It all seemed to happen by accident. Several years ago, I did a Google search for my name to see if I could learn more about the history/origin of my name. Maybe it was something on social media to Google your name and see the results. Either way, one of the results was Audra State Park in West Virginia and I was thrilled to see something that shares my uncommon name. The knowledge of the park was filed away in the back on my head for years. Then, at the age of 48, I found myself in the middle of a pandemic and at the end of a 4-year relationship that I had once thought would not end. What to do next?
My thoughts drifted back to a saying I had heard Glennon Doyle say, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (which are actually the last two lines of a poem called “A Summer Day” by Mary Oliver). My mind drifted back to my default love of travel. Travel is one of the things I want to do with my one wild and precious life. And, given the state of the pandemic and travel in Summer 2021, a road trip seemed like a more realistic start to that goal. At the same time, I read an article by Samantha Brown about America’s newest National Parks at the New River Gorge National Park in WV. It seemed like providence was laying down a path in front of me and I decided to sally forth down that path.
I started to research places to stay around the New River Gorge and landed on Fayetteville, WV. Finding a cool place to stay always elevates the level of excitement around a trip for me and it helped to spur along the planning process. I found a place on Vrbo in downtown Fayetteville in the old bank building that had been converted into four suite-style rooms with a living room and a kitchen which was available for some of the dates I was considering. Then, I looked for places to stay near Audra State Park and decided on Buckhannon, and found an equally quaint place to stay that had availability around the same dates. Finding both locations made the experience seem more real and spurred along the planning process.
Since I was only making hotel reservations, I knew I could still cancel if needed (especially once the numbers for the Delta variant started creeping up during the summer months), so the plans all still felt very abstract to me.
I did start following WV tourism pages on social media to learn more about where I was planning to go and to maintain and increase my confidence in actually pulling off this trip. I started to envision the excursions and activities in each city–it felt nerve wracking and exhilarating. My particular flavor of fun is adventure and I saw River Expeditions on the social media pages and decided to do white water rafting–after receiving a push from a college friend on social media who said I would love it–and a bridge walk under the New River Gorge Bridge.
Once the reservations for my adventures were made, the panic mixed with anticipation set in. I’ve never been a person who does road trips. Especially not multiple day road trips. Especially not “by myself” multiple day road trips. Being within 12 months of turning 50, I thought it would be a good time to redefine what it is I am capable of doing–what I want to do with my one wild and precious life. There is too much of the world I want to see to wait until all the conditions were just right to travel with friends and family. The time was now and the destination was WV.
I had made, in retrospect, the incredibly wise decision to have my first day of travel be from just south of Austin to just north of Dallas to spend the night with a friend I have had for over 35 years. It would get me about 5 hours into my journey. She invited one of our long time friends to spend the night and we had a good, old-fashioned slumber party! As I drove up to North Texas, I realized both of my friends had moved their older sons to college in the recent weeks and had either started or continued the launching of children. This was the season, it seems, we were all doing brave things. Where we were feeling unmoored but continuing to put one foot in front of the other, however slowly and carefully as we needed. I learned a while back that you never really know how you are going to do hard or unexpected things until you find yourself in the middle of the hard and challenging times, putting one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, doing the hard and unexpected things.
1) I could stop and eat when I wanted
2) I could see whatever attractions I wanted
3) I could rely on my sense of direction (thank you mom and her daddy, my Papa!) to get myself from Point A to Point B and when that failed me or I realized my error, I could turn around and try again or pull over and ask for directions, even from a lovely family running a gas station and with signs supporting an opposing political candidate
4) I could travel at my own pace and really enjoy my own company–all while honing my car dancing skills
5) There are so many really nice and wonderful people willing to welcome the single girl into their conversation and in their raft and on their bridge walk
6) Our fears can be big and scary but also acknowledged and endured and overcome all at the same time
7) Playlists and podcasts downloaded are crucial for those long hours (see above car dancing)
8) The trees in TX are short and round. As one travels east, the trees get taller and much more plentiful
9) In TX, you can see so much of the sky and horizon. Driving closer to the mountains, you see less of the horizon, but the mountains in place of the sky are breathtaking!
10) I am much braver in the abstract–when it is “go time”, my stomach goes into knots and I have to give myself a big, Big, B-I-G pep talk