THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
The road less traveled has within it the possibility of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. At least extraordinary to those who normally do the expected and stay within the margins that someone set up for them, possibly without their even knowing it. When we embark on a path which is not the presumed, we can count on being surprised and surprising others. The surprise however, is not what is on the road, but what we discover about ourselves when we take that road.
Very often when I am speaking at an event and talking with women who have heard about the Girl Camper movement, they let out a sigh and express a wish that they could do that too. I want to shout, “you can”! It’s not as if it is some kind of exclusive club with strict membership policies. Anyone can join and although so many express the desire, I am always amazed by the number of women who don’t join.
The least likely person to ever find herself as a Girl Camper would be my best friend and favorite travel buddy, Carol Thompson. I chose Carol to profile because I believe she personifies the “ordinary” woman who longs to explore another side of life, possibly in her own little house on wheels. Carol is the very personification of the extraordinarily “ordinary” woman. She is “everywoman.” She is extraordinary to us who know and love her, but ordinary in that she is what most women are; chief cook and bottle washer of their very own private domain.
Carol and I in our real life roles as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and best friends for over 30 years.
I have watched Carol raise a family with incredible devotion for 35 years. She has been the quintessential homemaker. Having athletic children is both a curse and a blessing. They are out of trouble but you live in your car for 20 years. Carol did that! Every practice and every game. I thought she was nuts. I went to play-offs only if someone guaranteed me my kid would have at least 20 minutes of play time. She did all of this while caring for her widowed father with sacrificial devotion. At the end of long work days where Carol manages a busy office in a business she started with her husband in their basement, and which now employs 25 people, she would head to the assisted living facility she reluctantly placed her father in when his safety became an issue. She could have let the facility take care of all his needs but she went religiously to eat with him and to do the things for him that his pride and stage of life would have felt humiliating to ask for help with. She loved, cared for and protected her dad in every way she could for the 16 years he was widowed. She was a model daughter who never complained.
As Carol’s children began leaving the nest she finally had some time for the beach, a passion of hers, and for her younger sister Kathy and her two little nephews. She was on the path to being a Super Aunt until grandchildren eventually would come along and the next phase of the ordinary woman’s life would eventually unfold; grandparenthood! That was the track and there was and is every commendable virtue in it.
A little thing happened though! I joined the Sisters on the Fly and invited Carol to come on a trip with me to Stone Mountain in Georgia. It was my very first Sister on the Fly trip and there were no NJ sisters at that time. I had just bought my little 1959 Field and Stream and wanted someone riding shotgun with me. Carol thought the cheese fell off my cracker.
The little 1959 Field & Steam travel trailer that we took on our first trip to Stone Mountain in Georgia.
First of all, in all the years I have known Carol, I can honestly say that I rarely saw her take time for herself. I recall no regular girls nights out much less weekends of leaving the kids in hubby’s care to traipse around the East Coast with friends. She finally said “Yes!” after much cajoling. I secretly suspect she knew I would be relentless on this matter. There was one caveat though. I must be willing to stop at Antiques stores and roadside attractions along the way. For years she had driven past these things on her annual drive to Florida with her husband Bill. Everyone knows husbands don’t stop and Bill is no exception. I made the pact which was no sacrifice on my part. It would be tough but if that is what it would take to get her there I would muddle through the best I could.
There is a tendency among girl campers to just trade trailers. This is Carol’s new ride. She’s a 1963 Cardinal.
