Go West Old Men: A Travel Memoir. Part 1


EDITOR’S NOTE: My original plans were to publish this as a travel memoir. I may still. For now, I’ll be writing about the trip in Friday installments.

In August of 2023, my best friend from college and I embarked upon a road trip. I labeled it the Old Man Bucket List Road Trip (™). We met in Kentucky near Asbury College (now University) where we first met as freshman nearly, but not quite, fifty years ago. From there we embarked on a two-week journey to the Grand Canyon, and points in between.

For me it was both a spiritual and emotional journey. Not only as a bucket list journey, but a chance to return to, or at least remember, the young man I was when I stood on the rim of the Canyon more than forty years ago.

Scott and I graduated from Asbury College in the spring of 1980. Unlike many of my classmates, I didn’t have a plan for what came next.

In the fall of 1976 I enrolled as a music major. At a music festival my senior year in high school, the conductor said that I had one of the clearest tenor voices he’d ever heard. At seventeen, I naturally let that go to my head. At my audition to join the music department, one of the voice professors looked at me and said “you’re not a tenor.” That should have been my sign, but I spent the next year and a half discovering that a career in music education was not for me.

I turned to my other passion of writing and changed my major to English and shortly thereafter to Speech Communications, a solid foundation for an aspiring journalist. After all, I’d edited my high school newspaper, and eventually edited the college yearbook. But the speech degree also meant I spent time in the drama department.

In the midst of those changes, I lost my father between my sophomore and junior year. Adding to the confusion of what I wanted to be when I grew up was a flood of emotions that I thought I was dealing with at the time. More than forty-five years later, I understand that you never really completely get over losing a parent.

As graduation approached, I was working through my options. Many of my friends were planning to move on to graduate school. I just wasn’t sure. But I came up with a tentative plan that gave me three options.

I would apply to Eastern Kentucky University for a Masters in Speech Therapy.

I would work for while as a counselor at the Kentucky School for the Deaf.

I would return to Asbury for another year to add and education component to my degree.

In case you haven’t figured it out already, none of that happened.

It is nearly impossible to attend a school like Asbury and not feel the tug to ministry or missions. I’d spent a summer on a ministry team, and you’ll read about that later. I spent five weeks in a Greek class before realizing that it was not for me. And I spent enough time in my speech classes to know that I was not called to the pulpit.

Still, the tug was there. And at a chapel service sometime my senior year, I along with others, knelt at the altar and said “I’ll go where you want me to go.”

I applied with, and was accepted to, a summer program with World Gospel Mission. A team of us met at Taylor University in Indiana for orientation, and then were sent out to our different fields. I went to the American Indian Field, where I worked for a while at what was then Southwest Indian School, and spent three weeks teaching Vacation Bible School on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

One weekend, our team took a road trip to the Grand Canyon. We visited the rim, camped near the edge, and saw as many of the sites as we could in forty-eight hours.

I was twenty-two. I made a vow to return and hike the canyon. I even bought the t-shirt.

It took me forty-three years to get back. At that point I knew that there was no way I could ever make that hike, but I vowed to see what I could.

And I did.

Available on Amazon.

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  1. […] is Part 5 of the story, follow these links to see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part […]

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