Over the past few weeks, I’ve become a big fan of sleeping in state parks. They’re usually cheap, relatively nice, and conveniently located near towns or along two-lane roads. The most common phrase in my Google maps is “campgrounds near…”
This afternoon I made a nine-hour journey from Northern Missouri to the Texas-Oklahoma border. One of my Google searches led me to a state park on the aptly named Lake Texoma, which sits on the border an hour north of Dallas.
I pulled into the campground shortly after six and was greeted by a fifty-something park volunteer. After a brief introduction, she noticed my Massachusetts license plate. “Wow, you’ve come a long ways.” Her eyes lit up. I nodded and told her where I’d been and the rough plan for where I was heading next.
“I did a trip like that once,” she told me, thrilled to have found a kindred spirit. “I’m from Pennsylvania, but when I graduated high school, I had a craving to see the country. I gathered my savings and took off. I ran out of money in Texas, and I’ve lived here ever since.”
Just like that. No plans, no family, no friends. I hid my astonishment. There is a good degree of spontaneity in my travels, but nothing like that. I’ve been planning this trip for months. I have a tentative schedule and a family to return to.
We talked a few minutes longer, sharing stories from the road. When I got into my car to drive to my site, she called out, “what are you cooking tonight?”
“Mac and cheese.” PB&Js, goldfish, and apples make up the core of my current diet.
“Do you like vegetables?”
I couldn’t tell if this was some sort of test – a motherly warning to keep up my nourishment while I’m traveling. “I try to eat as many as I can.”
“Take this soup. It’s still hot.” She handed me a Tupperware container. I tried to protest, but she would have none of it, and really if you spend enough time on the road, hot soup is impossible to turn down.
As I ate the soup, my thoughts turned to the volunteer. Her experience terrified me. Not so much the being broke part, but the not knowing. How had she taken this cross-country trip without knowing what she was going back to? How had she managed to spend all of her money thousands of miles from home?