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News
story.football.jpg
Jack and his 18-year-old son Brett play a game of catch in the cold during a stop on their road trip
  MAIL FROM THE TRAIL
Travel journal:
Have you had a similar experience? Share your thoughts and observations with Jack Hamann on the message board
 

Sentimental journey

CNN's Jack Hamann drives the long road to letting his son leave home

January 19, 2000
Web posted at: 10:10 a.m. EST (1510 GMT)

By Jack Hamann
CNN Correspondent

(CNN) -- It was 4 a.m. and I was wide awake. In three hours, we would begin a journey covering 1,400 miles in just two days. I needed more sleep. But I wanted to hear the bedsprings creak one more time.

Our son, Brett, is 18 years old. For most of those 18 years, Brett's bedroom has been on the second floor, just above ours. As he's grown into his full 6-foot-4-inch frame, the springs squeal just a little louder each time he plops on his bed. In a different setting, the sound would drive me crazy.

At 6 a.m., the alarm blared, and Brett rolled out of that bed for the last time in a very long while. We had two days to drive from Seattle to Denver, hoping to conquer a grueling 700 miles each day. Once in Denver, Brett would start 10 months of service in the National Civilian Conservation Corps branch of Americorps. Young adults from around the nation come together to build houses, repair trails, fight fires and respond to emergencies. For 10 months, Brett would be busy -- and the room above ours would be silent.


Travel has always been an important part of life with our son. Brett's been with us to Hawaii, Northern Ireland, the Canadian Rockies and the Virgin Islands. But this trip was different. During those two days, we were reminded of all the places we still had not gone together, all the lessons not yet learned or even taught.

Our route took us from Puget Sound to the Rockies, across dozens of mountain passes in the dead of winter. Our Volvo wagon was packed ridiculously full with cold weather gear and Brett's belongings, including a small library of books and CDs jammed into every available space. Within an hour, it was snowing hard. Within two hours, ambulances raced past us to rescue victims of accidents along icy Interstate 90.

Travel has always been an important part of our life with Brett, particularly in remote stretches of the West. At nine months of age, he spent his first night in a tent. By four, he scrambled along trails in the Cascades, and at 13 he reached the summit of Mount Saint Helens. There were river trips and horseback rides and ski vacations. We've shared beaches, bodysurfing, boats, bicycles and backpacks. Brett's been with us to Hawaii, Northern Ireland, the Canadian Rockies and the Virgin Islands.

But this trip was different. During those two days, we were reminded of all the places we still had not gone together, all the lessons not yet learned or even taught. Brett can pitch a tent in the black of night, but he can't yet fix a leaky roof. He's comfortable around a campfire, but lost in the kitchen. Our son is grown, but we can't remember the precise moment he was no longer our little boy.

We outran the snow, but were blanketed by fog, and our journey became a test of endurance. By 2:30, we had passed 350 miles, but would soon lose an hour as we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone. By sunset, we were in Montana, a state with endless stretches of straight highways. At rest stops, we played what we knew would be one of the last games of catch in a long while. Brett took control of the car's CD player, trying to balance a teenager's need to play music that leaves Mom and Dad baffled with his obvious love of much of the music we grew up on during the 60's. When it came time for Simon & Garfunkle to sing "The Boxer," Brett and Mom were dozing, and Dad blinked back tears. "The Boxer" was what I used to sing to Brett when he was just an infant as I tried to coax him to sleep.

"When I left my home and family, I was no more than a boy..."

In Bozeman, we found a motel room, and tried to make dinner conversation last as long as we could. Day two dawned cold, but we managed to stay ahead of a snowstorm. In a bitter wind, we stretched our legs at the Little Big Horn National Monument, and dipped into Wyoming, where Brett drove most of the length of the state.

As we drew within 300 miles of Denver, our father-son conversations grew simpler. Brett reminisced about the soccer team that he had played on for nine years, spurring memories of hours on the sidelines with our closest friends, watching boys that we had never quite imagined leaving home someday. Both the clock and odometer relentlessly counted down the moments of a journey that would have the strangest of endings: Brett would not be there on the way home. The last 100 miles were mostly traveled in silence.

Few 18-year-olds want to be seen traveling with their parents. And most parents enjoy the world of options available when not trying to please a sometimes-sullen teenager. We know there will be more journeys with Brett -- different journeys to be sure. It's just that, when they end, Brett's bedroom will be empty, and his bed will be sadly silent.

Message board: Have you had a similar experience? Share your thoughts and observations with Jack Hamann



Jack Hamann is a correspondent with CNN's Environmental Unit and CNN NewsStand.




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