We recently asked to hear your most memorable travel stories. We received an incredible amount of wonderful and worthy submissions, and for that, we thank you. In fact, we received so many great stories that we’re publishing three runners-up before revealing the big winner. One of them is below. To see all of this year’s runners-up, click here.
The Dark Edge of Heartbreak
by Trisha Ridinger McKee
Heartbreak is a funny thing. It already takes you out of your comfort zone so that you’re sometimes willing to go even further into the unknown, to try something different, perhaps a little dangerous. Dangerous, at least, to a naive, sheltered young woman.
It was the late 90’s and I was twenty-two. I had just ended a long engagement with my fiancé of four years. I was devastated, disoriented, and not sure what to do with my life… with my heart.
The internet was still a new thing, and chat rooms were all the rage. I found myself talking to one guy in particular. These conversations numbed my pain, made me forget my loss. He claimed he was going through the same kind of pain, a difficult breakup, a broken heart. He sent me a picture and I became smitten. Good looking, attentive, saying all the right things.
He was in Tennessee. I was in Pennsylvania. It seemed impossible. I was relatively new to driving, to freedom, to adventure. I had always been sheltered, having things done for me. I relied on that, relished in being safe and practically immobile.
But I was in pain. And these conversations with this practical stranger were the few bright spots left in my now turbulent life. Maybe this was love. I had to find out. I had to step out of the comfort zone and see if there was more for me out there.
I left my home early one summer morning with a suitcase packed and my mom pleading with me not to go, not to drive away. She was petrified. She was sure I would be killed. This was unheard of — going to meet someone one had met on the internet. Of course it was dangerous. But this was the new me. This was the me that had cancelled a wedding and lost the one security she had known.
I had a map. An actual map. There were not GPSs back then, or at least, they were not prominent. I had no cell phone. I had a map. And I planned out my route. Almost 900 miles. Over thirteen hours.
I put in my CDs of ’70s love songs. I drove and contemplated, soul-searched, cried and planned. This drive was my meditation. It was the time to reflect and learn from past mistakes, ended relationships. The sunshine rained down on me as I cried and sang along to corny, yet fitting lyrics of lost love, bruised hearts and hopeful buds of new romances. The open road welcomed me, inviting me on a journey that took every bit of courage I had to continue.
The more I drove, the more I realized this was exhilarating. Traveling, seeing different places, new backgrounds. I was intoxicated on the adventure, dizzy from the freedom I was giving myself. There was nothing to be afraid of except my own fears limiting me.
I lacked self-confidence. This trip proved to me that I could be independent. I could be on my own and not only survive, but thrive. I could enjoy my own company as I drove alone on a long trip.
I won’t go into detail about the destination except to say I made it. I did not get lost. The point of this story is not the picture of myself the guy blew up and hung in the family room. Or his mother that asked about preference for wedding colors. I won’t go into detail about how the picture he sent me of himself was from a year and fifty pounds ago. Or how he pleaded with his mom to make me stay when I announced I would be leaving much earlier than planned.
But I will say that the trip home was just as rejuvenating and inspiring as the trip to the unknown. Because I was still traveling to the unknown. I may have discovered there would be no prince waiting to save me at the end of the 900 miles, but I learned that my life was my own. I was in charge of all the wonderful journeys to come, the adventures to discover. I only had to conquer my own fear and insecurities. That was my truth on this trip. That was my trip of a lifetime.