The Ultimate Road Trip
For a man, the "Big Five-Oh" is a wake-up call. It's the birthday when he finally realizes that maybe—just maybe—he isn't going to accomplish all of the things in life that he had hoped (though I am still waiting to be picked in an NFL draft).
So in the fall of 2008, with my 50th birthday approaching the next summer, I asked myself, "What can I do to celebrate the Big Five-Oh?" After much debating, I decided to drive across the country on U.S. Route 50. Fifty on 50—it just made sense! I began planning my cross-country drive, spending a lot of weekday evenings and Sunday mornings on the Internet, searching for every tidbit of Route 50 information that I could find. I had to buy an accordion file to hold all of my data.
But alas, men make plans and God laughs. In January 2009, my body experienced a train wreck that resulted in a trip to the emergency room and 24 hours in the intensive care unit. My blood sugar level was 889! I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I had been within inches of a diabetic coma, even death.
That spring was a long, agonizing climb back to where I used to be. I had to prove to myself that I was still a normal, healthy male capable of living a normal, healthy lifestyle. Diabetes wouldn't stop me from taking this trip: If anything, it would push me forward.
On June 10, 2009, I departed from Hilton Head, S.C., with the following ground rules:
• I would remain on Route 50 for the entire drive, except for short side trips to see historic sites and off-the-beaten-path Americana.
• I would not travel on an interstate highway, except for the beltways around Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City.
• I would hike or cycle every day to stay fit.
• I would not miss any of my twice-daily insulin injections or any of my blood glucose tests.
• I would not take a laptop or a cell phone.
• I would not stay at a chain motel.
• I would not eat at a chain restaurant.
The next day, I made it to Ocean City, Md., at Route 50's eastern end. Risking life and limb, I stood amid four lanes of Route 50 traffic, faced west, and snapped a picture of the green sign overhead that read "West Sacramento: 3073 miles." Then I hopped into my rental car. Nearly a month later, on the morning of
July 7, I stood at the western terminus of Route 50, faced east, and snapped a photo of another road sign: "Ocean City: 3073 miles." I had driven across the country, and I had followed every one of my self-imposed rules. I had searched for white squirrels in Olney, Ill.; played tourist in Dodge City, Kan.; and eaten at mom-and-pop restaurants all the way. I had proven to myself that I could still lead a normal, healthy lifestyle, diabetes or no diabetes. Mission accomplished!
John Scanlan retired from the Marine Corps in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel. He now resides in Hilton Head, S.C., where he is pursuing a writing career.