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Chasing Joy

A broken marriage, 81 hours of support-group meetings and a 2,000-mile motor-home trip across the country with her son.

By Amanda Bastoni, Peterborough, New Hampshire

As appeared in

The night before we left I was a nervous wreck. Our RV would break down. Trace would get bored and we’d argue. We’d get lost. I’d find out I couldn’t stand driving the RV for long stretches.

We were starting from my dad’s house by the beach in Massachusetts. I wanted to touch the Atlantic Ocean at the start to make it a true coast-to-coast journey. Plus, my dad wanted to come with us on the first leg, to Niagara Falls.

“Just to make sure you know what you’re doing,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you, Amanda, I’m not confident anything built in 1986 can make it all the way across the country.”

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We made it to the falls. And that’s when good things started happening. Right when we arrived we learned there would be free fireworks over the falls after sundown. We found a spot on the grass and plunked down in the soft summer twilight.

As I watched the fireworks light up the sky, I felt one major source of worry–money, now that I was a single mom–evaporate. We were on a tight budget, but that didn’t matter. There was lots of free fun out there. And just being together–that cost nothing and it was worth everything.

Dad said goodbye after giving the RV a thorough inspection, and Trace and I headed back onto the highway.

From Day One we settled into a rhythm. Music, jokes and stories on the road. Mac and cheese, tuna sandwiches or hot dogs for dinner. S’mores for dessert, roasted over campfires with other families we met.

In the mornings I’d ask a neighbor to keep an eye on Trace while I went for a run. Then we’d head off for whatever destination my phone app picked for us.

Sometimes the fun found us. Like the impromptu Christmas in July party at a campground in Wisconsin Dells. People strung lights on their RVs and the whole campground got in on a potluck dinner.

I watched Trace riding his bike with other kids and another single-mom fear evaporated. Trace would be okay. His childhood wasn’t destroyed just because my marriage imploded.

He still knew how to make friends. He and I could still have a great time. Even doing something as simple as reading in the bunk together. I brought along some of my favorite books and movies. We’d read aloud or watch DVDs, snug and dry while a summer thunderstorm pounded on the RV.

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And always there was the next day’s destination. We found the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota–next door to a Dairy Queen, so of course we stopped for Blizzards.

At a funky dinosaur museum in an old guy’s house in North Dakota, Trace posed between the toothy jaws of a tyrannosaurus skull. When the owner learned we were traveling alone, he nodded approvingly and said, “You’re a true truck-drivin’ mama! A real brave lady.”

Right there a little more of my fear evaporated.

We saw Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, then chugged over the awe-inspiring Rockies and started our last leg. We’d just crossed the Oregon state line when I realized I’d misgauged our gas. We were almost out and there was no station in sight. I checked my phone and GPS. Nothing nearby.

“We’d better pray, Mom,” Trace said. So we did, out loud, right there in the camper. The next moment we spotted what looked like a filling station, but it was closed. We pulled in anyway. Some men were talking in the parking lot.

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