Reflections on a 48-state road trip

Friday, August 1, 2008

Newly licensed 16-year-old Julie Langenfeld and her father, Mark, traveled to 48 states month of July in a 1968 Mercedes-Benz. Julie shared some of her thoughts from the trip.

Seeing the country in one big snapshot was so neat. I have a sense now of how big and diverse our country is. For future trips I want to zoom in on certain locations to see more of their detail. Because of the nature of our trip, Dad and I couldn't spend lots of time in any one spot. Many places you can't fully experience in less than 24 hours, such as Yellowstone or New York City. I've had a great appetizer; now I'm ready for the entire meal!

I've found that I love traveling. Exploring new places, eating new foods and hearing new dialects are so much fun. But what I love the most are the deep human connections made. We met a family from Switzerland in San Francisco. I remember how the 17-year-old son was a little jealous that I could drive already at 16, while he can't until he's 18 because of the laws in Switzerland. I remember the father and mother's amazement that Dad and I were driving the 48 states in one month.

I only knew this family for 10 minutes, and I don't know their names, but there was a real and deep human connection between us when we parted ways. Most likely, I'll never see any of them again, yet I'll always remember them. This happened again and again: the couple in Durango, Colo., the cashier/owner/snowboarder at A&W in Montana, the waitress at our Maine lobster dinner, the Shenandoah National Forest park ranger.

The first time I was asked for the reason for our adventure was in Bemus Point, N.Y., on Chautauqua Lake. The owner of our motel said, "There's always a reason for things." I answered her saying something about seeing the country and the link back to my grandpa. That night I had trouble falling asleep. I felt like my answer wasn't quite right. Don't get me wrong, seeing the country and driving it in the car my grandpa drove are big reasons for our adventure. But I felt like there must be a larger feeling behind the trip.

As I was lying in bed, I realized that the reason had been there all along in my subconscious. My grandpa died when dad was only 17, and my mom's father died four years before I was born. While I've always missed the chance to know those grandpas, it's been made a tiny bit easier by hearing Mom's and Dad's stories of their fathers.

Throughout my life, I've heard Dad say, "I am so thankful for the time I did get with my father." Subconsciously I had realized that I need to spend time with my dad while I can, because I can't be sure how much longer I have him. My need for time with Dad while I have the chance was, unknowingly, the most important reason for our adventure.

COMING SUNDAY

Find out more about the Langenfelds' journey in Sunday's Lifestyles section.

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