The first stop on the #EpicBookTourTPD was Temple, TX on April 1st. We joined a small group of new friends for a lunch meet-up and spent the night with our friend (and my #the4500 twin), Taylor.
After lunch, we ran some errands—which included an impromptu photo shop in a bluebonnet field by a gas station. I’d spent the previous weeks rolling my eyes at all the bluebonnet photo shoots that filling up my Facebook newsfeed, not quite convinced about all the hype these flowers produced in my Texan friends. So when we passed this field, Taylor and Anna insisted on continuing my initiation as a true Texas resident.
As we traipsed into the field, they warned of snakes. Then, when we found a spot that would provide a background free from street signs and buildings, they decided we should lie down. Um, excuse me? Didn’t you just tell me to watch for snakes? And now you want me to lie on the ground??? Yes, that was exactly the plan.
So we did.
As much as I don’t get the whole bluebonnets thing, I will admit this was a fun photo shoot that I will always remember.
Because of my sister’s creative eye behind a camera, I’m certainly no stranger to unconventional photo sessions and this one was the first I’d participated in for a while. An impromptu bluebonnet photo session with two of my closest friends was definitely not a bad way to start an epic book tour.
This week’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Guide.” The rules: Set a timer and free write for five minutes about the week’s topic. No editing allowed!
You wouldn’t think a homebody in her right mind would ever volunteer to embark on a summer-long road trip of EPIC proportions, right? There’s a first time for everything though.
So how, exactly, does an introvert keep her wits about her when spending 4 months on the road?
These are your BFFs. Your lifesavers. Your constant companions. If you lose them—replace them ASAP at the next gas station stop. They drown out background noise, 80’s music, and extroverts who prefer to stay up late talking instead of sleeping like normal people. You might end the trip having purchased (and lost) 3-4 pair—but it will be worth it. Trust me.
When you’re on the road for 8, 10, 12, hours a day every other day, naps are essential. You are tired. You need to conserve every ounce of energy you have so that you can extrovert once you arrive at your destination.
(Five minutes is NOT enough time to expound upon this list. But those two things were DEFINITELY my top two road trip must haves! Nobody wants a sleep-deprived, cranky, introvert running a book table!)
Today’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Place.” As always, the rules are to write for five minutes; no editing allowed! There were a lot of directions I could have gone with this word–and I’ve barely scratched the surface with these five minutes’ worth of words.
For the last five days, my place has been either my bed or the couch. My mind and body have decided they’re taking a break—and a well-deserved one at that on the heels of the #EpicBookTourTPD.
In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d come to the end of the summer of 2017 with the ability to say that I’d seen the ENTIRE country in four months’ time. And yet—there I sat, having found my place as road manager in the passenger seat.
2 women (who may be more than a little crazy).
112 travel days.
23, 461 miles.
Places upon places upon places.
It passed too quickly some days and too slowly other days, and the whole thing is very much a blur right now.
But there’s no other place I would have rather been this summer than in the Epic Book Mobile.
The landscape is barren as the asphalt glides backwards under the tires. (Hello, West Texas.) Thousands of miles have accumulated, a few hundred more to go. We’re headed home. (And will have reached our destination by the time you read these words.)
It’s officially the last day of the #EpicBookTourTPD—the one-hundred-twelfth day, to be exact. Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d do. A four-month, forty-state road trip? With a total extrovert? No way.
To say that life has gone topsy-turvy over the last year is an understatement. So many layers of change—exhilarating change, traumatic change, anticipated change, unexpected change—have built up faster than I can process them. Because the positive changes are so interwoven with the negative change, it’s been difficult to write about them—much less celebrate them.
My sister’s death has cast a shadow over this summer. There’s no other way to slice it. It has shattered my heart into a million pieces again and again. I can’t imagine that will ever change.
(A plea: No canned platitudes in the comments please—well-intended or not, I’ve had about all of those that I can handle. And Jess is hard-rolling her eyes about it, too, I’m sure. If that offends your sensibilities, I’m probably talking to you. See my upcoming post on the most helpful words I’ve received concerning grief.)
