When Carol was twelve, she made a road trip with her older sister and her four kids. Somewhere in Missouri they looked back at the trailer that housed her sister's dog Heidi, and didn't see her. With a happier ending than a similar event in National Lampoon's Vacation, the Crisfield clan hung a U-ee and found Heidi bounding along the highway, her leash that she'd used to somehow manage to open the door to the trailer bouncing behind. The original trip planned to Alaska had to be abandoned in British Columbia, when that same trailer busted an axle on the Alaskan highway. I'm happy to report Heidi was safe, though covered in leftover coleslaw that had spilled out of the fridge when the axle broke. A Native American guide fixed the axle and let Carol's niece ride his horse during the repair, adding, “when you're done, just get off; he'll find his way home.”
At twenty-one Carol, on an impulse, followed her then client and future husband Mike to Morocco and an eventual equally impulsive marriage in Gibraltar, leaving behind in the States, a suddenly former boyfriend with whom she'd originally made a date to see when she returned from Morocco. As a mother of two, Carol went on to make several cross-country trips on her own with only an AAA Trip Tik and coins for a pay phone for security. Merging the “Heidi story” with the Morocco one and beyond, it just strikes me that Carol came at the wanderlust of travel as a more or less free-spirited Bohemian that matched my own when I took off for Europe in 1971, and where I had remained for nearly three years.
Widowhood brought Carol and I together, but it is our history of travel that is defining our new life together. It was Carol who, after having met me in person just a month earlier, suggested a week in California’s Big Bear Lake as our first road trip. When her preference for vigorous hikes in the woods merged seamlessly with my preference to sit and read by a shimmering mountain lake, we knew we'd be sympatico as “roadies.” Three months later, a three-week train trip through France proved it.
We're joined by the same sense of adventure the road offers. Carol is rooted in the visual and experiential, and that's why I'm seeing and doing more with her than I ever did on my solo travels, which is good for me. I don't know what it is about my own atmospheric and introspective disposition toward travel that appeals to her. Maybe it's when she sees that glazed over expression on my face that tells her I'm millions of miles away in a whole other sphere of the multiverse that she gets the chance to experience what solo travel feels like. I'm not sure, but she instinctively seems to know when it's time to reel me back in from my spacewalk and soak up a cathedral or Roman ruin or two. She also seems to know precisely when I've had enough, and it's time to seek out a cheerful cafe or gelato shop.
For a woman perfectly content to surround herself with family (and serving frequently as an in-house Uber service), Carol has recently applied for her Global Entry card, affirming she is planning to expedite many re-entries through U.S. Customs along with me in the years to come. And she's all in on train travel (though kicking back in the luxury of a first-class compartment on a European high-speed train is a pretty easy sell.) Carol has even embraced Amtrak, building its plodding, swaying and inexplicable delays into a “part of the journey” expectation. (Not surprisingly, she's ahead of me on that count.)
We both have lived decades where this kind of travel had no longer been part of our lives’ expectations. But our youthful pasts have informed us of how wandering can be done, and widowhood has taught us the urgency of getting on with life and taking not a day of it for granted.