The smell of fresh gasoline, anticipation in the air and the hum of the open highway are all sensations of which I am all too familiar. My life in the twenty-three years of my residence in this World consists of open road, new places and new people. From a young age, my family explored much of the East Coast of America in our fifth-wheel camper. We visited family in Florida and basked in the sunshine, sea and salty air. We vacationed to Lake George, New York several times and stumbled upon the rock on which my mother and her twin were conceived (shout-out to Uncle “Daze”). And as a few honorable mentions, we visited the Niagara Falls in Canada, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and Acadia National Park in Maine. Life was fun! Carefree living as a kid mixed with an adventurous lifestyle. What more could you want out of a childhood?
A Life Altering Move
Then in 2008, the global economy plummeted and as a result, so did the Shepardson family’s ‘wealth’. We experienced difficult times: bankruptcy, a brutal housing market and temporary separation from my father to name a few. In an effort to support our family, Dad moved to Massachusetts to find work while my Mom, brother and I stayed in Brimfield, OH to sell the house. I was young, but I remember this time in our lives being very tough on my family. Finally after one long year, our house was off of the market– it sold for FAR less money than its true market value – and we were able to reunite with Dad. Huzzah! How does that song go? “Reunited and it feels so good” (thank you Peaches and Herb). Little did I know, the difficult times were far from over.
Cape Cod, MA was our new home and it came along with plenty of new challenges – none of which involved expensive yachts or seersucker clothes. At the time when we moved to Massachusetts, I was a couple months shy of finishing my 5th Grade school year. My biggest concern at the time was that my first week in a new school consisted of a second set of standardized tests. Let me repeat myself…a SECOND set of standardized tests. I was beside myself! I had to complete multiple standardized tests for two different states in one year? How could they? “It’s child abuse!” I proclaimed...obviously I’m still not over it after all these years, ha!
Being that the standardized tests were no hardship in the grand scheme of things, the biggest struggle that I experienced in my first two years following our move to Massachusetts was building new friendships. The beginning days of my Massachusetts education, I felt to be a lost and deserted puppy (see my first blog post to learn about my relationship with my pup). I had no friends and there were no familiar sites. It was just me, wandering from group to group, hoping to find a pack to accept me and I them. I find small town Massachusetts culture to be rather odd. Childhood groups were almost pre-determined and trying to fit in as an Ohioan seemed futile at best. Lucky for me, I still had my family and my can-do attitude. It also helped that I was cute and friendly. 😊
Looking back at this move, I realize now that I gained from it a wealth of knowledge and experience at such a young age. All of those hardships helped me become a more adaptable and sociable human being. I full-heartedly believe that because of my family move, I am now able to build friendships wherever I go, and move around to wherever I please. I successfully inserted myself into life within Bourne Public Schools and created some amazing friendships. I may never have belonged to one singular friend group, but who wants to hang with the same people for their entire life? That sounds pretty boring to me. As time progressed, Life became more stable. I felt more comfortable with our new living situation and slowly this small beach-town in Massachusetts felt more and more like ‘home’.
A Taste of The West
Something that I realize about myself now is that I HATE being comfortable. I find it to be boring. Comfortability means complacency, and complacency is a friend of ignorance. I want excitement, I want adventure and I therefore yearned for travel. Lucky for me, my extended family reaches to all four corners of the United States. The summer before my Junior year of High School, Clay (my brother) and I flew to Montana to visit our cousins in Missoula. From there, we joined the Fraziers in their RV trip across country from Montana to New York. I was amazed! This was to be my first time travelling out West since my 1st birthday in Jackson Hole, WY. We visited Yellowstone and the Badlands National Parks, Mount Rushmore, and a few other state and local parks on our way to the East Coast. From bathing in the rushing waters of the Colorado River, to singing songs of corn and tractors as we drove through endless croplands of the Midwest, I was enthralled with the West’s natural beauty and enamored with life on the road.