Carol in her little log cabin Fleetwing
We headed out on a Wednesday night at 8 PM, too excited to wait for our planned 5 AM departure the next day. Towing my 1959 Field and Stream for the first time and imagining that every bump would knock it off the hitch, we laughed our way through the anxiety. At a red light ten miles from home I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my neighbor’s cat walking back and forth across the countertop in the trailer. He had apparently gotten in while we were loading. We laughed until we cried. Not a good start. We turned around to bring the cat back and realized we had no gas in the car. We had our martini glasses safely packed but no fuel to get there! Priorities! We decided to get gas as long as we were back in town. At the station we were in our silly state when a woman getting gas in the next lane noticed the trailer and said, “Aren’t you the lady who was in the newspaper last week”? She was referring to an article the local paper did on the Sisters on the Fly. Lots of giggling and trailer touring ensued when a phone call came in from Carol’s son. “Where are you Mom?” “At the gas station in town.” “Wait there. I’m leaving my night class and I want to take your picture.” We were now parked at the gas station giving tours, signing last week’s newspaper article and about to break out the cheese and crackers when Billy arrived with camera and his head shaking. I can’t help but think that the line running through his head was, “Who are you and what did you do with my mom”? When we finally set out from the gas station and headed back in the direction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike it was ten o’clock! We had been gone for two hours and were still in town. My husband called to see if we were in Harrisburg yet. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was sitting at the red light on our corner.
Arriving in Georgia two days later we discovered to our horror that the campground had no hook-ups. Carol had never camped in her life and I had spent hours telling her about how great campgrounds are these days with their whistle clean bathrooms and camp stores that rival convenience stores. If there was one Daddy Long Legged spider in the bathroom stall, there were 100. Carol drinks coffee around the clock and made a bid deal about bringing her cache of coffee supplies. No electric though and the nearest store was ten miles away. No electric, so no heater and a morning temperature of 42 degrees. We woke up seeing our breath in the camper. Despite all of these inconveniences, we had so much fun and were so welcomed by our Southern Sisters who poured out their famous hospitality to us, even valet parking the trailer for us. We met great women we still travel with today, eight years later.
Girl campers are known for their themed parties and this one was from a round up called “It’s a Nor’easter.” Everyone came dressed as a weather front. I am the puffy snowstorm on the left and Carol is the lightening bolt third from the left.
Carol’s “dining room”!
I wanted to thank Carol for her good sportsmanship and so I purchased a ticket for her to go on the trail ride through the state park on horseback. Carol had told me many times about riding as a child at a nearby stable and how much she had loved it. She would sometimes come with me to my daughters riding lessons and loved being in the barn pitching hay around and doling out carrots. I thought she would be so happy to be back in the saddle. When the horses arrived all tacked up though she froze. Standing next to what seemed to her the tallest horse there, he let out a big whinny and Carol was done. No horseback riding for her. She told me later that as she watched me ride away with the girls that she was mad at herself for not just doing it. She made up her mind to go home and return to this childhood sport. Carol is now an advanced rider who jumps! She experienced a bad throw once that resulted in a broken helmet and a concussion. As soon as she was medically cleared she returned to ride again. That is a far cry from the woman spooked by a horses whinny!
Carol’s other sweet ride. Her favorite lesson horse, Morgan!
Carol did not join the Sisters on the Fly as soon as she got home. She waited another two years watching me go off on trips and hearing about all the fun I was having before I was able to convince her that there really are campgrounds with electric and water at them. Carol now owns her own trailer and a truck! She hooks up and tows all by herself. On most trips she trail rides every chance she gets. She speaks at trade shows and the Country Living Fairs about her experiences on the road with her “sisters” and when I can’t go on a trip, she goes without me! That’s my favorite part. She is her own Girl doing her own thing after so many years of doing for others. She has set a course for adventure.
Who knows what the road ahead holds for this girl camper. I do know that I hope I am on the journey with her!
Being a Girl Camper is not a choice between being that and nothing else. We all wear lots of hats. Carol is still a great wife, mother, friend, employer, sister and Aunt. She is also a Girl Camper, equestrian, truck driver, tower, Interstate and rest stop aficionado and the best travel buddy ever. She still does it all for everyone and she always will. There is so much virtue in her. Now she just happens to have a hobby that gives her some down time from her busy life. She has gained so much more than she ever gave up in the few weekends a year she is away. She has gained confidence and friendships and skills and experiences along with memories that will last a lifetime. All of that has enriched not only her life, but the lives of those that she loves and serves. She took the road less traveled, and for Carol it has made all the difference.
To read Janine’s blog, click here.