The open road uncoils before us like a black vein stretching towards eternity, carrying us to the sublime destinations we dream about.

The best trips are those that have the power to stay lodged in your memory for lifetimes to come. There is no greater joy than the feeling of freedom experienced as the hum of the road rocks you into a blissful, hypnotic state and the rubber from the tires leaves an unseen trace of your journey like a secret journal you keep hidden between the mattress of your life. The miles tick by as the memories multiply in the banks and creases of your mind to be recalled during your trials and tribulations on some future dark day.  A great road trip does not have to be all sunshine and roses either; a bit of struggle can make the journey all the sweeter.

The older I get the more I begin to realize the trip is so much more about the journey than the destination and even during a time of difficulties great memories can be born.  I would end up learning this beautiful truth first hand a few years back during a road trip to Florida my wife and I indulged in.

Our daughter had moved out a few years prior and during this time she had given birth to a beautiful baby boy! We planned all year to rent a home near the beach in Florida that was close to where our daughter was living, yet also very close to some amazing snorkeling. The trip was going to be about 9 hours by car each way and my mother-in-law was joining us on the trip as well.

She was going to fly and we would drive down and pick her up at the airport and then reverse the order at the end of the trip. We borrowed my in-laws’ vehicle due to it being in better mechanical shape than our own and having much more room for luggage, beach gear, and the required overindulgence of presents common to new grandparents.

The first leg of our road trip was fairly uneventful except for the typical incidents that occur when my wife and I travel together. These, of course, include eating too much junk food (namely cherry Twizzlers), epic battles of car karaoke (including homemade rap), entertaining each other with creating life stories for the people we pass in other cars, me laughing at my wife snoring like a chainsaw, and stopping at our favorite restaurants to eat decadent food and desserts.  In short, basking in the beauty that is our daily relationship!

We made it safe and sound to our rental home and the following week was nothing short of magical. As is the sad conclusion to most vacations, we let our time fly too fast and before we could catch our breath it was time to head back home.

Here is where most people would consider the trip took a turn for the worse.  On our last day at the rental home, we had everything packed and in the car to take my mother-in-law to the airport and then begin our journey home.  I was patiently waiting for my wife to finish the final touches and lock up when she emerged with a distressed look on her face.

She asked me to come inside because we had a problem.  I entered the foyer of the home and looked into the dining room where I saw shards of glass, river pebbles, and dried branches all over the floor.  My wife had attempted to move a glass vase display of dried brush and it had broken in her hand and scattered everywhere!

Thank goodness she was uninjured; I begin to methodically clean up the mess.  We try to live each day under the philosophy that everything happens for a reason and this broken vase could be the factor that kept us out of a deadly accident on the freeway or some other catastrophe.  This philosophy not only helps give balance to our lives but it also makes handling setbacks and difficulties much easier.

With the vase disaster cleaned up we proceeded to the airport to drop off my mother-in-law.  We were running a bit behind schedule but had planned our day with buffer times, so getting to the airport on time was not an issue.  As I was driving, I begin to notice a distinct pulling in the front end of the car, but since we were on a schedule, I didn’t stop to check it out (typical male move, right?).

We dropped her off and then headed towards the Florida Turnpike, that exhausting piece of roadway that allows you to pay for the privilege of being tortured by high price gas and rest areas inundated with throngs of tourists!  The pulling continued and worsened the further we progressed.  Of course, we still enjoyed our car games and spending time with each other and after a few stops for gas and food, we were finally getting close to home.

About an hour and one half away from home I felt the sickening plummeting in the pit of my stomach as the familiar “bump, bump, bump” of a flat tire began.  I pulled to the side of the road and was perplexed that all of the tires were still holding air.  At this discovery, I jumped back in the driver’s seat and headed back down the road.

A few miles later, the noise returned with a vengeance and I made the decision to exit the highway and pulled into a QT gas station.  Now if you are not from the southern United States, you may be unfamiliar with QT; let me just say that they are literally the Taj Majals of gas stations.  They are the kind of place you could see yourself living and raising a happy family in, they are really that nice!

I pulled into the amply lit parking lot and inspected the now flat rear tire–it was absolutely shredded.  My alpha male instincts kick into high gear and I begin to get the tire changed with the fervor normally reserved for Viking berserkers going into battle.  I have clothes and beach gear flying out of the trunk like a tornado has hit it, trying to get at the jack and spare.

If you are not familiar with Georgia heat in the summer it is of the type that can melt iron.  The heat coupled with the oppressive humidity is a true force of nature that drains your strength and soul with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. It has the ability to beat you down like a sledgehammer coming down on a railroad spike.  The type of heat that produces torrents of sweat rolling exactly in every place you do not what sweat to be rolling!

I’m battling this flat tire with the determination of a gladiator and after about an hour of gut-wrenching toil and strife……I win!  The tire is changed and I stand there wiping the sweat from my furrowed brow basking in the glory of my manly accomplishment. At this point, I have the brilliant idea that I maybe should check the other tires before proceeding on my journey and I discover that the remaining three tires have separated and are minutes away from coming completely apart and resulting in flats.

There is a beautiful peace and tranquility that accompanies the self-admission that a situation has beaten you.  To have a crystal clear understanding that the Universe’s Crane style Kung Fu was more powerful than my Tiger style flat-tire-changing Kung Fu was as if a weight had been gently lifted from my shoulders.  Once acknowledged, I could relax and find the positive of a given circumstance and determine a way to enjoy the opportunities it has created.

I mentioned earlier the belief that everything happens for a reason and recently I was enlightened by a good friend that the reason is sometimes just that crap happens, and that is all.

We called my father-in-law who was more than happy to come to our rescue, so all we had to do was wait for the cavalry to arrive.  The beauty of the ordeal was that we were broken down at one of the greatest gas station in the universe.  It has a sandwich kitchen, snacks, coffee, drinks, and a multitude of donuts and sweets.

They also had beautiful covered tables outside and my wife and I surveyed the offerings in this cornucopia of the wayside.  We filled our arms with all manner of sustenance and then had one of the most amazing picnic dinners of our marriage.  Seriously, we had an absolutely amazing time and we laughed and ate to our hearts’ content until her father arrived with a way home.

So much of the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the tragedy and triumphs is dependent upon the company you share it with and I am truly blessed to be walking through life with my best friend at my side. This journey is lodged within the pleasure center of my brain and will eternally be one of the best moments of our marriage, not because we made it home, but because we experienced, truly experienced, it together.

You can either be constantly obsessed with getting to your destination or you can choose the sublime ability to soak up each step of the trip.  Being obsessed with deadlines and schedules will never hold a candle to riding in a car and stopping at tourist traps with the love of your life.

 

Photo Credit:  Work Safely

Philip Nelson is a 21 year veteran of law enforcement and has enjoyed a life-long love affair with the written word. In addition to his law enforcement experience, he holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice, is a law enforcement instructor, firearms instructor, and has served most of his career in supervisory and management roles. He writes on the topics of leadership, management, relationships, fishing, and issues related to positive male image. He lives just southwest of Atlanta, GA with his artist wife, who just so happens to be his childhood sweetheart and best friend.

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