Sometimes, when the weight of the world gets to be too much you have to strap your boots on and head for the door.  Even if for just a brief reprieve from the madness – that’s how I found myself hurtling down Route 66, somewhere West of New Mexico last September.  It didn’t start in New Mexico, however, or even Virginia which for the last decade (off and on) has served as home base.  It started in the mind and in the heart.  It started with the unfortunate collapse of my marriage and the realization that I had no idea what I was doing with my life.
        Sparing the gory details I will say that my decision to leave my husband was not one that I took lightly though in the end there was damage done that was irreparable.  I won’t shove all the blame on him and will only say there were mistakes made on both sides and leave it at that.  However, that still left me with a whole new life unfurled before me that was seriously lacking in direction.  Before, I assumed Alan (for the purposes of this blog that is his new name) and I would have children, grow old together, and eventually die.   So, I was alone and it was scary after five years to find myself back in the dating pool and flying solo.  I’ve never been the sort of woman that needed a man in my life, but as I have grown older I found comfort in the companionship that marriage brought.  I had gotten comfortable in the routine of my daily life as well, too comfortable.
         This is probably where most people would talk to a therapist, turn to religion, pick up a hobby, or just maybe consume copious amounts of Hagen Daz.  I did a little of the later, but when I was finished with my ice cream smorgasbord I made a decision: I do not want my life to pass me by.  I want to be challenged, face my fears, see majestic things, and maybe most importantly I want to connect – with people, more people, people from everywhere, people like myself and unlike myself.  I want to steep myself in this world and be transformed from sad ex-wife to brave explorer.
        Thus, the first decision I made was that I would hike the Appalachian Trail.  I planned for a year to make this trip and gave up all my vices.  I will admit without shame that when this idea was sparked in my mind I was a raving alcoholic, but the drive to succeed squelched a 15 year habit and I have not looked back since.  In fact, the moment I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail I felt quite liberated and while I was not able to finish (more on that in a moment) it was the first time in my life that I felt like I wanted something for myself bad enough to stop.  In a way, the mere dream of Appalachian Trail saved my life – and I do really believe that.
        So, I planned and I prepared researching the best tent, backpack, socks, water filter, and on and on.  I went to the gym and I even got a personal trainer because this was happening.  Life is funny though – sometimes, you think you have a plan, but little do you know that fate has something entirely different in store for you.  I was on my way to meet my personal trainer for the first time when the phone rang.  It was my father calling to inform me that the police had picked up my Mother three hours from home in the middle of the night.  Not only was she lost and driving on fumes, but apparently she had also taken to driving through red lights and over sidewalks.  When they pulled her she could not tell them where she was going or where she had been, nor could she remember the date, or even her home address where she has lived for the past 37 years.  That was the beginning of the end in my Mom’s battle with dementia.  A year later she would be gone.
        So, that very day I drove to Florida to be with my Mother.  During the following 12 months my sister and I took turns looking after her.  I lived in Virginia and she lived in Alabama so we would rotate – I would be there a few weeks or a few months and then my sister would come down and take over.  I do not think I was ever away longer than six weeks during the entire last year.   I wanted to be there with her as much as I could as we had no idea how long she had left be it one year or five.  It was all a bit of a mystery and so we began our last adventure together.  I took her everywhere I could think of that she’d want to go because when Dementia hits you don’t have long to say goodbye to the world.
        We had lavish spa days, ate filet mignon, went to the Aquarium, rode the Orlando eye, and visited the Rhinos at the zoo.  We ate pizza, lots of pizza!  We screamed and laughed and ran her chair so fast down the posh streets of Winter Park that people stopped and stared.  I bought her every stuffed animal she touched, she had an affinity for them in the end.  One of my favorite pictures is of her clutching several to her chest in the back of the Volvo looking completely blissed out.  We listened to Elvis, sang loud, clapped our hands, and stomped our feet.  We held puppies, wore matching outfits like goons, and ate a sinful amount of cheesecake.  In the quiet moments, I held her hand and brushed her hair, and painted her nails.  I studied her face as she looked me over always managing to see me through the fog.  My Mother never forgot me.  She forgot a lot, but even on her last day she loved me as her daughter.
        It was in those in between times that I moved.  I hiked two weeks on the Appalachian Trail instead of six months.  I spent a week in Lancaster, Pa getting my fill of fireflies and amish pastries.  On my longest stint drove around the entire country which took a month and a half – roughly.  Whenever I came back to spend another month or few months with my Mom (during which time my sister would travel back to Alabama) I would show her where I had been – pictures of Graceland, The Grand Tetons, a snapshot from my tent one cold April morning.  I wish I could have taken her with me, but instead I made her videos from the road and told her all about it when I got home.  She was always so impressed – even with things that weren’t that impressive.  Only a Mother can make you feel so strong, so special, so bold – I will miss that so much, but I know carry her with me now.
        She passed away in November and I don’t stop moving for long anymore.  In the end the greatest gift my Mom gave me was love.  Love, love, love and I can feel it right now like a warm blanket.  So, this blog is about my travels, but I thought it was important to say what spurred me on because while she might not have lit the spark it’s her love that has kept it going.  To date and since April of 2016 (today being June 6th 2017) I have done two weeks on the Appalachian Trail, and driven one and a half times around the country (well, almost a half – but I’ll get to that in a later post).  Now, I’m saving up with my boyfriend to buy a Travel Trailer so we can get this show on the road in a more permanent fashion.  After we have exhausted the US it is on to Europe, or Vietnam, or Tokyo.  Who knows?  Today the world is ours.

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