I was born with Fernweh, an ache to explore faraway places. It’s in my DNA; both of my parents had it. It was my dad, however, who taught us to pack adventure into our explorations.
Like my mother, I’d bask in the preparations for travel. I’d research, map out itineraries, and pack well in advance. For Daddy, however, the best part of travel was the adventure—the experiences you couldn’t plan for.
In 1985, I was interning in Germany when Daddy was due to come over on a business trip. Since I was stressed about making a move from Köln (Cologne) to Homburg-Saar, Daddy decided we would make the move together and he would take care of the details.
What he meant by that was that he’d leave the details to take care of themselves.
He rented a BMW with a manual transmission. His plan was to teach me how to drive a shift as he took in the beauty along the winding road that followed the Rhine River. It would be cheaper, he said, than replacing the clutch in a car he owned if my “learning” didn’t go well. In my mind, he rented a red convertible, but I’m honestly not sure if I’m coloring the memory.
He’d laugh and say, “Way to go kid!” when I wasn’t able to find a gear. (The other drivers on the Rhine-Straße found it less humorous.) If he saw something interesting, he’d insist we pull over to take a closer look.
He also challenged my thinking about eating. I looked at eating as an inconvenient necessity and would bolt something down to have enough energy to continue my planned explorations. For Daddy, meal taking was its own adventure. If we ordered something we didn’t like, Daddy was tickled. He then knew what not to eat. He’d pull out his little notebook from his shirt pocket and carefully spell out the meal’s name in German. Likewise, slow service wasn’t an inconvenience. It was an opportunity to take in his surroundings and engage in his favorite pastime, people watching.
Together we discovered the town of Rüdesheim and its delicious Rüdesheimer Kaffee. We also detoured to Strassbourg, where after a long day of exploration, we both independently discovered the virtues of bidets for foot soaking.
Daddy came home from that trip with wonderful stories that grew from his sense of adventure. After depositing me in my new lodgings, he entertained an entire hotel staff with his efforts to pronounce his room number (fünfundfünfzig or 55) in German. He also took a group of business associates up to the Swiss Alps near Arbon. They wandered around a deserted ski resort until they were hungry. Off-season, all the eateries were closed. Daddy’s sense of adventure, enhanced by hunger, allowed him to approach a young Swiss girl, rub his substantial belly, and utter one of the dozen or so words he knew in German as a question: Essen? (Food)
As it turned out, she spoke English and her mother made a mean cheese fondue. She invited all four of the men into her mother’s home where they were treated to an afternoon of fondue and Swiss friendship. Daddy and the young woman corresponded for many years afterwards.
Throughout the time I lived in Germany, Daddy visited several times, as did my mother. I admit the rest of us were enthusiastic converts for his style of adventure. That’s why we ended up eating sandwiches and watching Daddy enjoy a “pint” in an undertaker’s pub in Ireland late one September morning. In my father’s world view, you couldn’t drive by a combination pub-undertaker establishment without stopping to imbibe. Luckily, the undertaker’s wife’s world view was that you couldn’t let four American tourists drink in the morning on empty stomachs. Although they didn’t serve food, she whipped up four ham and cheese sandwiches.
That spirit of adventure rubbing off on my mother is probably why we have a picture of her riding a camel in Egypt, which definitely wasn’t on her tick list of things to do there. In what would later turn out to be an eerie foreshadowing, she poo-pooed our concerns about her safety while traveling. “If I’m going to die, I’d rather die doing something I love; not sitting around the house.”
And over time, the pre-planning branch of the family rubbed off on Daddy. In 1998, when he and mom headed off to Alaska, on what turned out to be their last trip, he traveled with an envelope-sized organizer that he dubbed Oscar, his personal assistant. Oscar held tickets, itineraries, traveler’s checks, and had room for maps and receipts they’d collect on the way. Daddy’s pre-trip planning would have made Sir Richard Shackelton proud. Of course, they weren’t hitting just the high points—he’d also researched off the beaten path spots. Not only did he pack in advance, he had my mom videotape him packing so he could tease her on camera as he told their grandkids where they were going, what they expected to see, and to remind them that all the exploration and adventure in the world paled in comparison to visiting their two- and four-year-old grandsons.
You might say that heightened sense of adventure was the death of my parents. They were in a car accident on a scenic by-way that lead to a town called Hope, Alaska, which overlooks Resurrection Bay. There’s no way they would miss that detour. I’m not sure we’d want it any other way.
As much as I miss my parents, I’ve come to think of them as just off on another adventure. More and more, my husband and I follow their example. We explore back-roads. We travel with next to no itinerary and enjoy the wonder of spur of the moment detours. And this winter when it’s freezing cold and we have a foot of snow on the ground, we’re going to travel the 45 miles to Hell, Michigan. You know …just for the hell of it.
LAURA HEDGECOCK is passionate about helping others tell their stories. Her book, Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life helps readers preserve personal and family stories and share them with loved ones. She blogs about preserving and sharing memories and family stories at http://www.TreasureChestofMemories.com.