It’s been almost a year since I started out on the mother of all road trips. I was both encouraged to and discouraged from blogging along the way. Somehow I managed to do both, or neither.
I learned a lot about myself on that trip last summer, but one of the biggest lessons about myself was, in fact, something I already knew about myself: I need to process things, and that takes time. I ponder. I stew. I process, consciously and subconsciously. It’s part of who I am, part of who I always have been, and now after having been on this journey, I’m realizing it’s part of who I always will be.
Except for a few scheduled stops on my trip (W1AW, my brother’s wedding in Boston), I didn’t announce specific times and places I would be ahead of time to the general public through this blog or my public Twitter account. I was a single woman, travelling alone for months on end, in a recognizable car with my well-publicized call sign on the license plate. I was using APRS, which means when it was turned on, I was trackable in real time. Because of all this, I made a point of turning off APRS about 30 minutes before I got to where I’d be spending the night, as well as any other point when I thought it prudent. Similarly, I blogged about events after the fact.
While I know some of my readers would’ve preferred updates more immediately, it didn’t bother me to be a few days behind. But then a couple of things happened that changed the way I was updating the blog.
First, about a week into my trip, I was at the Atlanta hamfest. The plan was to be in Charleston, SC, to see my godkids a month and a half later, and to meet some of my friend Heather’s friends who to that point I had only known online. But I managed to somehow talk Eugene into driving over to Atlanta for the weekend so we could meet each other earlier in the trip, so he could come to my forum at the hamfest, and so he could take his ham radio test sooner rather than later and ensure he had his license before I got to Charleston so we could both get on HF when we went to the USS Yorktown. Twelve months later, we’re engaged to be married this summer, so it may be hard for you to believe that all of this was completely innocent. But it was. Looking back on it, we realize now that we liked each other already from our interactions online, but neither of us was consciously aware of it. We spent two nights sharing a motel room with two beds, and we didn’t so much as hug or even shake hands that entire weekend. We missed each other after the weekend, though, and it didn’t take us long to decide we wanted to get to know each other better. I hadn’t factored a nightly two- to three-hour video chat session into my plans when I was calculating how much time it would take me to drive across the eastern part of the US and Canada and try to blog about it. What would’ve been my blogging time was taken up instead with phone calls and video chats.
The trip started out as an idea about a month and a half before I actually started driving, and the ideas and plans changed often, morphing from one great possibility to another. “It’s tentative!” became my motto, and as funny as it was, it was true. There was a place I wanted to visit in Pensacola, so I figured I might swing by there. And hey, that’s really close to Alabama, so it would be silly of me not to cross the state line so I could get another state. But hey, Mississippi really isn’t too much farther, so I may as well go over there, too. Oh, and you know what? Louisiana is pretty close to Mississippi, so I could go there. And if I’m going to Louisiana, I really want to go to New Orleans and drive across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Things like that happened for every portion of planning my trip.
The focus of my trip changed as well. Having just lost my mother in February 2012, the trip that I was planning to start three months later included two separate weeks at my dad’s house, because I wanted to help him go through belongings and help him with anything else that he might need. I was done in the town where I had been living for the past few years, and I didn’t yet have plans for where to be in the fall, so the timing was perfect for me to get out and see things and do things and meet people and just really be free for a summer. It started as an off-hand thought that maybe I should go on a road trip that summer and couch-surf. Because Twitter is so great for sharing random off-hand thoughts, I tweeted the idea. Almost immediately, people said that yes, I could stay with them, or that if I came through their town, they would buy me a meal. It started to turn into something that sounded feasible. It was only after that that the focus shifted to include ham radio. One of the guys on Twitter — or more likely several of the guys simultaneously — suggested that I put my HF rig in the car if I’m going to be driving all over the country. I enlisted the help of friends, bought a mobile antenna, and got everything installed. NR4CB/M! Momentum started to build. Hams were writing about and mentioning my upcoming trip on blog posts, podcasts, and international ham radio online magazines. More equipment was loaned (APRS equipment, magmount antenna for HT) and donated (magmount antenna for APRS, which I now use for my HT). One guy offered to host a website for me so I could blog about the trip.
It kind of took on a life of its own. I loved it. It was the adventure that everyone said he wanted to have. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Life changing. Tentative!
But then later, further into the adventure, after I’d gotten past the one obligation that the entire trip was planned around (my brother’s wedding), I withdrew into myself more. I was a month into the trip, falling further and further behind on the blog, and I was becoming more introspective. I would drive for hours without the ham radio or the music radio on. I spent a lot of time in thought. I had my friends on Twitter and the commenters on my blog who I could reach out to if I needed information or company. I had Eugene to talk to most nights. So feeling secure with the knowledge that I could reach out if I needed to, I let myself withdraw. I found it harder and harder to write about what I was experiencing each day, because my brain was still thinking about it and figuring it all out.
Some of my typical thought was very much just stream of consciousness: Was I going to grad school that fall? Which school? How was I going to pay for it? Where would I live? Which state? Which city? In an apartment? When would I move? Who could I ask to help me move my furniture? Is my dad holding up okay? I miss my mom a lot. Why did she die? She was only 63. That’s too young. This song has been on the radio a lot. That ham wasn’t what I pictured he’d be like, but I’m glad we met. That other ham’s wife didn’t like me at all. I probably should get an oil change soon. Should I jump out of a perfectly good airplane? I don’t feel like getting on HF today. This countryside is so beautiful. I had no idea there were so many windmills here. That’s an odd-looking stoplight. Oh, look, Quebec’s street signs are in French only. I’m glad I remember how to read a little bit of French.
And then I’d get to where I was going, and I’d be exhausted from thinking. At one point in Western New York I just got a motel room for a few days and basically slept for three days straight. I was taking in so many experiences and having so many thoughts that I was just worn out.
The trip lasted for a little over two months, and it started a year ago this coming weekend. Truly, I think just now I’m starting to be able to look back on the trip as a whole and make some sense of it. I drove 7,000 miles. And you won’t believe this, but round trip (from my friend D’s driveway where I started to her driveway where I ended), it was precisely 7,000 miles. I had estimated I’d drive 6,000 miles on my trip, but I was off by exactly a thousand miles.
I was tracking a lot of things as I went along: how many ounces of coffee I’d had, how many times that one song was on the radio, how many QSOs I’d had, and other funny things. I still have the hand-written notes I took each day, so I could get a total of all of those at some point. We’ll see how I feel about it after my brain processes this a little more.
I do want to write more about the trip. About jumping out of an airplane, about seeing Niagara Falls, about the USS Yorktown, about a zillion other things. The biggest thing I learned on this trip, though, is that I cannot change my nature, and my nature is to be guarded and private. So rather than promise you that I will tell more of the story, I will tell you that I want to tell more of the story, and that if I do tell more of the story, it will be here.
About half of the QSL cards have gone out. If we had multiple QSOs on the trip and you live in the US or Canada, you should have received your QSL. If you live outside North America or we only had one QSO, I haven’t sent yours yet.
I appreciate those of you who enjoyed reading about my trip, and those of you who left comments for me. It’s been an unbelievably amazing year.
Are we there yet?!? I don’t think we ever will be, and I’m okay with that. :-)
73 de NR4CB, Connie
PS — you see that? That’s what I get for trying to update my blog. I broke it. I’m not sure what I did to the settings, but my title and tag line’s colors have changed now that I’ve changed their text and I’m not sure how to change them back. It’s okay, though, because I have really smart friends, and I’m sure they’ll contact me as soon as they see the mess I’ve made. :-)