Leaving Home, Again, For a Life on the Road

It's hard to leave this place. It's harder to stay.

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 50
Bowman's Odyssey

We didn’t finish everything. Some paint and siding left undone. A small porch. The big items—finishing out a store room, contending with some water damage, and tiling a floor—took longer than I reckoned, and by the time I looked up from the last task at hand, we’d been in Virginia for a little more than a month. One month out of this year’s precious 12.

A month of being with family and friends we thought we wouldn’t see for a full year. Of letting our daughter howl and chase her cousins through the house, her red curls as wild as her newfound gait. Of watching the Virginia sky set itself on fire every night, the clouds burning red and orange and purple against the fading hills. Of filling our lungs with the air of the living forest around us.

Beth Bowman

We’d been west long enough to forget what it’s like to see a place lush with life, every inch filled with a flurry of leaves and legs and wings and fur. We spent our evenings watching deer step through the hayfield below the house. We caught half-glimpses of shy black bears on the empty gravel roads at the fringe of the county. Watched eagles and hawks joust in the sky and marveled at the strangeness of the nation we call home. How this sprawling wilderness can exist less than three hours from its capitol.

Beth Bowman

It’s special. And it was time to leave it behind.

Our last days in Virginia were a predictable storm of doings. More than the usual goodbyes, laundry, and packing. I’d rolled into town with grand plans to sort a list of minor irritations on the truck, and had gotten to exactly none of them. Filled my days instead with hammer swings and idiot sprints to buy motorcycles. Stole time away from friends and my father, greedy for the moments I’d missed over the past six months.

Beth Bowman

When I did finally turn my attention back to the truck, it was a marathon of parking brake adjustments, rear axle seal replacements, and brake bleedings, all done on the familiar gravel of my father’s driveway. Spun the wrenches with the man himself, easy as breathing. Drank the last of our beers together as a thunderstorm licked its way down the valley on the rush of a summer wind, dimming the early dusk light as it went.

Beth Bowman

It’s there, with my father by my side and a finished task at our feet, that it’s hardest to leave this place. There with the whispering poplars, the broad and veined leaves playing percussion to the coming storm, that the halves of me split widest. One screaming to stay, burning to be near the people we love the most, to devour every last precious and passing second with them; the other wild and tearing to get away, sharp-eyed and anxious to take the rare and slipping days of this year for all they’re worth. To run out my lead until there’s no line left.

Beth Bowman

We left Lexington on a perfect misty morning, low clouds holding close to the rivers that cut through the stone of us, their waters swift and too clear to gauge the depth. Left for a few more months of somewhere else. Pointed the truck out of town with a whisper promise on our breath: Be home soon.