Everywhere and Back
by Amanda H. Bazner
(Worcester MA, USA)
I got hurt my freshman year in college and was told I'd be permanently disabled in 10 years. (That anniversary is this month, and they're right.) Before I had gotten hurt, I'd enjoyed traveling on Greyhound buses, and even afterwards I had bused around some, but always with company and always east of the Mississippi River. It was time to take the one big cross-country bus trip alone that I'd always dreamed of, before it was too late.
I set my schedule: from home in Worcester, MA, to South Bend, IN, then Cheyenne, WY. I was only supposed to overnight in Cheyenne, but it was so lovely I stayed an extra couple of days and looked around, including a half-day at the public library.
Las Vegas, NV. There I stayed for several days with my grandmother. he plan changed from there.
I had met a woman on the bus from South Bend who lived in Sacramento, and she invited me to visit. Fortunately, I had gotten an open-ended pass for 3 weeks, so I didn't have to switch tickets around, just figure out bus schedules and go. So I headed into Sacramento totally unplanned. It was May, and yet the mountains between NV and CA were covered in snow. We paused at one rest stop for everyone to get out of the bus and have a snowball fight.
After a tour of Sacramento, we had dinner on a riverboat. The waiter overheard us talking and introduced himself - he grew up not ten miles from where my father did. Then on up the West Coast.
Overnight, we passed a horrifying accident. However, the rich Oregon forests were soothing.
In Spokane, another wonderful find: a public library a block from my hotel, which overlooked a panoramic view of a waterfall. How can you go wrong? I was accosted, I thought at first, by a young man who turned out to be a deaf-mute. I was very nervous at first - young woman alone in a strange place, you know - until he figured out what the problem was and gave me a card, which had his name and situation printed on it, and wrote in a small notebook, "I am good." We had a fascinating conversation via that notebook. I sent him postcards the rest of my way home.
On through Montana. I had doubted its claims of "big sky country" - after Cheyenne, how could anything get better? But it was better, although I did have rather a shock upon entering the state and seeing a sign for Exit 600. In New England, we number our exits in order, not by miles. First I was relieved to realize the difference, but then the enormity of 600 miles hit me. A little calculation with my many roadmaps revealed that Montana could hold all of New England twice over.
On to the Twin Cities, then when an 8-hour layover in Detroit was unavoidable, I replaced it with an 8-hour loop through Michigan. Unlimited bus pass, remember? I called my grandmother from Kalamazoo, MI. She refused to believe there was any such place, until I offered to put one of the locals on the phone to confirm it. Then back to South Bend - familiar territory, after all these strange miles! - and the long last leg back to Worcester. I slept for nearly two days upon arriving home.
Now I am homebound. I haven't gone as many miles in the past year as I would cover from here to South Bend alone. But reviewing my trip makes me feel free again. I suppose it's not a pilgrimage in the traditional sense - going to a specific place. But in fact, my destination was everywhere: everywhere that I had been told I would never get to go. I have crossed our great country, met people from just about everywhere, seen all kinds of local vegetation, and done so all by myself. And then I came home again, immensely enriched.
I guess you could say that home was the destination of my pilgrimage. After all, a crippling injury makes you feel like you're not even at home in your own body. But after that trip, I feel at home everywhere.