Life on the Road Gets Put on Hold When Family Is in Need

The inevitable return East.

Zach Bowman Odyssey
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 41
Bowman's Odyssey

If we could have gotten the Tacoma started, we would have tried something stupid. Flushed the fluids and gone as far as we could have, hoped like hell the thing would have gotten Kevan and Amanda back to Knoxville. We ran out of time. Didn’t have the resources or the hours to get the truck up off its knees. To drain the fuel system or replace the fried ECU.

It had to be towed. Dragged the 1,600 miles back east. We made calls, did the math. A rental truck, fuel, lodging, and food pushed the transportation price to over $3,000. There was another problem: we were approaching Memorial Day weekend, a time when every goddamn soul in Colorado decides its time to move. Even if Kevan could stomach the fee, there were no trucks to be had.

I’d been avoiding an inevitability for the past month. Dancing around the knowledge that we had to leave the vast, open, and free lands of the west. That we had to point ourselves back east, toward the expensive, parking lot campgrounds and crowded highways. Back toward everything we’d left behind.

Beth Bowman

A month ago, Beth walked through the door of the camper, her brown eyes bright and fierce with tears. She’d just gotten off the phone with her mother. Her parents were in the throes of a modest renovation on their home. They’d just received a call from the contractor—they were over budget. Had been for a month. The work was coming to a stop, the house largely unfinished.

It’s a rare thing to see my wife furious. Anger and its expression come to me as easy as breathing. She’s quiet. Patient. Sorts and contemplates her emotions with the well-earned grace of a woman who weathered the storms of her teenage years. But she has her triggers, and nothing gets to her quicker than seeing the ones she loves in trouble. When her temper flares, it’s no trivial thing.

We were in Arizona, a wide life away from the green hills of Virginia. From the small town where we met when we were teenagers. From the place her parents still call home.

I knew then we’d be going back. Because this year has felt selfish from the moment we left Knoxville. Greedy. A disgrace to the hard days my grandfather spent working three jobs, to the hours my father drained from his young life working to keep my mother and I fed. Skipping breakfast and lunch. Stealing coffee just to have something in his gut.

Beth Bowman

And also because I possess so few real skills, but general construction is among them. I had the tools to help Beth’s parents, and I was spending my time driving around the west. I couldn’t stomach it.

We formed a plan: We'd hitch the Tacoma to the Dodge and gamble our way east. Ignore the odometer burning with more than 300,000 miles. Ignore the 2,000-pound camper on the bed. Try not to think about the 1,600 long miles between where we are and where we’re going. Try to do it all in three eight-hour days with four adults and one toddler crammed into the cab of a 13-year-old pickup. Hope like hell the truck stays together. That we stay together.