The Memory, The Motive
It has been one month since Dad died (written August 8). One month since the kindest, gentlest, most energy-packed, most inclusive, most life-enhancing person I have ever known left us to experience a form more convenient for him in order to continue to better the lives of those around the world -- as a strong living memory pushing each of us to do more, experience more, understand more.
Though the rigours of finalizing Dad's affairs with banks, insurance companies, funeral homes, and with the government exhausted us, we were always able to look around the house for pieces of his motivating spirit in order to charge onward through the paperwork, through the errands, through the emotional tasks of identifying the body that he left and then to collect the ashes rendered. Though the previous six months had prepared us well for Dad's fate, there is something very final about identifying a body and then picking it up a few days later in something the size of a shoebox. This feeling was something quite separate from the uneasiness people sometimes feel when death is near -- Mom, Brit, and I are quite comfortable with the notion that Dad, the real Dad we know and love, was simply a spirit hitchhiking within a vehicle of flesh and bone; if we had not accepted this idea while navigating the course of this journey, we would have missed some of our most beautiful moments together as we spoke, cried, and laughed at regular volume around Dad's expired body in the hour following his last breath at the hospice -- this feeling was more of an indicator that the next chapter of our lives was beginning and that a page was being turned hard and fast. I realized at this point that it could be so easy to be crushed within the pages, leaving yourself smeared somewhere between the past and the present. Acknowledging the beauty and power and love and sadness and passion and togetherness that the past represents is important and would be a shame to avoid, but to live your days in order to return yourself to that past would be a shame of the highest order.
In our case, we can reflect on the fact that Dad was very much a person who lived in the present and said 'yes' more than usual. We can, quite easily, see that this way of living led to a rich, colourful life with an elephantine collection of dedicated friends, adoring acquaintances, and close-knit kin. With this evidence, it is obvious to say that dwelling in sadness and lost opportunity is neither a healthful nor useful way of living, nor is it even close to the way that Dad conducted his life and would expect us to conduct ours. I find myself saying yes more frequently now. I find that tasks are more quickly and easily attacked in an effort to move on to the things that matter, or simply to move on to that feeling of satisfaction once those tasks are done. A line that Dad used pretty frequently was, 'You can only ask to do your best, nothing more.' Asking yourself if you are really doing your best in a certain situation is an interesting exercise in motivation, because it leaves little room for excuses. This doesn't have to mean that you are doing your best as it relates to high-performance activity or super-efficient work, but it can also apply to how well you are doing to take care of yourself, to be compassionate with others, to be the best version of yourself that you can think of. Mom, Brit, and I just experienced a few days of quiet near a lake in north Algonquin, and this was exactly what we needed to recover ourselves from the previous weekend, month, seven months of intense activity. But when someone suggested that we find a canoe to paddle out on that glassy lake, it didn't take much to elicit three 'yes's from the sleepy RV.
We worked long days in order to prepare ourselves for a journey that would traverse land, memory, and complex emotion. We said 'yes' to coffee, to dinner, to drinks frequently during this busy time -- saying 'I'm just so busy these days' is no longer sexy -- but the 'yes' I am most proud that Team Freeman called out was the one declared after a cross-continent road trip was proposed. We had spoken about the idea of some kind of escape once our journey through Dad's illness was complete, but since we were always trying to push Dad's blurry time-stamp further and further down the road, there was no opportunity or occasion to begin planning this sort of thing -- that would have been jumping ahead. When Dad was at the Ian Anderson House, riding out that last week of his life, Team Freeman began to discuss the idea of an extended voyage…somewhere. Mom had discussed the idea of a bike tour in Europe, I had thrown around the idea of departing from this family's travel norm entirely and jumping over to Nepal or Madagascar or some equally distant spot, then Brit and I began to talk about the fact that we have done a lot of overseas travel in our lives, but we didn't have a deep catalogue of places we had visited in Canada and the United States. While traveling, I was often embarrassed to tell fellow backpackers that I hadn't been to the beautiful west coast of Canada since I was a child, and that I had never laid eyes on spectacular things like the geysers at Yellowstone or the redwoods at Sequoia. With a little more talk and little need to convince, it was settled -- we were to have ourselves a serious cross-continent road trip.
