On the Road. At Last.
Zach Bowman and family button up their lives in Knoxville and set off at last.
I haven’t been still in months. The deadline for our departure came down like a hammer, swift and heavy. Complicated, in part, by various failures. The new clutch fan I installed a month ago lunched itself spectacularly, seizing then destroying the hub bearing behind it. Two days before we were set to leave I had the entirety of the truck’s cooling system dismantled.
It’s times like these that I love the truck more than I can say. It’s a big Lego set, a stack of pieces that go together easy enough. Spin the right bolts, pull off the right bits. With some time and patience the work gets done, but it sucked up the morning and a piece of the afternoon, hours I had planned to use packing what was left to pack.
A detachment of friends and family showed up to lend a hand and see us off, to shove shit in boxes and load it on a moving truck headed north. When I say we couldn’t have done it without them, I mean it. But no matter how hard you try there are still things left over. Tools and keepsakes, clothes and memories. Pieces you’ll want or need a year from now.
The list of must-dos was immense. Drop an engine and a transmission in a project car for storage. Snug away an entire garage’s worth of bits and pieces—toolboxes, a compressor, a press. Pick which wrenches and sockets and pliers were coming and which were being left behind, to regret later. Moving day was a maelstrom.
And it meant accepting certain realities. My father offered up a trade: come to Virginia and help him clear out the garage in exchange for some storage space. It meant running towards winter instead of away from it, shucking up the same hateful stretch of I-81 that we’ve run over and over again. Every holiday, every birthday. I hate every white line of it.
To all of it: Fine. Can do. Deal.
Also, that bastard bike. In the end the decision was made for me, the hitch carrier sitting too close to the camper for the handlebars to clear. It just wouldn’t fit, a possibility that had crossed my mind at various points but was always evicted by some other, more immediate fire. I signed the title, loaded the thing up on a buddy’s truck with instructions to sell it at first chance. Or ride it until it pops and bury the remains, whichever struck his fancy.
By Sunday the house was bare. I’d never seen it that way. Never felt it so empty. I walked the halls and followed the shadows of five decades of Bowman family, cheers and curses and cries tucked into every corner. The idea of leaving was a heavy blade, pressing down.
There’s a picture somewhere, an old 35mm of my grandfather standing on these steps with his mother, his son, me. We took our places there, the ones who stayed until the very end, and took a picture of our own. I smiled because that’s what you do in photos. Because it was a beautiful blue day, the first tip of spring when Knoxville’s at her finest. When the tulips come up to drink in the daylight and whisper what you’ve been hoping to hear for a month: have heart, March is here. The robins and dogwoods are coming. You lived out the dark days of winter.
We said our see-you-soons. Hugged and held and tried to grin through it. Then we nosed north, foregoing the interstate for the slow and winding way out of town, up route 11, the first state road to string Memphis and Bristol together with any real intent. We drove the short run to Marion, to Hungry Mother State Park. Set up camp and walked the earthen dam there. Our daughter sat on her mother’s shoulders and watched water tumble down the slew, her brown eyes wide as sunlight hung in the red wisps of her hair.
The stillness I’d been running from for the past six months got hold of me there, wrapped its fingers around my ribs and pulled. I felt the weight of what we’d done, what we’d left. A question that had been itching in my ear since the day I quit my job last October grew to a shout:
What have you done?
I'd traded 2,400 square feet for 80. Safety and stability for the big, wild unknown. Fatigue and dread and fear conspired. None of it made a lick of sense. I stood there in the quiet and it broke me wide open.