My friend recently came back from a five-week adventure in Thailand with her husband. They had no plan of where they would stay and spent every waking and sleeping moment together. When they returned to the US, they brought back dengue fever with them so they spent their first week home resting and visiting doctors. “I’m actually so thankful for it,” she said. “He didn’t have to go back to work right away and we could still be together. When you spend that long with someone, as soon as you’re apart, it’s like a grieving process.”
She told me this on my couch the day before I left for an epic mother-daughter road trip. One that we had been planning for months. One that I thought would never come, months of anticipation growing longer and longer. One that I definitely didn’t prepare to end or to miss or to grieve the loss of.
It’s probably also the fact that this road trip ending marks the beginning of my new life in Texas. Leaving behind my family, my friends, a house that I own, a career that I started–there’s a lot that God called me to give up to follow Him and an entire old life that I must leave behind. Even if or when I come back home, so much will have changed with friends getting married and new babies being born and brothers growing up. So saying goodbye or see you later, whichever you would like to call it, brought tears that I hadn’t cried in so long.
I did what every millennial would do: I created a hashtag to document our road trip on social media. “#chasingtexas” was actually a clever little line that my brother came up with as we brainstormed as a family the night before the road trip began. Every day, Mom and I would bundle together our favorite pictures and come up with a clever little caption to show our friends and family what had happened that day. What we ate, what state we were in, how much traffic we sat in, and what we were learning about foreigners with funny accents as not-very-well-traveled Marylanders.
Don’t get me wrong, the pictures were great. We loved seeing old friends and new friends and family following our journey, liking our posts and leaving suggestions and comments. I even gave Mom a selfie stick before we left, so we partly enjoyed using it to snap pictures, but we mostly wanted to throw it out the window because the stupid thing wouldn’t stop rotating and only worked probably like 20% of the time.
But what I’m here to tell you today is that there are so many disappointing and frustrating and annoying and unexpected moments not documented in the highlight reel of our smiling photos we shared with the world. And these are the real moments that make it all unforgettable. Here’s a look at some of what really happened:
1. First Stop: Knoxville, TN — The college town was pretty deserted as most students were home for school. Even my cousin Abby who goes to law school there was home in Maryland and we missed her by a few days. We set a budget for food every day and the breakfast in the hotel was so expensive that we blew our budget in one sitting on a breakfast sandwich with cold cheese. And so it begins, the arguments over when to eat PB&J or splurge.
Don’t we look so happy here? This was our first night in a lovely hotel in a plush king bed. Little did we know, the beds and the luxury would decline from here. We got nice and cozy!
2. En route to Nashville, TN — A two- to three-hour dash to Nashville took about five hours when a tractor-trailer turned over. We had to shut off our car and watched the truck driver behind us master the art of peeing on his wheel. “Is he?…really?…yes, yes he is.” We posted a selfie of being stuck in traffic, but what you don’t see is how much Mom hates traffic, and how much I can’t stand people who hate traffic. What’s the point? Things happen, we can’t do anything about it, and complaining and saying that we’re never going to get out of it always drives me crazy. And so it begins, the arguments over traffic and how to appropriately respond to the twinkling display of red brake lights.
Oh, if only you could hear all the words behind these pictures…
3. Second Stop: Nashville, TN — We stayed in this quaint little place, our first Air BNB experience. (Brief commercial: If you haven’t tried Air BNB, you totally should. If you find the right place, the hosts are so welcoming and it definitely beats staying in a hotel.) Our hosts in this little apartment off the main house in East Nashville greeted us out front and pointed us in the right direction of a trendy coffee shop called Barista Parlor. This all sounds lovely, taking in the scenery of the neighborhood with charming southern homes, sipping a little caffeine in a cool environment, meeting my friend who lives in the area. But what you didn’t see is that we got lost on the little stroll on the way back home and pretty much walked in circles many blocks too far. And so it begins, the arguments over navigation on an iPhone versus a paper(?) map.
Later, we went to the iconic Broadway street, the place where everyone says, “If you are in Nashville for one night, you must go to Broadway street.” Mom loved the scene, maybe not her too deeply fried catfish, but she was itching to go into a bar and dance to live music. “Well, that’s one way to get kidnapped,” I said (with a few other warnings that I won’t share here.) The flashy lights and the loud chaos reminded me of New York City and it was all a little much for me. I liked it on the quiet streets of East Nashville and would have been A-OK never meeting the cowboy bouncer that Mom wanted to hook me up with. And so it begins, the arguments over how to get kidnapped and when it is appropriate to announce that your daughter’s looking for a cowboy husband.
4. Third Stop: New Orleans, LA — And so it continues, the argument over estimated travel time versus actual travel times. Our biggest goal in mapping out our itinerary was not to arrive in New Orleans in the dark. Well, we failed. We arrived much later than expected. And do you remember how I hinted at the gradual decline of our accommodations? Here’s what we learned: whenever it offers you a bargain “right outside of [fill in the desired area]”, do not click yes, do not send money, do not go anywhere near. Valet parking took our car to a mysterious location for an outrageous price per night (and this was the only option), we couldn’t fully open our bedroom door, I was afraid to touch anything crawling on the brown and gold decor, and we both were afraid to lay down on the bed. But, you know, it was all we had for a small price of an arm and a leg.