Some of my fondest memories of 2013 come from this trip with the Fraziers, and it opened my eyes to a new form of exploration. Most nights us boys – Clay, my cousin Andrew and I – slept in a tent that we all setup. I loved it! While everyone was tucked away in a miniature home on wheels, the boys were ‘roughing it’. It was a freeing experience. The only thing that separated us from the elements was a thin canopy held up by poles and stakes. With a quick unzipping of the flap, Mother Nature was there to greet us in the morning. She embraced us children with fresh smells and beautiful scenery filled with life and color. I may not have fully understood the power of this in my youth, but it was a warm introduction to the minimalist style of camping that I would utilize on a 6 week road trip in the year 2020.
A Trip Across the Pond
As much as I loved the West, I would not limit myself to travelling in America. There’s a whole World out there waiting to be explored. After skipping out on a couple opportunities to travel to Europe, I finally made my way across ‘The Pond’ to the British Isles for a weeklong trip during my Senior year of High School. I was giddy with excitement as my classmates and I made our way to the airport and onto the plane that would take us away to unknown territory. When my classmates and I arrived at Kerry Airport in Ireland following a long night of little sleep, my first thought was “it smells like Irish Springs soap!” I can’t remember if anyone else in the group agreed, but I was convinced. The lush green hillsides of Ireland ridden with sheep, shepherds and cattle were encapsulating and remarkable. The sound so serene, the smell so fresh and the views…absolutely breathtaking.
For the entire week we scuttled around the Isles: from Killarney to Dublin, and from Dublin to Edinburgh, Scotland we crammed into tour buses with our eyes peeled outside the bus windows. Along the way we explored castles of all shapes, sizes and conditions. We scurried along the Ring of Kerry and remarked at the crashing waves rasping against sheer cliffs. We kissed the cold and lifeless Blarney Stone with little regard for the locals’ warnings of vandals urinating on it at night. And in Killarney, a group of us attended a Sunday service at the infamous and beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral. The service was presented in Gaelic and only 30 minutes in total duration; a true treat given the hour long sessions that I was used to, growing up in a Roman Catholic family. I knew that the Sunday Mass I was forced to regularly attend during my youth was dragged out longer than necessary! As for Edinburgh, I was amazed by the character that this cobblestone city exuded. I remember our tour guide explaining, “Paris is the World’s feminine city, filled with love and emotion. Scotland on the other hand, is the World’s masculine city.” At the time I thought those words to be true. Gruff looking characters, stories of haunted zones and a big ass castle in the center of the city all screamed masculinity.
From Scotland, our escapade took a night train to London where we spent the remainder of our trip gallivanting around the home city of the Royal family. I like to imagine Queen’s rendition of “God Save the Queen” playing in the background as we sauntered around the gates of Buckingham Palace. We toured the Crown Jewels room, stood in awe beneath the towering Big Ben and snuck in a Guinness at a local pub – we signed waiver forms before leaving America stating that we would not drink as we were beneath the American drinking age…lame! I preferred exploring the countryside of the British Isles over our stay in London, but I feel that limitations in time and age kept us from truly experiencing the city. I hope to one day return so that I may gain the full ‘bloody’ experience.
Returning to America after this week long adventure was bittersweet. I was happy to be back, but balked at the idea of returning to normalcy following an amazing week of exploration. In contrast to the fresh Irish Springs smell that greeted me at the airport exit doors in Kerry, I was engrossed with the smell of McDonalds’ fast food upon exiting the jetwalk in JFK Airport. ‘Merica! Funny enough, my love and sense of nationalism for America was at an all-time high during this period of my life. Oh how travel changes this mindset. It was only a matter of time until I returned to Europe – the home of my ancestors – for more adventure and new perspectives. My travel bug truly itched.
I want to thank my parents, John and Cathy Shepardson, for instilling in me this lust for travel. My life would be nowhere near as fun and free had I not grown up traveling with the family. They pushed me to explore the unknown and to always be curious. For that, I am forever grateful.
A BIG and special thank you goes out to my Dad for continuing to support my travel bug, even after the passing of my Mother. Life as a single parent is never easy – especially after losing the love of one’s life – but my Dad persisted in order to provide a wonderful upbringing for Clay and I. For that, I am eternally grateful.