One of the most ironic things about this summer of endless miles is the fact that Jess was the sister with permanent wanderlust. She’d been to Europe twice and planned to visit many other countries. The two of us had dreams of a cross-country trip someday, but it seemed quite intimidating to me considering my homebody tendencies. When I decided to accompany Anna on this trip (and finally convinced her that it was a good idea), Jess encouraged me to go. After all the adventures, she’d dragged a reluctant older sister on, she wondered what alien species had abducted me. I’ve wondered the same.
When things went downhill fast with Jess’ health, I had to choose whether to go home to S.C. or stay on the road. There were many factors that played a role in this deeply personal process that I won’t address here. Ultimately, I felt that there would be no better way to honor my sister than to travel the country and see what she could not.
More than 23,000 miles later, I believe I made the right choice. Would I rather have taken this trip with my sister than for her? Of course. No question. But she’s been with me every moment and every mile—and I’ve had her own traveling mascot, Migrating Monty, to remind me of that. (A plastic green dinosaur as one of my most treasured possessions? Add that to the growing list of things I never thought would happen.)
Now that the trip is done, I’m ready to start writing about it—in all its overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating glory–starting here, at the end, before making my way back to the beginning. First, I’ll need a few good nights’ sleep in my own bed.
Thursday morning, we left Anna’s house with Rachel, another #the4500 member, and began our 4-hour drive to the retreat location. (For the record, these two are excellent road trip partners.) Halfway there, we met up with yet another #the4500 member, Taylor, and Anna jumped in her car for the rest of the drive. As we got back on the road, I began to tell Rachel my story—for the fourth time in less than 24 hours.
As we drove to the resort, I wondered when I would begin to get nervous about meeting all these faces I knew only online in real life. Because, really—who does that? But it never came. Instead, I was super excited. One person I anticipated meeting was Kelli. Kelli and I had become fast friends over the last few months. As of February, she wasn’t going to be at Splendid—and we were both so disappointed. Then, on the Monday before I left for Splendid, she texted me and said she was coming. Elated doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt upon receiving this news.
Once we arrived at the resort and unloaded the car, we began to encounter some of the girls who were already there. It was both weird and familiar to walk up to someone, hug them, and start talking. Because we’ve all spent the past year getting to know one another through the FB group, texts, and phone calls, we skipped over all the typical get-to-know-you small talk (an introvert’s dream!) and got right down to the real stuff.
At one point, I was walking through the resort to the office when I saw someone walking down the hill. I couldn’t quite make out who it was…until she started yelling my name: “Ticcoa! Is that Ticcoa?!?” And then I knew—it was Mama Lynn. We got within arm’s reach and hugged tightly. It was like greeting someone I’d known all my life. And this happened over, and over, and over—with Julie, and Tracy (“you made it, T!” she said to me), and Jana, and the two Aprils, and so many others.
Kelli was arriving in time for dinner, and as we drove down the “mountain” hill to the restaurant, my heart was filled with anticipation. When I walked through the door, my eyes immediately searched the room for this heart-sister, and when they fell on her, I made a beeline.Hugging her for the first time will always be a memory I treasure in my heart. We stood with arms around each other for a long time, until she whispered, “You see I’m being quiet.” For someone who usually has all the words, she was without them; I didn’t have very many of my own either. For months, we’d held onto the hope that we’d meet soon; “soon” ended up being a lot sooner than we’d anticipated.
When we got back to the resort after dinner, I followed Kelli to her cabin and proceeded to tell her the story I’d been telling others—the one that I’d promised her I’d tell her in person some day. Thus, this was the fifth telling of the story. (Numbers are important here, I promise!)
Again, at this point, so many wonderful things had taken place—just the very fact that I was present with these women was enough—that I was content with the weekend. Little did I know that it the “fun” was only just beginning…
Yesterday, I was in the middle of writing a post about how joy is the most vulnerable emotion we have, because its opposite is disappointment—as I was staring deep disappointment square in its ugly face. An opportunity I’d been looking forward to was suddenly crashing and burning…Plan A, Plan B, Plan C…all doomed. I was sad; I was mad. But the circumstances were completely out of my control.
