After attending my Dad’s retirement party in Washington DC, we returned to Tin E in Oklahoma City.  It was anticlimactic to be back in the trailer.  Trips to National Parks, the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming, Montana, Canada, California, Arizona and New Mexico were all in the rear view mirror.  While there are great spots back East, it felt as though the trip was rapidly coming to an end.

Not to gloss over the 20 hour drive from Oklahoma City to Maryland, but we made it a mission to get to Charlotte in about a week so that we could see Jenny’s parents and sister.  Thus, we drove each day for 3-5 hours, staying in the Ozarks, Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville for less than 24 hours each.  It was only upon our arrival in Asheville where we relaxed for a bit and stayed at a nice campsite outside of town for 2 nights.  I can’t say that this stretch of driving was the most fun, but we enjoyed Gus’ Fried Chicken in Memphis, staying on a farm in Knoxville, and did some trail running and biking in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville.

It was great to see family in Charlotte and slow down the driving for a bit.  This trip has truly given me a new appreciation for family, both my immediate and extended family members.  Traveling for 6 months and pretty much seeing the same 3 people every day, it’s nice to know you can handle one another for that amount of time and it is equally comforting to know that you have additional family members to share your life with.  We had missed our parents and siblings and it was fun to catch up with Jenny’s in Charlotte.

After Charlotte, only one stop remained, Richmond.  Driving up I-95, the sights started to become familiar again as we drove by cities and rest stops that I had seen many times before after frequent business trips up and down the busiest of all highways in the country.  I could feel the comforts of home just in the familiar autumn weather.  Spending a night at the Pocahontas State Park campground, there was a feeling of coming full circle in a way.  In 2009, as I worked to get our previous business off of the ground (literally), my initial task was to contact park departments around the Mid-Atlantic to develop a public-private partnership (the primary way the business would prove successful).  The very first reply I ever got was from Virginia State Parks in Richmond.  The representative who replied to my letter thought our business would work well at Pocahontas State Park.  Some 8 years later and the rise and fall of business ownership, I was back in the park thinking about what could have been.  After a bit of reminiscing on a hike with Jenny, E and Lil D, I pulled my thoughts together and got back to the present – I’m so lucky to be in a beautiful forest with my family.  We have seen some incredible things over the duration of the trip, but the sights that matter the most are the three people I’ve seen non-stop for some 14,000 miles.  A close second are family and friends, many of whom are back home.  It doesn’t matter where the next years take us, if there are friends and family nearby and a hike to be hit or some wine to be drunk, I think we’ll be ok.

The next morning we packed up Tin E for the final time and drove up 95 for home.

2 weeks later, November 4, 2017

It’s been a disorienting couple of weeks.  It hasn’t been good, nor has it been bad, just disorienting.  Our home is still home, but it feels gigantic.  Our friends are still friends just a little bit older.  Our neighborhood still our hood.  Other than the leaves falling and the kids growing, things haven’t changed all that much in 6 months.

I really haven’t thought about the trip, other than the times when someone will ask how it was.  Too much of my energy has been focused on the present and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life.  With no “trip” to hide behind, this blank sheet for the future weighs heavy.  There’s something to be said for the structure and routine of the 9 to 5 lifestyle – it provides a comfort that I currently crave.  While the answers are just a step or turn away, there weren’t many significant revelations over the course of the trip.  No aha moment or big idea as to what’s next.  In my previous traveling experience, I have found that big trips have a way of continuing to teach you over time.  One such post-trip learning occurred at dinner the other night.  As the kids were being kids (E not eating her food and Lil D throwing his), I looked up at the microwave clock.  It read 6:30pm and I went back to my food.  It then dawned on me how before the trip, during dinner, I would frequently look at the clock and count down the minutes until we could put the kids to bed and have some quiet time.  This time however, I wasn’t thinking ahead and counting the minutes down.  I was comfortable with the dinner time craziness, in fact, I think I even enjoyed it.

November 23, 2017

Today, I’m putting the finishing touches on this entry from my in-laws in Orlando, FL as we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving.

It’s been a month since we’ve been home, yet it feels like an eternity.  There’s a weird place in my memory where the trip resides.  It’s like someone paused “real life” and inserted a bunch of distant thoughts of campgrounds, highways, mountains, rivers, and beaches.  Did the trip actually happen?  Just like everything else, life continues to move forward, one day at a time.  This isn’t some amazing revelation, but it’s a lesson that was reinforced after 6 months of living on the road.  Life is flying by and there is nothing I can do to slow it down.  It felt as though we were leaving for the “longest trip ever”, just yesterday.  Now that trip is a barely distinguishable memory.  I have a suspicion this is how it feels to be 95, looking back on life, wondering where it all went.

More than ever, I’m trying to live in the present, taking in every precious moment with my wife and kids.  Sadly, most days I feel more like an alcoholic fighting not to drink as the lure of my phone, the news or plans for tomorrow pull my attention in competing directions.  Every once and a while I wake up from a moment of pure focus on the moment where everything is serene, easy, and good.  It’s happiness and I want more of it so badly.  Knowing I can’t just buy it in a campground, Airstream, or box of wine makes the quest so frustrating and seemingly elusive.  I guess the proverbial journey continues, not in a trailer with three of my favorite people, but inside my head, next to them.

Thank you for following along on our roadtrip as Jenny and I continue to look for future careers, parental strength, and happiness.  It has been a rewarding experience sharing this with you and we are thankful you have taken the time to read.

I started this blog to entertain friends and family and provide a list of memories for my young children.  Over time, I found a new outlet – one that has provided a source of “professional purpose” and a means to get some junk out of my head.  What started as something fun, continues to excite and interest me in a way that running a business used to.  I don’t have a clear vision for where this blog is heading, but I hope you will continue to join me on this journey.

If you have found any value in these stories, please share firedandfree.com with anyone in your life who may relate or who just needs a laugh (either with us or at us!).  If you’re here just to read a travelogue, be sure to tune in next May when we take Tin E north for a trek across Canada.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Dan, Jenny, E & Lil D

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