After months of planning and excitement, the eve of our big family vacation had finally arrived! The plan was to leave home and drive down to Florida. We’d spend a few days there for my cousin’s wedding, then head off to Nashville, TN for a couple of days. We’d just been to Nashville for the first time ever back in December to celebrate my big 3-0 birthday. My parents and I loved it! We all agreed that spending two days exploring more of the city on our way northward after the wedding would be a great idea. To sweeten the pot – my best friend, who lives in Illinois, was going to drive the four hours to meet us there. All the plans were set, the rental car was reserved, hotels were booked, and I’d even found a 5k race to do on Memorial Day in downtown Nashville!
And then it happened. We all went to bed around 11pm, and my mom was inexplicably cold. In hindsight, she had probably already started to burn up in fever. In the middle of the night, I awoke to her obviously sick and needing some help. I assumed her sugar was high – feverish, not making a lot of sense, thirsty, weak, dizzy, etc. Dad and I checked her sugar and while it was high, it has certainly been higher without being so symptomatic. Still, I was convinced it was all sugar related. Dad called the squad and he and Mom headed for the hospital around 4:30am. At that time I was 1,000% certain it was her sugar. I figured they’d give her some insulin, and she’d be checked out before we were supposed to pick up the car at 4pm. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong. Turns out, she had an infection that had gone septic and her blood pressure was bottoming out.
I’m pretty sure the rational human being takes the news that their vacation plans have been compromised because their mother is in the hospital slightly differently than I did. I think the best words to describe my state of mind were melancholy and defeated. After a rough start to 2017, we all needed this trip. Don’t misunderstand – I was concerned about my mother, of course! It was one of those things though, there was nothing I could do by being in Warsaw to make the situation better. Mom was very sick, but she was stable. I was to be the maid-of-honor in my cousin’s wedding just four days later, so walk, drive, swim, or fly…I had to get to Florida. It seemed like the most likely scenario was going to be for me to fly down by myself, then Mom had planned to fly down three days later and make it in time for the wedding. Of course, without the rental car that would mean that the second half of our trip wouldn’t be possible. I wouldn’t get to see my best friend, and I wouldn’t get to run in my race. The second Tennessee race to elude me in less than six months!
I had briefly thought of driving down by myself, but quickly dismissed that idea as lunacy. First of all, I had never piloted a car for a solo trip over 3.5 hours. Secondly, as part of my Dysautonomia, I suffer from chronic fatigue. I’ve figured out how to skirt around it, by simply go-go-going all day. If you don’t sit down to rest, you don’t have time to nap. I try not to rest much throughout the day because A- it makes going back to work more difficult because my body has had a chance to realize how great my bed feels. As well as B- I have difficulties staying asleep each night. I got tired of hearing from my doctors it was because I was napping throughout the day, so I started purposefully busying myself and avoiding naps. All that tangent just to say….car rides are my nemesis. It’s time spent sitting still, and the clouds of drowsiness become heavily laden with pent up fatigue. As quickly as the thought flitted through my head, I dismissed the possibility knowing my parents would never feel comfortable with the idea.
While brainstorming what to do with the trip in Mom’s hospital room, Dad made the mistake of asking if I thought I could drive it. From that moment, stubbornness took hold. The way I saw it, this was our only shot at having hope that the trip could still be a success. I had made up my mind that I WOULD drive to Florida, even if I wasn’t sure that I could. It was scary. It was exhilarating. It was crazy. I was about to set off on an adventure, and I’d forgotten just how much I loved being independently dauntless.
When I left that hospital room, the plan was for me to drive to Florida by myself, my parents would fly down as soon as Mom was released, we’d all go to the wedding, then carry on with the second half of our trip as planned. Mom and Dad would get to see my cousin say her “I Do’s,” we’d all get to see parts of Nashville we had missed in December, I’d get to see my best friend, and I’d still get to run in the 5k!
I set out at 7:30pm on Tuesday. My first goal was to make it to a family friend’s home in Maryland. It was about a 5.5 hour drive away. I used running to help me cope, as I have in so many other instances. I rationalized this insurmountable task ahead of me with the thought that if I could run for 4.5 hours straight in a marathon, then surely I could drive for 5.5 hours. Even better! I was allowed to stop and take breaks! So that’s how I attacked the entire trip. Just as in life, taking at each step, each mile, each day just one at a time. Running helped condition my psyche for the road ahead (no pun intended). If I thought about driving for 21 hours alone, it felt like I would surely fail. However, if I just looked at the leg ahead of me, my goals seemed attainable. I drove that first segment and spent the night in Maryland.
I woke up the next morning and set out for my next benchmark – another 5.5 hours away to Kernersville, North Carolina. A close family friend had some pseudo-family there and had called in a favor. The plan was for me to take a nap at this woman’s house, go for a run, then hit the road again. Ok – here’s where I lose most people. GO FOR A RUN??? But…but, why? Well, because that’s how I deal with stress. It’s also a great release of endorphins and helps to make me feel awake and invigorated (another coping strategy to keep the fatigue at bay). So, that’s just what I did. I made it to Kernersville, took about a 1.5-2 hour nap, then I found a Planet Fitness and ran 5 miles on a treadmill. I had planned to find a park or something, but the rain clouds followed me down from New York and I opted for a gym over torrential downpour. After my run, I took a shower and got back on the road. I felt GREAT!
I knew it was about 9.5 hours of road time between Kernersville and Deltona, Florida – my final destination for a few days. I wasn’t completely sure of the plan, I just knew I was going to drive as far as I possibly could before pulling over somewhere to sleep. I started to struggle quite a bit, but wanted to get to the other side of Colombia, South Carolina before resting. It was late at night and I didn’t have to deal with any big city traffic. I knew with the morning would come commuters and rush hour. I managed to get past Colombia and had hoped I could squeeze through to the other side of Savannah, Georgia. After about 4.5 hours, I had to admit defeat and I found a well lit Walmart parking lot. Sleep would not come to me. As exhausted as I felt, I just couldn’t settle my nerves enough to sleep in a bright parking lot amongst tractor trailers. So, I found the nearest hotel and laid my head down for a few hours of rest.
My final part of the leg down went well. I timed it perfectly! I was going through Savannah before traffic picked up and hadn’t made it to Jacksonville yet for that morning’s rush hour. I was on the home stretch and finally feeling that maybe – just maybe, I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. I know to many people reading this who have done long, solo road trips before, my accomplishment might seem silly. I get it. I didn’t set any world records for most miles, or fastest land speed records from NY to FL. For me, though, this was so much more. After being stripped down of my independence, I’d forgotten how great it felt to be doing something like that. I’d pushed my body in many ways, but I had somehow resolved myself to the idea that I was tethered to this small radius of drive-ability. In retrospect, I can see how that would sound silly.
Part II to follow…more adventuring and finding independence
My cousin and I at her wedding!