Day 1: Nashville-St. Louis

I will not make excuses for how I feel about my dog. Even just calling her “dog” somehow seems to cheapen our relationship. We love each other very much and we communicate non-verbally on a very elevated level. She sleeps when I sleep, she eats when I eat. She literally doesn’t get up in the morning until I do. All the bad dogs in commercials wake their owners up. Bess is much more considerate. She knows the moment I fall asleep at night. When she does need to go out, she signifies her desire by sitting very still and looking at me. With her beautiful blue eyes. Did I mention they are blue? She is just magnificent.

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So this morning as I loaded the car for the trip of a lifetime, instead of thinking of how my oft-choked wanderlust would finally be satisfied, my throat was sore and my chest was tight because I was thinking about Bess.

I had been dreading leaving her for weeks. Excited about the trip. Happy to be with my family. But dreading leaving my dog. I know. I hear it.

When I leave on a trip she stays close and bays every time I come near. I know she wants to come. But more than that, I know that all the joy in her world lies in her relationship with me. She lives to see me wake and sleep. She has no other pleasure than to greet me when I come home. She would walk ten thousand miles, she would take a bullet.

My husband and children noticed that I seemed a little tight as we hustled backpacks and hiking boots into the car. Beatrice suggested that I follow her prescription for saying goodbye to a beloved pet. “I’m just going to squeeze Kitten until she squeaks. Try that.” I tried. It’s hard to squeeze a great dane into squeaking.

IMG_9573On my last sweep through the house, I walked past Bess, looking at her with longing in my eyes and grief in my throat. She cast me an indifferent glance over her white shoulder and turned back to the doggy task of watching out the window.

I’m not hurt. I’m relieved. I probably am the purest joy in her world. Yes, I know I am. So that’s settled.

Once free of my feelings for Bess, we were on our way. My other best friend, Ira Glass said, “After all the stories and books about road trips, it’s hard for an american to just hit the road without some expectations.” And expectations we’ve got. We are out to see the world! At least America! At least Some of It. Here we go!

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Four miles down the road, Leo threw up. It was a real spectacular surprise. Cleaning up as best we could, we tried again. Here we go! The van no longer had the sweet smell of fresh pink baby lotion, instead every third breath yielded a faint whiff of stomach acid. But we are living our dream. Bodily fluids and all.

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At mile 23, we had our first crier. At mile 27, our first fight. The kids demanded snacks after only 51 miles, and our first theft didn’t occur until mile 106. After 200 miles, as we sat in stand still traffic  behind a dirty semi, Caleb and I looked at each other and smiled. “I’m so happy”, he said.

Me too.

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