At the epic gathering to celebrate Dad's epic life -- Geoff-Fest -- Brit announced our vague plan to the 500+ in attendance and the applause was immediate. Suggestions for destinations, routes, methods of travel, and the times to go came rolling in just as fast once the journey's framework was laid out for our ~660-strong CarePage following. This network has been amazingly supportive through this entire experience and they continue to conspire in our favour.
The way that I have planned travel in the past is to chart all of my points of interest, step back to take a look, then draw a route that slithers through these sites. As per usual, this exercise worked perfectly in planning this trip. With our map of about 50 points of interest plotted, a curlicue route we developed. Team Freeman will drive northwest to clear the north shores of Lake Superior, then continue west through the southern portions of Manitoba and (maybe) Saskatchewan, just to say we did. Following this straight-west jog, the Giddy Up Mobile will turn south and dive through the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, then finally planting ourselves in California.
During this southward-facing dance, I (Mike) will be jetting off to Los Angeles to join a friend and prepare for an enormous festival of art, culture, humanity, and absurdity -- Burning Man. More on this later, but this gathering of 60,000+ occurs annually in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, this year from August 25-September 1. One distinctive feature of this experience is that once the tickets are bought and the supplies are gathered, there is no further use of money -- the entire community's economy functions on the basis of exchange of goods and services and gifts. This will be a wild one. Check it out from the perspective of a drone!
Brit and Mom will chug the glorious 'Minnie Winnie' (cutesy name for our mid-sized Winnebago) all the way to California and will reunite with dust-covered Mike in early September. Once we've had a few days of starry-eyed conversations about our last few weeks, Brit will be making her return to civilization -- flying from San Francisco, Brit plans to fly away home in the first days of September in order to restart her great career at RBC, who has been incredibly supportive of her and our family through this months-long waltz through beauty, sadness, and recovery. Once we've finished waving at the plane, Mom and I will ready the Winnie for our cruise northward, up the California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbian coastlines. Following what will surely be an emotional peeling of ourselves from the Pacific, Mom and I will shoot for Canada's interior, with our final stop being in Red Deer, Alberta -- the home of the Giddy Up Mobile. A more robust story about the origins of this particular Minnie Winnie will follow in a separate post, but I will say that one of Dad's dear friends at Vellner Leisure (www.vellner.com) came through for us in a spectacular way. For this over-the-top favour, Team Freeman salutes you and thanks you profusely, Marty. This RV is too good to be true.
Though there has been an incredible amount of good information that has come in from our friend networks, we are always looking for more top-secret, must-visit spots along our trail. Please feel leave us a message if you have a place that we absolutely can't miss as we bounce along on this journey of ours.
As promised, and as you are seeing now, I have done my best to develop a fresh new blog -- Giddy Up Tour: The Rum Diaries -- to better relate to you folks the awe-striking beauty along with the muted subtleties of our voyage through land and our very selves. The launch of this site is happening as late as it is because FOR SOME REASON there is no reception in large areas of northern Ontario, and probably through most of our route. Why I didn't think this would be the case, I don't know. I will be doing my best to write posts about the details of our RV tour, along with some narratives describing the progress of our healing. We have a long list of activities planned that are meant to spur memory and conversation about our best guy, along with the grand task and honour of spreading Dad's ashes. These storylines will be covered over the next few months, as we explore the continent, and I couldn't be more proud to act as your portal into our lives. I am so excited to take you with us on our voyage and I cannot wait to hear what you have to say in response to our antics.
I have also done the duty of creating an Instagram account specifically for the Giddy Up Tour. This way we are better able to upload photos quickly, easily, and have ourselves tagged in our friend's shots! If you are capable and willing, please feel free to follow our journey through Instagram: @giddyuptour. Brit is super active in posting photos from our journey too, so you are welcome to follow her @britfreeo as well.
With an RV-load of love and sweet, sweet anticipation,
Mike & Team Freeman