This picture is especially great because we were so deliriously hot and arguing about how to properly take a selfie that we were laughing so hard, all while thinking, “I cannot believe we just took a walking tour in 112 degrees and we still have to walk home.” And, in case you were wondering, we ended up lost again on the way home and walked another at least extra mile while sharing lovely sentiments with each other. We climbed into our questionable bed at 2 pm…and we never got up again. We actually ate PB&J in bed while it was our only night in New Orleans. I decided to stay quiet that night on social media. Oh, if only they knew…
5. Fourth Stop: Galveston, TX — You could say we were pretty anxious to leave New Orleans, our hopes and dreams of the big city kind of went up in the flames with the heat. Our ETA seemed to be going in our favor this day…until Siri told us to “take the ferry.” Mom hadn’t mapped out the road to the ferry, but Siri of course wanted to take us the shortest route. And once you are on a road to take a ferry, there isn’t exactly a way out of it. I was the one driving at the time, so I began a slight panic over how one would go about driving your car onto a ferry. And so it continues, the argument over Mom’s use of “drama” to exclaim that “we’re never getting there,” “the wait is hours,” and many other phrases that I guess I hear differently in my head.
But the ferry ride brought us a beautiful way onto the island with dolphins swimming around to greet us. Turns out it was worth the wait. We found our tiny yellow guest house (another Air BNB) that felt like entering the secret garden to me, but smelled like cat litter to Mom. Our host gave us some local suggestions when she let us in and gave us the key. “The Sunflower Café,” she said. “Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And you can walk there.” We got dressed up, braved the maybe 105 degree heat (this was nothing now that we conquered New Orleans), and followed the always wrong Siri to pull on a locked door. It was Sunday evening and it appeared that everything closed down on the island on Sunday evenings. Luckily, we drove closer to the touristy beach part of town and found the world’s best flatbread with brie, steak, and onions. We were so hot and exhausted that this was the night we said, “We need a cocktail.”
So we skipped East Beach, the best beach in town. We stubbornly went back to the touristy part of the beach and walked a few minutes in the sand, wondering how anyone was sunbathing in the unbearable weather. Those smiles seen were plastered, masking the sad moments in the sand as we realized that our epic road trip was coming to an end.
6. Final Destination: Dallas, TX — My parents have helped me move so many times in the last several years that I really can’t count. So we know what to expect on moving days: a ton of work and a wave of exhaustion when things don’t usually go as smoothly as you would like. But this move-in day was very different. There were these big black bins and carts and moving supplies like we had never seen before. We unloaded my entire car in two trips! Then, I had several boxes shipped to the school. When we were lost looking for the mail room, the campus police officer walked us over and introduced us to everyone in the mail room. “Ashley Tieperman?” the guy smiled. “Yes, we have a whole aisle for you!” The kind gentlemen loaded everything up and delivered it to my new room. Again, we had never experienced a move that went so smoothly.
This may have been the first time on the #chasingtexas post where I shared a little bit of the truth behind this picture. The night after move-in day, I woke up throwing up every hour for the next 10 hours. Who knows if I ate something or what was going on, but I spent the next two days in bed and Mom transformed into SuperMom. She ran around to stores and basically unpacked everything herself. She even organized my closet and warned me later to be sure to hang the item of clothing in the appropriate section. The walls were filled with so many touches from home.
Mom and I kept a journal during our adventure, taking turns writing every day (or at least the days where we had enough energy by the time we got home). Here’s part of Mom’s last entry:
“This has been one of the best summer vacations I have ever had. Thank you Ashley for allowing me to be a small part of your adventure. Be brave these next few weeks and get to know your next new group of friends. No matter where you go, you always leave with the best of friends. I love you and remember, I will be back! Love, Mom :)”
When we first got to Dallas, we stayed for a night with some of these great friends I’ve made along the way that mom was referring to. Melissa and Brett just rescued a new puppy and they shared that the temporary foster mom left behind one of her old t-shirts that smelled like her for the puppy to be comforted by her scent. Melissa was a little weirded out by the thought of keeping a smelly old t-shirt, but the idea behind it was sweet.
At 5 am on the morning of Mom’s flight back to Maryland from Dallas, she handed me her teddy bear, Cuddles, and said, “He’s yours now. It’s just like Melissa’s story.” Driving to the airport in the dark in the middle of a strange city is not something I would advise, especially when you are overcome with a wave of sadness that is filled with fear and a whole lot of pain.
What’s crazy to me is that I haven’t lived at home full-time with my parents since I was 17 years old. That’s 8 years. And yet, saying goodbye to Mom was one of the hardest things I’ve done in a very long time. It felt like all the sharp pains of a heartbreak and the waves of confusion and gasping for breath because you have no idea where you are and how you got here. The first day was definitely the worst as I looked through pictures and realized that the blue dot on the GPS finally did reach the red dot. All the busyness and the hustle and the planning was over. This was it. Months of praying and preparing in between working full-time had been a roller coaster of highs and lows.
#chasingtexas was no longer. Texas had been chased. The road trip was filled with beautiful moments of disappointment that I wouldn’t trade for anything. If it was socially acceptable, I would have posted every angry moment, every tired moment, every hot moment, every lost moment, every headache along the way. Because these are the moments that painted it into a colorful and memorable journey. It didn’t matter where we went or when we got there. All that mattered was that we were together on an epic mother-daughter road trip. Rory hushed her mom Lorelai as she scrambled to shout out last-minute advice before she left (without a mother-daughter road trip) to start her next chapter in life sans-Mom: “You’ve already given me everything I need.”
In an essay in the New Yorker about why the three most famous accounts of hiking were written by people who did not hike the whole distance, the author shares exactly what I want to say about our road trip:
“The reader is never tempted to skip ahead to see if the author finished the trek or not, because that has ceased to be the point.”
One day, there will be so much more to say about our beautiful mess of a road trip. And I have a hunch that the state borders we crossed and the shape of the route on the GPS won’t be anything close to the point.