A Twist in the ‘Dam Road’

Y’all are going to think I’m crazy…

First, because I don’t think I’ve ever said the word y’all to anyone outside my family – it’s such a Southern thing – but mostly because of what I’m about to tell you next.

During the week after I posted the van on VanCamper, I had no less than a dozen legitimate inquiries from folks all around the country, as well as 3 locals. I talked (at length) to a guy in Maryland, exchanged texts with a woman who had written a book about solo adventuring around the globe, and met up with fresh faced young couples looking to start their vanlife journeys. It wasn’t these interactions that caused me pause, it was how I felt each time I prepared for them.

You see, most times when I part with a possession, I’m happier than I was the day I bought it. I’ve seen it through it’s usefulness and I’m ready to pass it on to someone who can continue to enjoy it, as I move on to something else. Never in my life have I regretted parting with something I’ve owned. But each time I stepped inside Van Geaux to show someone around, I felt a twinge in a place that I don’t usually feel twinges…that part of my heart that says, “you are not done here”.

One Saturday morning, I was meeting with a couple from West Nashville who were planning to make their van purchase within the coming week and Van Geaux was one of their finalists. As I waited for them to arrive, I stood talking to my dad, about nothing in particular, when out of the blue, he said, “You have a 50/50 chance of getting what you want when they get here, or a 100% chance if you decide before they do.” I didn’t have to ask him what he meant. He saw it in my face before I even said it out loud to myself.

I turned down their offer and apologized for wasting their time.

The next day, I arrived at my dad’s house with a can of Kool Seal, a paint tray, and all the curtains that I’d spent that morning finishing up. The only thing he said was, “I’ll get the ladder and tape it off for you”. For the next few hours we cleaned and sealed the roof (which had no leaks, but was pretty rough, and Kool Seal helps reflect the sun to keep the inside temps lower).

And we styled the interior…

But, no matter how much work we were ever to do, a van sitting in a driveway is…well…not living out it’s purpose.

The next logical step in conquering my fear of being stranded by the side of the road (aka…fear of abandonment) was to get to know Van Geaux. So, we went camping, and not nearby either. We (as in Van Geaux and I) drove an hour and a half north, and down a windy little road, to a campground by the dam. I absolutely loved how the GPS would say, “turn left on Dam Road”, truly emphasizing the dam part. (Sorry, it was funny.) And so we arrived without incident, despite the twistiness of the dam road, and my hesitation in driving a tank.

And we met Cheryl…

The Universe puts people in each other’s path for a reason. Cheryl was the campground host. She guided me to my site, gave me a few pointers, and when I gushed, “this is my first solo trip since my break-up and I’m nervous and excited, and I don’t even know if I can back this thing up!” she told me the most inspiring story of courage I think I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard a lot of them lately).

Long before I was ever born, Cheryl married her junior high school sweetheart. She said that when they met at 13, he told her he was going to marry her, and she (being a kid) said, “okay, sure” and never gave it a second thought, until they graduated high school and she realized he had been her best friend all along and she couldn’t imagine a life without him. They were married for 51 years when he passed away this past January. She described him as the picture of health, until the day he wasn’t, and though she did not say Covid, the way she described what happened, I knew.

“I finally took my ring off last week,” she confided as she turned her head so I wouldn’t see the tears. I automatically reached for the finger where my own ring had been until that very morning and I felt her pain. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I miss him so much. And it’s the little things…I was used to talking to him 15 times a day when we were apart and just having him there for silly things like showing him something I saw on Facebook.”

I understood.

“I cannot imagine your grief,” I said, while thinking how very brave this woman was to even be sharing her story with a complete stranger. And how very brave to be here, in this place alone, helping other people have fun every day, when your own heart is so heavy. As if reading my mind, she said, “I don’t know how I would have made it if I hadn’t volunteered to do this this summer. I’m learning to be brave, and sometimes that’s harder than losing someone.”

I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to say. Here I’ve been reading books like Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and Annie F. Downs’ Let’s All Be Brave in hopes of finding my own courage to be brave and the thing I needed to see and hear wasn’t found in those pages; it was embodied by a woman in a golf cart telling me yes I could back that van up and if she could get up every day and face life after the loss of her best friend, anyone could…including me.

When she drove away, I cried. These weren’t tears of sadness though. As I turned around and looked out at the lake, I let myself feel the joy of being there…in that campground…in a van…surrounded by people…in a world of infinite possibilities. Then I smiled, and I laughed this silly little laugh that I felt erupting from somewhere inside, and I pulled up a chair and sat with these feelings for a long time.

That night was all that I expected it to be. I watched the sunset, took a shower, and settled down to watch football before falling asleep beneath my grandma’s quilt in a van that truly felt like home.

Sunset at Cheatham Lock & Dam

The next day, I drove up to Clarksville and had a 3-hour lunch with my sister (whose name is Joy, by the way). We joked and laughed and reminisced and ate some of the best guac we’ve ever tasted (and neither of us really likes guacamole), until we were the only people in the restaurant. Then I went to see my niece, and let the kids play in the van. There’s nothing like the reaction of a child to make you realize you made the right decision.

The girls climbed on the bed and looked out the back door, then raided the snacks, of course. Addison said she wanted me to stay in their driveway forever, and Little Man just said, “big truck”. And my oldest niece, who is 13 and a typical teen girl, grabbed me before I left and gave me a hug. A real hug…not the stiff side hugs I usually get when I leave.

It was a good trip. In more ways that I can count.

I’m not going to lie to you. I still don’t know what I’m going to do next week when my lease is up. I have ideas, most of which require a level of bravery I don’t know if I’m ready for. But that’s the thing I’m learning about courage. It’s not going to come when you’re ready. In fact, it’s not going to come to you at all, because courage is already there. If you want to be brave, you’ve got to open the door and put that first foot through it. Success is not guaranteed, but then again, neither is failure. And as my dad so aptly said, you have a 50/50 chance of getting what you want if you let someone else choose for you and a 100% chance if you choose for yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone choosing my life for me. So map or no map, brave or terrified, I’m driving myself along this ‘Dam Road’ until I find out just where it goes.