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Getting Unstuck and Leaving (the) Norm Behind

I think I understand why we loved the TV sitcom Cheers. It was about us. Maybe we didn’t spend our evenings on a bar stool sipping amber ale in a quaint underground pub, but we all knew the feelings. We all knew what it is to feel stuck, to decide this is likely as good as it is ever going to get so you might as well settle for something familiar, something comfortable, a place where at least everyone knows your name.

Perhaps that is why one of the most beloved characters on the show was named Norman. He was a regular guy working a regular job that didn’t excite him, but the work was steady and paid the bills. He lived with a regular wife who also wasn’t very exciting, but was likewise steady. When he walked into the pub after work, loosening his necktie and making a beeline for his bar stool, the other regulars shouted their greeting in unison, “Norm!” He was the norm—the average American, approaching middle age and feeling a little stuck and dispassionate, disappointed but willing to settle for mediocrity, as long as it is somewhat predictable and comfortable. Norm, the norm.

But then there are people like the Turtles. That’s not actually their name. They are Gary and Monika Wescott. In the mid-1970s Gary fixated on the idea of driving away from his home in Colorado for a life of overland travel. He outfitted a Land Rover for camping and hit the road. At a bar somewhere in Mexico, he met Monika, a young woman from Switzerland who was on vacation from her job in Minneapolis and itchy for something bigger. She asked him over a cerveza what he did for a living. With a spark of adventure in his eyes, he replied, “I’m driving to South America. Want to come?”

They have been on the road together pretty much ever since. They named their journeys the Turtle Expeditions—traveling slowly with their home on their backs. In the early years, they traveled very slowly; Gary would submit travel articles to magazines and whenever he got paid, they could buy fuel to move on to the next place. It was anything but steady, predictable, and comfortable.

In the overlanding community, Gary and Monika Wescott are icons. Heroes. Inspirations. Andy and I met them this past July at the Overland Expo event in central Oregon. They are in their 70s now, still spry and smiling in their matching Turtle Expedition logo shirts. They introduced us to Turtle V, their fifth overland vehicle in nearly as many decades, and invited us to poke our heads inside for a glimpse at their tiny home on wheels.

The Turtles summed it up this way: It’s not about the adventure travel—you can explore and camp in wilderness areas all over the United States. It’s not about the food—you can find a good recipe and buy the ingredients and follow the directions to make the dishes yourself. It’s about the people—meeting people whose lives are different from yours, learning from them, and counting them as friends.

Between the promise of new people to meet, and the change in scenery, and the adventure, and the education that invariably comes with travel, we feel the urge to move on from here—before we feel glued to a place and a routine. Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote a song about feeling stuck and not following through with dreams. Fellow folk singer Tom Rush recorded that song and his version of it has played on repeat in my home lately. Hauntingly beautiful and poetic, “Urge for Goin’” sees the seasons changing, summer leaving and winter settling in, and confesses a deep desire to just pack up and go, leaving behind the familiar for something new. But that desire remains unsatisfied. The geese head south in formation ahead of the approaching snows; they have the urge for going, and they have the wings to go. Those left behind, however, those stuck to a place and a pattern, can only watch with envy as they fly overhead.

We actually live in a place that is the dream of many. Our home for the last 18 years has been rural western Montana, in a big house on six acres, with a view through the pines of a majestic mountain range and wildlife wandering freely through the yard. There are very few neighbors around and we can leave our doors unlocked and go walking after dark without fear. We are grateful for the opportunity we have had to build a life here. But even in a beautiful place, life drifts toward monotonous mediocrity if dreams are not well-tended.

Andy and I have the urge for going—and we have the wheels to go—but selling most everything you own and becoming a nomad is not everyone’s idea of a good time; we realize that. We have met plenty of fascinating people who have followed their passions all over the map, both literally and figuratively—whether it is art or classic cars or cooking or athletic conquests or volunteer work or philanthropic endeavors. These people are always inspiring to me, whether I relate to their specific passion or not, because they have big dreams and they are taking action to pursue them. Whenever we run across someone who is devoting their life to something we don’t relate to, we just shrug and say, “Good for them! That is not what WE want, but it is the desire of THEIR heart and they are doing it.”

At this point in our lives, mid-50s with an empty nest, we are strong believers in praying about our passions, turning them over to God to refine and redeem, then following the desires of the heart—even if it takes a little creative thinking and financing to get there (like choosing to live in a second hand trailer while we rented out our house for four years). Langston Hughes, the prolific Harlem Renaissance poet and activist, cautioned us about dreams deferred indefinitely. What happens to them? What happens to us? Without passion and purpose and fulfillment to our lives—whatever our dreams may be—we might as well sit on a stool next to Norm and numb our disappointments with whatever takes the edge off—food, drink, media consumption. At best, according to Mr. Hughes, we may dry up like a raisin or fester like a sore, stink with decay or crust over. Perhaps we will just sag, depressed, under the weight of it all. At worst, though, something in us may finally snap.


As we step away from the American Dream and leave behind everything we have ever known, I encourage you, dear friend, to not be content to settle for mundane mediocrity. Adventure and beauty and joy can be found anywhere. Seek out your purpose and passion. Pursue your dreams, whatever they may be—even if they look nothing like ours, and even if you have to start small. In one of American Jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald’s more obscure songs, entitled “Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block,” we are encouraged not to give up on dreams that currently feel out of reach, but rather to faithfully take the small steps necessary to pursue big goals—and be content with small-scale iterations of the dream when the large scale is not yet possible.

We must not be content to give up entirely the passions God has placed within us, sitting and sipping, drowning our disappointments with distractions. As American poet Mary Oliver asked so pointedly, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Join us as we slide off our bar stools, pay our tab, fasten up our coats, and step back out into the brisk air. Today, we will be content to just take a walk around the block, but soon we will set out on the road, following the tire tracks of the Turtles. We promise to send postcards. Cheers.

P.S. Our GoTreads arrived a few days ago. We ordered the large vehicle kit because of Walter's beefy size. We love that these fold up for internal storage and can also be used as levelers on uneven terrain--a feature we will use regularly. No, we can't use this style for bridging gaps, but other features won out. We are anxious to try them out! Now we are ready to get unstuck in more ways than one!


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