Embarking on a 115-day, 31-state, 10,000-plus-mile trip across the U. S., writer Shawn Smucker ’99, his wife Maile ‘99 and their four young children departed from Lancaster, Pa., Feb. 15, 2012 and began a life-changing journey. Pursuing a dream to live a simpler life was the main motivator for the couple. “We had both always wanted to travel around the United States,” said Shawn Smucker, who began the travel blog “Writing Across America” to document the family’s journey across the country.
Adventures on the road
Borrowed from Smucker’s uncle, a blue tour bus the family named “Willie” served as their home on the road, providing bunks for the children, a master bedroom, a full-service bathroom and a kitchen with the essentials. The family made their first stop in Gettysburg, Pa.
Just five days into the trip, the bus got stuck in a ditch and required a tow-truck rescue. “That’s the thing about adventures,” said Maile Smucker. “The stuff that happens isn’t always easy. It’s not always fun. But it’s always worth telling.”
During this introduction to life on the road, Shawn Smucker made a connection between driving a bus and writing. “I look back on my first day driving the bus and can’t believe how terrible I was,” he wrote in his blog, “and I know that the only way to get better is to continue moving forward, continue making mistakes and continue driving new roads.”
After months on the road, the family reached the geographical midpoint of their trip: Austin, Texas. Shawn Smucker took the moment to reflect on the friends—and complete strangers—who blessed his family during their journey. “[It’s] like pulling on your jeans and finding a $100 bill,” he wrote, “but better because these blessings can’t be spent away.”
By April 30, the Smuckers had traveled from coast to coast, arriving in California with an abundance of wisdom gleaned from the many miles and many hours on the road. “Our children learned that conve- niences were just that: convenient,” said Maile Smucker. “By the end of the trip, they got on happily without regular showers or video games or normal toilets or rooms full of toys.”
As they began their long journey home, they received disheartening news: Shawn Smucker’s grandmother was ill. What was supposed to be a 115-day journey ended 11 days short as the family quickly returned to Lancaster. “I think we all recognized that we had reached our limits, so it was time to bring the trip to a close—for now,” said Maile Smucker.
After his grandmother made a near-complete recovery, Shawn Smucker prepared for a new adventure: a 10-day trip to Sri Lanka, where he partnered with a team of World Vision bloggers from Aug. 23 to Sept. 1. By spending time in several Sri Lankan communities, Shawn and his co-bloggers were able to shine a light on World Vision’s influential work.”Having the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka with World Vision,” said Smucker, “was confirmation that life can be an adventure and actually wants to be treated as such.”
The Smuckers’ itinerary:
Gettysburg, Pa. Leesburg, Pa. Harrisonburg, Va. Bremo Bluff, Va. Charlotte, N.C. Savannah, Ga. Jacksonville, Fla. Gainesville, Fla. Orlando, Fla. Sarasota, Fla. Macon, Ga. Nashvillle, Tenn. Memphis, Tenn. New Orleans,La. San Antonio, Texas Austin, Texas Dallas, Texas Oklahoma City, Okla. Amarillo, Texas Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. Pasadena, Calif. San Francisco, Calif. Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. Bighorn National Forest, Wyo. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, S.D. Sioux Falls, S.D. Burr Oak, Iowa Geneseo, Ill. Chicago, Ill. Daviess County, Ind. Troy, Ohio Fairmont, W.Va. Lancaster, Pa.
Story by Nick Hemming `13 and originally printed in the Fall 2013 Bridge magazine.