As a child in the 1950s, I looked forward to the two weeks of vacation my parents took each summer. The vacation always involved a road trip, alternating between visiting Mom’s family in South Carolina or somewhere else. The latter involved driving to see one of Dad’s siblings or someplace scenic like Cape Cod or the Grand Canyon.
Traveling to experience adventure—adventure travel—is very popular now, especially traveling to foreign countries. In this regard, my parents were way ahead of their time.
My father had an adventurous spirit and endless curiosity. For him, life itself was one grand adventure, infused with meaning and endless opportunities to learn and contribute to society. His father was an American Baptist minister, serving small communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Dad decided to become a medical missionary when he was sixteen. He’d hoped to go to Africa, but in his last year of medical training he was posted to teach medicine in China.
Dad’s zest for life was infectious and my mother must have had a sense of adventure too. I’ve often wondered how many women would have agreed to his proposal in 1930 to “pack a trunk and go to China with him.” According to Mom, those were the exact words of his marriage proposal.
Whether inherited or acquired, I too consider traveling to be adventurous. I wouldn’t have characterized it as such as a kid, I just knew I considered those childhood road trips fun. But that wasn’t always my mindset, despite the pleasure in those childhood road trips. In 1969 the first truly cross-country trip made available to me, from Florida to Alaska, I didn’t take.
My husband Tom, newly certified as a Navy flight surgeon, was assigned to Kodiak Island off the coast of Alaska. We were just ending a six-month stint in Pensacola, Florida, during which our son had turned one year old. With the upcoming move, we traded our station wagon for our neighbors’ VW camper. I was not the outdoors enthusiast I am now and was leery of making the long trip with a one-year-old.
When Tom asked my father if he wanted to come along on the drive to Alaska, however, Dad jumped at the chance. He’d always wanted to experience the Alaska Highway. I visited friends and family and flew to Kodiak with my son soon after Tom had settled in.
When I arrived on Kodiak in May it was raining, and the rain continued for two solid weeks. When it finally cleared, I beheld a lush landscape. The mountains were cloaked in a sumptuous new green and the waves of slate-gray ocean rolled onto black volcanic-sand beaches. Here was adventure on our doorstep and it didn’t require much travel.
In fact, you couldn’t drive very far as the island only had forty-five miles of road in 1969. But it was just what I needed at that time, as I was figuring out what I wanted from life. Those forty-five miles of road became quite familiar. We drove them often to go fishing or beachcombing, look for eagles, hike or go berry-picking, or take photos from the top of Pillar Mountain. Adventure can be found anywhere if you open yourself to it.
Perhaps it was the island life, especially the closeness to nature that was so profoundly healing for me. Not able to drive far, I had no choice but to slow down, take in the beauty around me, observe the cycles of nature. I allowed myself to breathe deeply, gave myself time to think more expansively and decide what was important to me in life.
Traveling to new places, whether internal or external, can be life-changing.