Father, daughter send update from their 48-state trip

Sunday, July 20, 2008
Mark and Julie Langenfeld are touring the United States in a 1968 Mercedes Benz.

What an amazing country this is! It's easy to read statistics and know the distance coast to coast. It's easy to read about the diversity of scenery. But it is quite another thing to traverse through the wide menagerie of what makes up this expansive nation. So far we've been as low as zero feet elevation, both at Death Valley, California, and at the Pacific Ocean in California. We were above 8,000 feet at North Rim Grand Canyon, and ascended to 10,947 feet when leaving Yellowstone National Park. Snow is still covering Mt. Hood, and we played in snow outside Yellowstone as we ascended the high passes. We've seen bald eagles, hawks, condors, Western bluebirds, magpies, big eared hares, lizards, giant redwoods, quaking aspens, gorgeous wildflowers across the whole rainbow of colors and savored the fragrance of the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon.

This journey is about seeing, experiencing the breadth and diversity of this grand land. But we set out to not just transit the continent's expanse but to create and live an adventure, too. We have been struck by the reactions and encouragement of so many people who have made contact with us about our journey, who express their enjoyment in sharing in this adventure vicariously. Thanks for your contacts! It is really cool to have those connections and to feel that we're sharing this special experience in a way that touches others on multiple continents. We have slight regrets that some of our posts to the blog 48StateDrive.blogspot.com aren't more rapid or that photos are a few days delayed, usually due to lack of connections in remote areas. Yet we're pleased to be staying true to our commitment to each other to assure that this is a father-daughter journey, and not let ourselves be enslaved to technology in a way that would diminish our enjoyment of our time together.

Our emotional journey. Here is an element of our journey that might not seem so obvious to people not familiar with the history of our family heirloom Benz. For us, traveling the 48 states would have been a goal and an adventure no matter which vehicle we chose. But we are in a 40-year-old, 3rd generation car that has special meaning to us. Let me remind myself and everyone, this is just a car, a collection of metal and rubber and leather and wood. Benz facts: built in Germany in September 1967, first purchased in Ohio in November 1967, bought by my father in September 1969, I first drove her when I was 16 in 1970, I've been the titled owner since 1984, Julie first drove the car as a newly licensed 16 year old driver in March 2008.

One more time, remember that this is just a car. But also think for yourself of some powerful memories that you have connected to some car. Maybe the car you first drove, a special trip, memories linked to someone you were in love with. Our emotions get wrapped up with inanimate things, like cars that are just cars, right? On this trip, the emotional links to the past have been evoked powerfully for me on several occasions.

Tearfully evoked when we turned onto the road in Grants Pass, Oregon, where my Mom and stepfather chose to make their new home in 1984. Mom chose to not take the Benz west with her, so that also marks the time when I became the titled owner. They built their house on the base of Walker Mountain, which became "Mom's mountain." So when I turned that corner and saw her mountain, her car was arriving at that place for the first time ever. The car was back to say hello.

Another powerful and tearful moment took me by surprise at Grand Canyon just after Julie dropped me off at roadside so that I could ride my bicycle for a half-hour while she drove on ahead. This is a scenario that has played out numerous times in my bicycling lifetime, but this was the first time that Julie would play the role of the leapfrogging driver. As she overtook me on the road I yahooed in elation at the vitality of bicycling at Grand Canyon in gorgeous weather, at my good fortune to be healthy, and to be sharing this special adventure with my daughter. It felt just so good to see Julie at the wheel of this car that my father had bought decades ago.

Then, as I saw that 68 BENZ plate go out of sight around a bend in the road, I found my eyes shedding tears in a powerful combination of elation and of sadness of the loss of my father when I was 17 and the loss of my mother in 1998 and how Julie and my other daughters would never have the chance to really know them. I thought of the symbolism of the circle of life represented by my daughter driving up the road holding the same steering wheel that her grandmother and grandfather held so long ago. How I wished they were both still alive to be sharing in the adventure that Julie and I are sharing with this fine old just-a-car that both of them had such joy driving.

Life is an adventure, and we never know fully just what is around the next bends, or what emotions ride along in this special Benz.

Mark Langenfeld and his daughter Julie embarked on a 48-state tour on June 30. Mark sent this dispatch on July 14 from Red Lodge, Mo.

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