends I could find. It wasn’t stressful, mind you, it was, however, emotional. Maybe bittersweet would be a better word. Like I said, I was so ready to go. I had planned this for a really long time. The anticipation of finally getting to explore my freedom was thrilling—but a part of me wanted to stay and I couldn’t understand why.
Back at the camp that morning, I had awoken at 4 AM and walked down to the dock to watch the sunrise. When I returned to my campsite I noticed a small glass candle sitting on my picnic table As I finished packing up my things I kept glancing at it, wondering where it had come from. Was it a parting gift from one of my neighbors? Was it laying on the side of the road and a passerby thought it was mine? It looked rather lonely so I went to pick it up and noticed that it wasn’t a new candle, but rather one that had looked like it had spent a few years in hot storage; melted and reformed a few too many times, the wick cracked and broken, oil beading up on the surface, and the label faded and worn. I took off the lid and breathed it in—the smell of pine filling my lungs. I had a feeling then that I knew exactly who it came from and the sentiment made me tear up.
Jim In The Green Bus had the site right behind me and became my buddy while I was there. An Army vet, he was always on the move; helping a friend fix a broken shed, chopping down some dead trees for the camp. Almost every day I was there he would fill my fire pit with wood, help me if I needed something, or stop over and just have a chat. His converted bus was painted Wellstone green and his eyes sparkled bright when he smiled.
I went over to have a goodbye coffee with John, the Marine to my south, when I finally saw Jim drive by on his cart. We all congregated at my site and they went over and above helping me unhook and get ready for the road. Part of me really wanted to do all of this myself so I could practice, but feeling how important this moment was to them—to allow them to help me—was something I’ll always cherish. I not only learned a few things, but it taught me a good life lesson; to swallow my pride and allow when others want to give. Not an easy thing to do for one as strong-minded as me. Some of my feminist friends might say I “dumbed-down” so a man (men) could come to my “rescue” when I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. But I would rather look at it as a tender moment between a couple of friends, where one needs to give and one needs to receive. A perfect balance really. I was happy they were there.
We started giving hugs goodbye when I noticed the candle out of the corner of my eye.
“Jim!”, I said as I picked up the candle. “Is this from you?”
His eyes started to gloss over a bit and he shuffled his feet and replied. “Yeah, I know how girls like to have nice smelling things sometimes and so I thought you might like to have it while you’re on the road.”
I looked at his tear-stained eyes and my heart melted—just like the pine-scented candle that was warmed in a green bus and now nestled in my hands. I gave him a hug, my own eyes swelling.
“I wanted to give it to you last night at the bonfire, but you didn’t show up”, he added.
“What bonfire?”, I asked.
“The one John and I had for you to say goodbye.”
“Oh!”, I replied. “Hey Jim?…….Next time you might want to invite me.”
I drove 7 hours to the southern part of Iowa my first day—on about 4 hours of sleep which I know was incredibly dumb and I have never done since—and parked at my first Harvest Host site; East Grove Winery. I was exhausted to say the least. Feeling a bit obligated to do a tasting because they accommodated me at such a late hour—and also wanting to try Mead which I can’t believe I had never heard of—I went inside and had a few samples. 30 minutes later I crawled back to my teardrop, curled up in bed, and slept like the dead.
When I awoke at dawn; stretched out under the warm covers and basking in the glow of the sun, I found myself staring up at my skylight in confusion. At first I thought I was dreaming because… I was staring up at the face of a chicken. The chicken stared back—probably in the same state of confusion that I was in—pecked at my window, and then slowly, and seemingly deliberate, slid down the back of my roof.