Four months ago, I had a dream about meeting a fellow member of #the4500. Within a day of my sharing the dream in the FB group, Anna and I began texting and planning a meet-up opportunity that fell into our laps; in less than a week, we were scheduling a phone call. Now, a mere 12 weeks later, we’ve spoken on the phone more times than I can count (I can’t claim being a non-phone-talker anymore), interacted on social media daily, and gotten to know each other’s hearts.
The meet-up that was scheduled for the end of October was postponed indefinitely. In the meantime, I signed up for Splendid: Texas and settled for meeting Anna in the spring.
Two weeks ago, a meet-up was suddenly in the works again as Anna was traveling to NC on business. We made plans to meet for lunch along with a handful of other local 4500 ladies. Then the darn Snowpocalypse of 2016 slammed the East Coast with the most unfortunate timing. Anna was 2 hours away; she was stuck, I was stuck, the others were stuck. For 48 hours, we were caught in a limbo of hoping against hope that we’d still make it work, all the while praying that God would make a way where there was no foreseeable way (and recruiting our #the 4500 sisters to join us).
Having heart-sisters spread out across the country is both the best and worst thing. We are drawn to one another by a connection that none of us ever imagined, but in its short 10-month lifespan, #the4500 has taken us on a delightfully wild ride. I could literally go to almost any state in the country and have familiar faces and instant friendship. (I’m in dire need of a hefty travel budget these days.) But not being able to hug one another’s necks, look each other in the eye, and do life face to face is hard.
Finally, at noon on Saturday, we called it. No lunch or dinner meet-up. Anna suggested a tentative breakfast meeting for Sunday, but I was already expecting it to fall through; nonetheless, I texted my mom and sister to see if they’d be willing to make the trip with me Sunday morning. Hours later, I realized the interstates were passable—if we could get on the interstate, and get to NC Saturday night, we still had a chance. I prayed, I begged, I pleaded. They consented, and off we went.
Plan D was finally a winner–a spontaneous, crazy, whirlwind winner.
I walked through the hotel entrance, eyes scanning the room for the face I knew only by profile picture. Sitting across the room, head turned, there she was—this soul sister I’d waited months to meet face-to-face. I stopped at the front desk as she glanced up and I waved. Bounding out of her chair, she stopped two feet in front of me, bent forward, hands covering her mouth, squealing with joy. My smile wrapped around my head. We hugged. (I melted—her hugs are “legendary.”)”You’re real,” I breathed. Words failed and we just stared at each other. “I guess you know each other?” The voice of the poor guy at the desk who was trying to check me in broke us out of our wonder. We glanced at each other. “Yes.” “We do now.”
We do now. We’re finally friends in real life.
Earlier this weekend, as I lamented our deteriorating meet-up plans, my friend Christine texted me these words: “…whether or not this weekend happens, it is a victory because you showed up…and that is huge. There was a time not too long ago when you wouldn’t have been able to make these plans…because it was too far out of your comfort zone.” Truth.
When I joined the4500, my plan was to keep to the fringes. That all changed in September when I began getting to know Anna better. I am not who I was four months ago.The biggest evidence of that? The absolute absence of any anxiety about meeting Anna in person this weekend. As I told Christine, “I was so chill it was weird.” We may not have had a lot of time together, but it was entirely worth it. We dug deep into heart issues; she challenged me and encouraged me to keep moving toward what I know in my heart I need to pursue. We celebrated victories; we laughed. She got to meet my mom and sister. We stayed up half the night talking and we hugged tightly as she departed for the airport.
Last night, I told Anna that I was still taking baby steps toward owning my brave; she corrected me: “Oh, honey—we’re past baby steps.”
“Yeah, I guess we are. This is more like jumping off a cliff.”
I’ve crossed a chasm I never would’ve dreamed possible. I’ve stepped into a new normal—and I can’t wait to see where it leads next.