As we packed up and drove out of New Orleans, it really started to hit us that our trip was coming to an end. This amazing adventure, this once in a lifetime journey would be wrapping up in a few days. The feeling was bittersweet, but honestly pretty heavy on the sweet. We’d had an amazing time in Louisana but I was starting to feel like an old phone, taking a lot longer to recharge and draining a lot faster.
We spent a night in Natchez, Mississippi where we had a drink at the Under the Hill Saloon, a bar Mark Twain used to frequent in his riverboat days. The bartender, who looked straight out of Duck Dynasty, kept telling us jokes you’d expect from a bartender that looks straight out of Duck Dynasty. We walked the town a bit but it had just dropped twenty degrees and the cold kept us from staying out too long.
The next day we headed back to Memphis. Beale Street, which had been packed with tourists and revelers back in August, was now spookily deserted. The police cars blocking both ends were more likely to respond to hypothermia-related emergencies than bar brawls. We ate wings at a little bar at the end of Beale and then found some live music at Jerry the King Lawler’s bar. As we walked in, we were greeted with an impressive amount of old wrestling paraphernalia, including the king’s championship belt and some familiar looking action figures. We passed a couple of hours listening to covers and watching old wrestling matches on the TVs behind the bar.
The next morning we went to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. We’ve seen quite a few museums on this trip. It quickly became apparent that we had saved one of the best and emotionally taxing for last. The museum tells the story of the civil rights struggle in vivid detail. We had earmarked three hours to tour it but could have spent twice that long without seeing everything. Toward the end of the tour, we rounded a corner and found ourselves looking into the hotel room where Martin Luther King spent his final morning before being shot on the balcony outside. They have left the room as it was that morning. It drove home the harsh reality of the event itself and really personalized it for me. In addition to being a civil rights icon and one of the great true leaders in my country’s history, he was also a guy drinking coffee and making plans for the day he’d never experience. We drove away glad for the experience but very drained and a little sad.
Our final stop was St. Louis, Missouri where my good friend and old college roommate Jonathan lives with his wife Leah and daughter Isabella. It was evening by the time we arrived so after quickly catching up, we hopped into their car and drove to the Shafly taproom. It was great to catch up on old times and hear how more recent times have treated them. Jonathan and I have quite a few friends in common, some of whom we’ve seen on the trip so I got to report on what everybody was up to. It was a nice change to be the one with the current intel on people. After dinner, we returned to their place where we caught up some more over sips from his remarkable whiskey collection until bedtime. We’d been wanting to stay in the van one last time and St. Louis was our chance. Climbing into the bed, I really did find myself a little sad that it would be our last sleep in the ‘Roo. It was cold, just like the start of our west coast loop, but we had improved our winter sleeping situation with a pair of hot water bottles. Between those, the whiskey, and Slinky heat, I fell asleep contented with where I was and happy that the trip would wrap up the next day.
I’m writing this from the airplane that is taking us back to Melbourne, where Slinky and I will start the next adventure, the one we take on as a newly married couple. Our time in Indy was equal parts chaotic and lovely. We stayed with our good friends Kent and Theresa. They have been incredibly generous hosts and I can’t even express how nice it’s been to spend that much time with them. I wrapped up one work project and started another. We had a wedding celebration at the Duckpin bowling alley and a small wedding ceremony with family in Santa Barbara.
Somehow, amidst all of the chaos and revelry, we managed to sell the van. It’s new owner, Zach, plays rugby regionally and had been looking for a van to convert when he came across ours on Craigslist. While we were sad to see it go, we were glad that it will stay on the road and will continue to be part of somebody’s adventures.
I don’t really think the trip being over has completely sunk in yet. I’m not sure what it sinking in looks like. I do know that for the past six months, our ‘normal’ became completely different than any normal we had known. We got pretty good at being on the road and learned a lot about balancing work with fun. We learned a lot about each other. We figured out when we can push it and when we need to give ourselves and each other a break. We learned how to make space in cramped quarters. I think a lot of those skills are going to come in handy in post-van life, though hopefully not as often. I also think we are going to appreciate the creature comforts of modern living a lot more going forward.
The one thing I feel above all else is lucky. So many stars aligned to make this trip happen. We’re both lucky to have jobs we can do from anywhere with an internet connection. We’re lucky that a twenty-year-old van was up for the trip. I’m lucky to have fallen in love with somebody who embraces this kind of adventure and who is resourceful and patient enough to make it happen. Finally, I feel incredibly lucky to know so many wonderful people spread throughout the country. It was amazing to see people I haven’t seen for a long time, to meet their partners and their children and to have them meet Slinky. It was so good to have the chance to make new memories with old friends. We don’t get too many chances to do that in life and it’s not lost on me how incredible this opportunity has been.
We’ll be settling in and nesting for a bit in Melbourne. We are looking forward to sleeping in a stationary bed and keeping our food in a refrigerator. I’m not sure I can put into words the impact this trip has had on us but I do know I’ll never see another van or RV go by without wondering what kind of adventure they are on, wondering whether they feel as lucky as we do and, as has been one of our main topics of conversation for the past six months, wondering if they can stand up in that thing.