Reader’s Digest Magazine
The Road Taken October 20, 2008
In the middle of this global economic meltdown and political uncertainty, my brother and his wife of three years came up with a genius idea: They would buy a white Chevy van, make it a home with some “minor” alterations, quit their jobs with benefits, sell their house, and go out on the road. For an indefinite amount of time.
As you might imagine, this plan met with considerable opposition. My “keep the homefires burning” mother was so flummoxed she couldn’t speak. When she did, she could only utter “health insurance!” Friends were skeptical. Reactions ranged from “Are you nuts?”, “Where will you shower?” to my favorite “Does this involve a Great Dane and solving mysteries?” (Non Gen-Xers go here for the reference.) Me? With a full-time job, two toddlers, and a pair of obese rescue cats to tend to, I’m their biggest fan.
With no children or pets and little else to tie them to bucolic Lexington, Kentucky—their both natives of the Bluegrass State and had pretty much lived there since birth—Steven and Jill had an insatiable curiosity to see more. An unscratchable itch. Perhaps, they thought, there’s another place for us to be now. With more fulfilling jobs. More things to learn. And we’re never going to know unless we Just Plain Go.
“Are we living the American dream?” Bro wondered aloud this past weekend. “Because if we are, if we found it, there’s not much to it.”
Now these are not fly-by-night folks. They toyed with the idea for well over a year, making financial plans, paring down their earthly possessions (again, so jealous), and researching campground and desireable communities all around the country. They alerted their friends they might be parked in their driveways. They developed mental lists of places they could settle in for a few months of seasonal work, like ski communities, for earning extra cash along the way. They popped in “The Van CD,” a modern mix tape made by my musician husband for the trip. No strangers to the tent-and-outhouse crowd, these marathon-running, rock-climbing semi-pros are used to the Great Outdoors and community showers. Maybe not for months on end, but there has to be some unknown in any adventure.
They set out last week. First stop: Our house in the DC area, mainly because of the aforementioned toddlers. Not a day after they had been here, they caught the miserable viral plague we had all had. And though we do have running water and a working air conditioning system, they opted to sleep—at least most nights—in the van. I know they’ll be just fine.
I think about that restlessness many of us felt after high school or college, the traditional time for geographical exploration. It’s even becoming commonplace for high-school grads to take a year or two off before college to “find their way,” or in the day of hyper-competitve college admissions, pad the application. But why should extended travel be limited to those seminal periods? The road is always there and despite sprawl, this country still boasts wide open spaces where you can hear your thoughts and the whispers of fluttering wings. I’m proud to know real examples of those who buck tradition and plunge right on in.
We’ve all read the classic Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” back in English lit in 9th grade and again on plaques at Hallmark, but pause for a moment, if you will, and give it another look.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Very seldom in life are we faced with the prospect of no choices. The not-so-logical road may be the best—at least the most interesting—path to take.
P.S. If you’re entertaining serious thoughts of taking it on the road, you can see exactly how a white Chevy van can be livable right here. Just click “Van Construction.”