Drew Butler

The long road traveled

I embarked nearly alone on a Friday morning. One week before Christmas with a packed car, and a dog, for a long drive from Brooklyn, NY to Galveston, TX. The intention up until the night before was slightly different.

The assumption with getting a car before leaving, instead of upon arrival in Texas, was so that Lauren, our son, and I could pack up the car and make the journey together. We assumed a need to maximize available space, so in anticipation, I purchased a soft top carrier and a bike rack for the back. This was to ensure the maximum amount of available space for our crew to cross half of the United States. The reality of our spatial needs, however, was well beyond our imaginings. In fact, within the first attempt to load the car up, I was left with the reality that I had filled the whole of the top carrier and trunk, with only half of what we had to take.

We were out of time and the plan was clearly flawed and needed to be changed. So, we adjusted. In the final moments, before leaving it was decided that Lauren and our son would fly ahead the next morning. She would be able to take a couple of the bigger items, like the stroller and car seat with her, not only freeing up space from those things but allowing me to flip half of the back seat down, gaining us more valuable space in the car. Since we were going to be staying an additional night, it also meant I had an opportunity to take a few more things to our storage unit before we left.

This would mean that I would be driving with just our dog, alone, for nearly 2000 miles. But it gave us a chance.

When Friday morning came along, I took Lauren and a sleeping Bear to the airport. The departure was quick, at least from my point of view. They would fly to Nashville, TN, where I would meet up with them, before ultimately meeting me in Austin, TX. There we would spend Christmas, then ultimately complete the drive together (somehow) to Galveston, TX. I was taking the long way around it would seem.

After the airport, I moved more of our things down to our storage unit in southern Brooklyn. Next, I repacked the car, with barely an inch of space left to space. Added the dog with his bed, into a small corner of the back seat. Said goodbye to our empty apartment. We were homeless, and by 12 pm I was off.

See you later Brooklyn.

As I crossed the Staten Island bridge, it was unseasonably warm. At 55 degrees Fahrenheit, near the end of December, it was nearly shorts and t-shirt weather. In fact, because of the near warmth and the fact that I wanted to be comfortable for my long trek, that is exactly what I wore. My plan was to drive all the way to Tennessee in one shot. I estimated that with doggie and human breaks, it would likely take until 4-5 am before I would get there, but that was okay. I’d rather have the extra downtime in between legs of the trip, than to sleep. In the end, though, the choice was hardly mine to make.

Pennsylvania took nearly forever to cross, or so it seemed. However, when I finally did the weather started to take a turn for the worst. For the previous few hours, I had seen small flurries of snow here and there, but it was so light, that I assumed it was melting far before it even hit the ground. As I crossed into West Virginia, though, the story changed, as the roads became treacherous.

It was dark at this point, nearly 8 pm. I had been delayed by far more breaks across Pennsylvania than I had anticipated and by the time I was starting to go through the mountains of West Virginia, I could feel the car slipping on the road. My speed started to dip down from the 75-80 mph that I had been driving before, to a terrified 20-30 mph. The roads were covered in a thin layer of white and traffic was proceeding in a caravan of unsettled travelers. Any fear of falling asleep while driving was gone at this point as the combination of Starbucks coffee and adrenalin from my white-knuckled drive was more than enough to keep me going.

It was becoming clear though that I had two options in front of me. Either keep white knuckling it at the crawl I was proceeding at and perhaps end up in a ditch somewhere in the middle of nowhere, all to add likely several more hours to my total drive, or stop at a motel and call it a night. I chose the more sensible of the two.

The next morning, after a nice warm night’s sleep, The dog and I embarked once again. The roads were still a little dicey, but it was light out. The morning sun was already doing its work and I was off. Within an hour or two, I was far enough south, that the roads were completely clear.

West Virginia went on for longer than I expected, then it was onto Kentucky. While the initial intent was to stop at Lauren’s grandparents for a couple of nights in Clarksville, TN, a combination of lost time and the realization that I should probably take the next leg to Austin, TX a tad slower sunk in. As such, when I was told to stop at her other grandparents’ house in Bowling Green, KY. I took it as a blessing that I would get to the stopover that much sooner.

One night in Bowling Green meant happy times for a pent-up puppy in the back seat. He got to run around a bit, jump all over some family members, and lick a very happy and mostly smiling baby, before ultimately landing back in the car another 24-hours later.

The road between Bowling Green, KY, and Austin, TX was luckily uneventful. The plan was to make it to Texarkana, Arkansas by nightfall, before ultimately stopping for the night. This meant having only 5-hours of driving left, but it also meant not showing up at somewhere between 3-4 AM and messing with my still undamaged sleep schedule. The reward was definitely worth the small price of the somewhat sketchy Motel 6 that we stashed ourselves in.

One thing that I had always heard but never really understood was how empty the drive through northern Texas could be. From Texarkana to Dallas, the road was almost a blank slate. A canvas someone forgot to finish painting. Brownish green and flat, and missing that all-important element that gives it emotional purpose. Maybe Dallas itself was that purpose, as for as flat and boring the previous 3-hours of driving had been, the eastern approach for Dallas was quite spectacular.

Looming in the west as I drove across the causeway across a small lake, it was perhaps the most impressive entrance into a city that I had seen in my whole trip. New York City itself really only rivals it because of its immensity and the amazing skyline. Dallas, however, seemed like a transition from pointlessness to vibrancy. Something that seemed missing throughout the rest of my trip.

The rest of the trip to Austin, TX was uneventful. We eventually landed in my parent’s driveway. Unpacked the car, unwound, and awaited the arrival of my better 3/4 later in the evening.

The plan from that point was to spend a few days with my family, work from coffee shops, have some Christmas fun, before ultimately packing the car again and finishing the final leg of our journey to Galveston, TX.

Luckily for the final leg, we had some relief in the baggage department, as Lauren’s sister was making a similar journey home a couple days before and was able to take some of our things with her. This meant that the car, just barely, had enough room for all of our things, leaving the backseat for mommy, baby, and doggie, while I drove the final 4-hour stretch east across Texas.

In the end, we’re temporarily transplanted. Homeless, but with family in the most positive and purposeful way. We’ll eventually land back in NYC, most likely in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Until then, the plan is to allow our families to spend as much time as possible with our son, save some money along the way, and eventually travel for a large part of 2016.

It is hard having given up a piece of our independence. To once again be living with family. To not get to wake up to the city we love. However, the opportunity that we have before us is an amazing one and in 10-years, I know we’ll be happy we made this decision.

For now, our lives will be filled with beaches, biking, and running along hopefully warm beaches throughout what might be a very cold winter for our normal home. I can’t say that I’m sad about this one facet of our journey. I’m, in fact, incredibly grateful for this opportunity to share our son in his formative years and to experience a different side of life for a little while.

The road to get here was a long one. Where it leads in the long term I cannot fully say. I do know that it will steel us in our resolve for the life we choose for ourselves.

2016 is going to be an amazing year.