Hitting the Road Means Leaving People Behind

Our writer-at-large is hitting the road and searching for answers. But first, he has to answer everyone’s question: Why?

Beth Bowman

Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.

Part 3
Bowman's Odyssey

My sister cried. Big, wild sobs like I haven’t seen since we were kids. I didn’t expect it. Everyone’s taken the news that we’re tearing off for the horizon differently. We didn’t make the announcement all at once, afraid of saying the words and making it true, of spooking it off, maybe. We started by selling our things, clothes and gadgets and useless tools, cars and furniture. That’s not something we do in America. We don’t shed belongings, we acquire them, hoard them up until our worthless treasures tell the dusty tale of our lives. It wasn’t a week before a friend called and asked quietly,

“Do you need help?”

His question stumbled me.

“Mentally?”

He meant financially. He thought I’d got us upside down trying to support a wife and infant on a writer’s salary, but didn’t sound any less concerned when I told him The Plan. His voice flecked with the worry that he might catch whatever’s got ahold of my head. He wasn’t the only one to ask if we were in trouble or to offer aid. I’ve never been more amazed at the size of the hearts around us.

Beth Bowman

I didn’t make it easy on anyone. I didn’t have answers to their quick questions. I still can’t tell you exactly where we’ll go, or how long we’ll stay there. I don’t know what we’ll do when the trip is over. I don’t know if we’ll come back to Knoxville, our home for the last six years, or how we’ll cope if our infant daughter can’t stand living in a space smaller than her nursery. It’s been so long since I’ve blundered openly into the unknown, and if it scares me, it terrifies those around us. As much as we like to think of ourselves as wild and free individuals, we are a nation of planners. No one is comfortable with my newfound mantra: I don’t know.

Almost no one. My father, his brothers, others of that generation—they didn’t scoff or look concerned. Their eyes brightened with the flicker of possibility. Of desire. By telling them our idiot scheme to run while we still have legs to carry us, we made them co-conspirators in our escape plan. Maybe it’s because they’re further down the hole of mortgage payments and retirement planning and 80-hour workweeks. Maybe it’s because they’re old enough to mourn the time they’ve lost. Or maybe it’s because they’ve always heard that same call I hear now, and never answered it. So they’ve all told us to go. To love it. And they’ve smiled as they’ve said the words.

The rest of our friends at home took it in shades. Some excited for our adventure, some hurt by our leaving. The latter seemed to take it as an indictment, a judgment, as if our restlessness was a symptom of what we found lacking here. In some ways, they were right.

Beth Bowman