“Do it now, while you still can.”
This spring everyone was astoundingly supportive when they learned of our coming road trip. Our nerves concerning finances, logistics, and the future were dulled by the constant waves of positive encouragement we received from family, friends, and coworkers who knew of our plans. Repeatedly people told us “Do it while you’re young” and “I wish I could go with you.” But most often we heard, “Do it before you have responsibilities – it gets harder to do that kind of thing when you get older.”
This bothered me, immensely. This trip is an amazing opportunity for us. We’re fueling our need for adventure and learning so much about our country and ourselves. But it scares me to think that this is my only chance. I love adventure; I love learning about new places, absorbing new history, and meeting new people. I don’t want this trip to be my only “trip of a lifetime.” I want this to be one of many trips and wondrous undertakings to occur as my life unfolds.
But that didn’t seem possible. Over and over people spoke as if this was our only chance until retirement. They listed jobs, mortgages, pets, and of course children, as reasons why life would make living harder.
I want children. Not now, of course, but I love kids and I love the idea of raising kids someday. Lately, I’ve been weighing the idea of a family with my love for adventurous living. Yet, everybody makes it seem impossible. I often remind myself that having children in and of itself will be an adventure (which I do, truly, believe). But, there’s always a part of me that gets nervous that family life, a life with “responsibilities,” means sacrificing my selfish wanderlust.
But then I met Glenda.
Glenda is my mother’s aunt by marriage. Alan, her husband, is my grandmother’s brother. They live outside Durango in a beautiful adobe-style home. I’ve only met Glenda once, and Alan a handful of times, but with Durango on our list of possible places to live we asked if they would host us for a visit. After being stranded in Santa Fe for various reasons (which I’ll write about later) we called them up, hopeful that a few nights in a bed would give us a much needed mental reboot.
The visit went far beyond that. Alan and Glenda were heaven sent. They helped us refresh, regroup, and plan our next few months. I’ll be forever grateful we decided to call them up. But beyond just helping us with the trip they both, but Glenda in particular, opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at life.
In 1976 Glenda and her first husband, Tim, bicycled across the United States before bicycle touring became a “thing”… with their two year-old son and nine year-old daughter.
It sounds insane, I know. I thought so too, until I started reading the “Four across America” series that Glenda wrote for Bicycling! in 1976 and 1977.
I tried to concentrate on the town of Baker, which was supposed to be only six miles away, but the words kept resounding in my head, “You can’t take those kids through the desert in July! / According to some people, my husband Tim and I have done some pretty insane things, but this was beyond all reason… On our fifth day into California’s Mojave Desert, in 110-degree heat between Barstow and Baker, I began to think that perhaps we had made a mistake (Bicycling!, 1976).
Glenda, Tim, Kirsten (9), and Erik (2) made it not only across the desert, but across the United States from California to Washington DC in 66 days in the middle of the summer. Glenda pulled Erik in a Bugger trailer and Kirsten peddled herself on a tiny Motobecane Nomade over 3,000 miles across the desert, the Rocky mountains, the midwest, and the Appalachians. They encountered friendly citizens at crucial moments, beautiful desert sunrises, terrifying traffic, staggering wonder, sickness, and immense individual and family growth.
If you’re wondering what a trip like that does to and means for a nine year-old (like I was), just consider this small anecdote from the final installment of the series.
With two weeks to go in Indiana Tim got really sick with dysentery. After days of growing weakness he and Glenda discussed quitting, he could barely ride his bike. Kirsten, aware of the situation, cornered her mother:
“Mom, please don’t say anything until I finish. I understand how Dad feels and I don’t want to blame him. But this is what I want you and Dad to do. Give me the map with the places marked where I should stay at night and give me enough money to eat with and pay the motels so I can go on by myself… I’ll be really careful and I’ll call you every night if you want me to” (Bicycling!, 1977).
If there’s a more powerful way to show a nine year-old child that he or she is capable of anything then please, show it to me.
Hearing about Kirsten’s proposal, Tim got himself out of bed the next day.
Glenda’s trip with her family beats all the odds that societal expectations are throwing up against me. If I were to go on a bike trip instead of this road trip I’m sure I would meet the same encouraging, but limiting, support: “Do it while you’re young.” But through Glenda I’ve gained the confidence that I don’t need to do everything while I’m young, jobless, and childless. My adventures don’t need to be limited to now or after retirement. I have my whole life ahead of me. Wasting the middle parts would be a shame, don’t you think?
Note: I seriously want to reiterate thanks, from both me and David, to Glenda and Alan for their extensive hospitality. Without you guys I don’t know where we’d be! As well as thanks to Sharon and Dave, Jan and Bill, Neecie and Charlie, and David and Robin for hosting us along the way – the trip wouldn’t be the same without all of your kindness and generosity!